The impressive sideburns of Te Radar — aka Andrew J Lumsden — occupy a special niche among New Zealand television presenters. Fascinated by challenging topics like sustainable living, Lumsden has hosted a run of TV programmes whose educational value is sweetened by his distinctively down to earth personality and brand of comedy.
Lumsden discovered performing at Otago University, when he was meant to be studying law. He took up drama studies instead. First year students were given a variety of nicknames; each year one bespectacled student found themselves labelled after Radar, a character on American TV series M*A*S*H. The name Radar stuck, although Lumsden procrastinated for a number of years over whether he should use it professionally. Later, during a national tour with Mike King, he "Māorified" the Radar, by adding "Te" to the front.
By the mid 1990s he was among the many stand-up comedians winning laughs on Pulp Comedy, a series he rates as instrumental in improving the standard of Kiwi comedy. When he joined sketch show Newsflash in 1998 — the same year he shared the prestigious Billy T Comedy Award — he was still being credited as Andrew Lumsden. He played a peroxide haired reporter; Newsflash used the format of an entertainment show to tie its sketches together. Radar later recalled it as "one of the most hideous experiences of my life”.
One-off documentary Gather Round - Radar Goes to the Gathering (2002) marked one of Lumsden's earliest turns on-screen where laughter wasn't the key aim. The doco saw him visiting a legendary dance festival near Nelson.
Te Radar’s love of travel is evident in many of his projects. Deluding himself he might become a war correspondent, he made visits to Afghanistan, Israel and East Timor. His interviews with Kiwi peacekeepers in East Timor would eventually result in both a 2003 documentary (presented by Radar and Ewen Gilmour), and an award-winning multimedia show. His mission to eat chicken in Bethlehem on a shoestring budget resulted in 2005's War Tourist: Christmas in Bethlehem. Later he travelled to the landlocked nation of Mali, for this episode of Intrepid Journeys.
Radar is probably best-known for a run of prime time shows about sustainable living. Off the Radar (2009) was the first. It saw him spending ten months attempting to subsist off a paddock, while living in a tent. After reaching number one in the ratings, it was turned into a book. As he mentions in this video interview, Radar believes Off the Radar's success owes much to the way humour bubbled up through it naturally, rather than by intention.
For follow-up Radar's Patch, Radar swapped the countryside for "a classic Kiwi quarter acre paradise" north of Auckland. This time the aim was to see if an overgrown backyard might sustain him. The show won a 2010 Qantas award for Best Information/Lifestyle programme, and Radar's third nomination for Best Presenter.
His next two shows scored NZ Television Awards in the same year. Global Radar (named 2012's Best Information Series) explored people endeavouring to create a sustainable future everywhere from Dubai to Borneo. The workaholic presenter denies accusations of swanning around on the job; he recalls one day on Global Radar which spanned 38 hours and three countries. The other award-winner was travel show Radar Across the Pacific. When the second season rolled around in 2014, NZ Herald writer Nick Grant praised Radar's "unfeigned, enthusiastic interest" in people and their customs, plus "his willingness to play good-natured buffoon abroad".
History is another long-standing interest. As Te Radar told Prime Hamilton “I’ve always loved history, even though I was an appalling history student”. Live show Welcome to King Country, an early collaboration with comedian Mike King, confirmed to Radar "that not only did we have some magnificent stories that were utterly bonkers, but that people loved hearing them celebrated”. Radar went on to write and perform 2005's Hitori, a history of the South Island, and multi award-winning history show Eat the Dog.
Eat the Dog would feed into 2017 TV series Te Radar’s Chequered Past, which looked into little-known — and often bizarre — stories from New Zealand history, from Johnny Wray’s homemade yacht, to MP Bob Semple’s bulldozer tank. As Te Radar put it on website The Spinoff, "every story is about a person, people just like us with hopes and dreams, or murderous intent, or some odd thing they knocked up in the workshop that changed the world.”
His other presenting credits include three-part documentary Hidden in the Numbers, which used statistics to examine changes in New Zealand, and 2008 series Homegrown, which examined how the country's produce and natural resources have shaped it culturally and economically.
Te Radar let his comic side run rampant with Māori Television series B & B, which ran for three seasons starting in 2005. Shot before a live audience, the show merged a chat show with sitcom elements. Radar and Hori Ahipene played a mixed race couple who interviewed two guests each episode, at their fictional bed and breakfast. In one episode Radar's nerdy anthropologist character donned a suit of armour to marry Ahipene's character.
Radar has also hosted comedy clip show Best Bits, and been a guest presenter on Three's prime time The Project.
His many comic awards include two awards for Best Local Show at the NZ International Comedy Festival, and two Qantas Media Awards for Best Humour Column (in The NZ Herald). He has been a regular fixture on Radio New Zealand National’s show on Nine to Noon and across 12 seasons of quiz show Off The Wire.
The Journey, Radar's first entry in Aotearoa's annual 48 Hour Film contest, won the Auckland heats in 2004. The prize of a free airfare was used to fly to the Nevada town of Pahrump, where Radar began making a film about successive American elections "through the eyes of residents of a small swing state". He hopes to finish it when he gets time.
Profile originally published on 29 September 2009; updated on 30 April 2019
Te Radar: Opinionist website. Accessed 30 April 2019
'Te Radar: Sustaining the laughter...' (Video interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Andrew Whiteside. Loaded 30 November 2009. Accessed 30 April 2019
Te Radar, 'Te Radar on why New Zealand's chequered past is worthy of Hollywood', The Spinoff website. Loaded 14 March 2017. Accessed 30 April 2019
Andrew Lumsden (Te Radar), '48hour film stars' - The Sunday Star-Times, 30 April 2012
Nick Grant, 'INTERVIEW: Putting the Te in Radar' - Onfilm, September 2006
Nick Grant, "Te Radar is going global again' (Interview) - The NZ Herald, 3 May 2013
Nick Grant, 'Sunday tv preview: Radar signals from the Pacific' - The NZ Herald, 20 July 2014
Karen Holdom, 'Comic confusion' - The Sunday Star-Times, 13 September 1998, page F11
Unknown writer, 'Te Radar Interview' - Prime Hamilton issue 21, October 2018, page 33