Kiwi actor and comedian David McPhail dies age 76

Actor and comedian David McPhail, famous for his impersonations of Prime Minister Robert Muldoon, has died.

McPhail, 76, was a writer, producer, actor and comedian who became one of the best known people in New Zealand television.

In a post on Facebook, his son Matt said:

"It is with the deepest sadness that I share with you the news that our wonderful husband, father and grandfather David McPhail died in his sleep last night. He leaves a great big hole in our lives but not in our hearts. A truly beautiful man."

Born in Christchurch, he went first to an Anglican prep school where he loved singing in the choir but was otherwise a rather lonely boy due to a bad stammer.

He was sent to Christchurch Boys' High and said he found himself a bit of a prig among hoons, to whom he had to tell jokes to survive.

McPhail started a BA in English at Canterbury University, but was more interested in capping revues than study, and dropped out to become a cadet reporter on the Christchurch Press.

He later switched to radio reporting and then to television producing where he met such future collaborators as AK Grant, Chris McVeigh and Peter Hawes.

They formed a group to put on a revues, and brought in Derek Payne, and more importantly Jon Gadsby who McPhail had met at a party.

They were to establish a team which, from the early 1970s, in series such as A Week of It, McPhail and Gadsby, and Issues, they took political satire to a new level in New Zealand.

In an interview with Jessie Mulligan last month, McPhail said he did not get a good response from his superiors when he pitched an idea for a satirical comedy in New Zealand in 1977.

"I was told there was no place for satire, New Zealanders didn't really have a sense of humour, and besides we had no right to make fun of public figures."

"As the project I was pitching required all of those it did seem to be a bit of a lost cause", he said.

However, he was eventually granted a pilot and then six shows.

McPhail said one impersonation he did had a particular resonance.

"And for that I'm thankful for the presence of one of the most dynamic, nasty, dangerous, vicious politicians in New Zealand history and that was Robert Muldoon - and also a very, very vague resemblance to him."

The duo skewered successive governments in ways which for many people created their perceptions of such figures of the day, most notably McPhail as Rob Muldoon.

McPhail co-wrote or acted in many other TV programmes such as Letter to Blanchy.

From the early 1990s, he turned increasingly to serious acting at Christchurch's Court Theatre, and in 2003 began touring his one-man play Muldoon.

He also wrote a newspaper column.

David McPhail is survived by his wife Anne and their two children.