Raised in Napier, Christopher Bourn began his working life as a teacher; he spent seven years in classrooms in Hastings and Taranaki. But in 1964 he moved to Wellington, and embarked on a long television career that would see him working on a run of music and entertainment shows.
After auditioning for a job with state television, Bourn was told he had a job as presentation director. The description meant nothing to him. The location was WNTV-1 in Wellington; after the interview he was invited upstairs into a crowded control room, to see a children's show getting made. As soon as he saw the scene, Bourn felt like he was in the place he wanted to be.
He went on to spend five years as WNTV-1’s sports producer, directing weekly show Sportsview with Bill McCarthy, alongside all the channel’s sports outside broadcasts. He also directed Sport is my Life, a documentary on New Zealand cricket captain John Reid who also captained a World XI against an England XI in 1965. It was to become the first local sports documentary sold overseas.
At the same time, Bourn became involved with light entertainment, producing and directing a number of Loxene Golden Disc Award ceremonies— including the first, won in 1965 by Ray Columbus. A key moment came in 1966. The show had initially been conceived as a studio-based production, but Bourn decided to take the artists on location and use a film camera, thus creating some of the earliest music 'videos' in New Zealand.
There were more firsts in 1966. Bourn produced and directed The Family Game, featuring host Selwyn Toogood in his first tilt at television, after several successful years on radio with It’s in the Bag. On the sports front, Bourn directed the first All Black test shown on Kiwi TV screens. The screening of the British Lions defeat at Wellington’s Athletic Park was delayed (from the Saturday) until the Sunday in those pre-network days, so that all four regional stations — AKTV-2, WNTV-1, CHTV-3 and DNTV-2 — broadcast it. Bourn was thankful it went on air at all. As he tells it in this video interview, one of the main cameras went on the blink shortly before kick-off. A replacement had to be rushed across town and dragged up through the grandstand.
But it’s the period from 1968 to 1974 when Bourn made his name in the entertainment arena, devising and producing the long-running TV talent quest Studio One which ran for eight years, and its relative New Faces. For Bourn, the show "grew to take over nine months of every year". He reckons he watched more than 10,000 Kiwi variety acts across the country. Many went on to be household names, including Brendan Dugan, Shona Laing, Suzanne Prentice, Hogsnort Rupert, The Rumour, Space Waltz and Bulldogs All-Star Goodtime Band — who beat Split Enz to win the show in 1973.
Other series he produced and directed during this time included beloved astronomy show Night Sky with Peter Read, Des Britten’s cooking programme Thyme for Cookery, Bill and Boyd’s A Lot of Living to Do, Maria Dallas’ Maria, Maria and The Two of Us with Shona Laing and Steve Gilpin. This was TVNZ’s first colour programme — Bourn had earlier spent four months in Canada learning about colour TV development.
1974 was also the year of the Christchurch Commonwealth Games; Bourn directed the boxing content.
In 1975 Bourn was appointed Head of Presentation, Promotion and Publicity for the Television One network, a role he continued in when Television One and South Pacific Television were integrated to form TVNZ in 1980. In the same period, he and one-time TV One Controller of Programmes Des Monaghan came up with the idea of the Pacific Song Contest, which saw Bourn coordinating arrangements with the 12 Pacific Rim countries who were competing. He remembers watching with relief as the show successfully switched to each country live, to hear their vote. The first two events were held in Christchurch; the second was won by Kiwi Tina Cross.
Bourn's executive roles continued in 1986 when he was named Acting Head of Entertainment at TVNZ; he was confirmed in that job the following year. But he stepped down in 1988 for more hands-on production work, taking over as executive producer in Brisbane for Network Two’s Expo ’88 coverage. That involved commanding 25 weekly programmes and live concerts.
That same year Bourn was honoured with a Merit Award by the New Zealand Entertainment Operators Association for his longtime support of Kiwi talent.
At the end of 1988 Bourn left TVNZ, but was soon rehired, moving to Auckland to take up the role of External Promotions Manager. In 1990 he produced Variety Spectacular - A Night of a Thousand Stars, the programme that launched the Variety Club in New Zealand.
Bourn’s last role for TVNZ came in 1992, when he was appointed Head of Video Production for TVNZ Enterprises. He left in 1994 to form his own company, Tiger Films, and over the next two decades went on to direct the coverage shown on the big screen at outdoor events including Christmas in the Park, and Symphony Under the Stars.
These days he has more time to sit back and reflect on a long and successful career that saw him discover some of New Zealand’s biggest 'name' entertainers. Bourn has been married for more than 40 years to longtime continuity announcer Elizabeth Bourn.
Profile written by Keith Tannock; updated on 28 June 2019
'Christopher Bourn: Pioneering entertainment producer…' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Andrew Whiteside. Loaded 5 December 2016. Accessed 28 June 2019
Karl du Fresne, 'Oh Those Days Before Ratings Ruled' - The Nelson Mail, 9 June 2010
Glen Moffatt, 'Bulldogs Allstar Goodtime Band Profile' AudioCulture website. Loaded 16 November 2014. Accessed 28 June 2019
Unknown writer, 'This Week's Showbiz Personality - Chris Bourn' - The Dominion, 3 April 1970
Unknown writer, 'TV1's Chris Bourne takes top job' - The Evening Post, 30 August 1979
Unknown writer, 'Bourn named for post in entertainment' - The Dominion, 18 February 1987
Unknown writer, 'News Head Lured Back from BBC' - The NZ Herald, 10 June 1987
Unknown writer, 'Bourn to head Expo coverage' - The Christchurch Star, 18 April 1988
Unknown writer, 'Christopher Bourn - A Monster Of His Own Making' (Interview), in TV Personality Parade (Wellington: Television One/INL, 1976)