Born in St Albans just north of London, Richard Driver arrived in New Zealand with his family at the age of eight. Leaving home at 15, he worked on farms in Canterbury, on a Federated Farmers cadetship. By 1975 he was in Australia, having arrived with $60 in his pocket. Two years later — aged 20 — he was back in Christchurch, having done 42 different jobs in five years.
By 1977 the first wave of punk rock had hit Aotearoa. Driver was fronting one of the city's first overtly punk groups, The Doomed. By the following June, punk had become enough of a phenomenon to attract the attention of the media. This Neil Roberts report for Eyewitness marked the beginning of Driver's "accidental career" in television, as he declared that The Doomed were the best band in the Southern Hemisphere (the band also make a memorable appearance at the start of this music history show).
Further bands followed — Pop Mechanix, then Hip Singles. Fronting bands at a time when original music wasn't always welcome helped give him confidence: "We had to walk onto the stage with no fear and get across the fact that we didn't care. It's a great way to win people over." By the end of 1983, Driver saw no future in the music business. Fronting a segment for What Now gave him a further taste of TV, though one director claimed he was just "too dangerous for children's television".
With a family to support, Driver took a job in Malawi running a transport company owned by an uncle. When his wife and child were refused permission to join him there, he returned to New Zealand and found work as a taxi driver.
A note to Radio with Pictures producer Brent Hansen saying he was back in the country coincided with the search for a successor to host Karyn Hay. Driver auditioned, and began on screen at the start of 1986; but six weeks in, his initial stint was curtailed for months by a dispute between TVNZ and the Recording Industry Association, over who would pay for music videos. RWP resumed in 1987, but Driver was never completely comfortable in his presenting role. He thought there might be more of a future on the other side of the cameras, making programmes.
In 1988 he directed a film about Sir Garfield Todd, the New Zealand-born Prime Minister of Rhodesia. Driver learnt his directing craft on the job in Africa; the result was well-received documentary Hokonui Todd.
In 1994 he won a local television award for producing youth show InFocus. The following year he partnered with Karyn Hay, his RWP predecessor, producing Music Nation — a music video show presented by Bic Runga and Ian Hughes (later Hugh Sundae). Further music programmes included ENZSO (featuring Split Enz and the NZSO) and The Drum.
A four year stint followed as an executive producer, then Creative Director at then newly-formed company Screentime.
In 2001 Driver changed course again, starting company Visionary Film and TV, in partnership with entrepreneurs Paul and Mark Huljich. Visionary's output included landmark music history series Give it a Whirl (read more about the show's making here), travel show Africa Overland, documentary The Truth about Money, Peter Gordon's Pacific Harvest (for BBC Food), and TV3 reality show The Family.
One of Visionary's biggest successes was Justin Pemberton's one-off documentary Love, Speed and Loss. Driver produced it; the subject matter tied in with his longtime passion for motorcycle racing. The film told the story of Kiwi born, German-based Kim Newcombe, a motorcycle designer and grand prix racer. Newcombe died in a race in 1973. Love, Speed and Loss made extensive use of interviews with his wife, Janeen, and of Super 8 footage shot by her.
Driver describes the result as being as much a "chick flick" as a "jock doc". It won best documentary at the 2007 Qantas TV Awards, and Air NZ Screen Awards for best documentary and director. Love, Speed and Loss was marketed around the world on DVD.
After 15 years making programmes Driver found himself wanting to stay in TV, but less enthusiastic about another decade of hands-on production. He spied an opportunity at Sky TV. The satellite broadcaster had plenty of documentaries across a number of its channels, but most were about "sharks and Nazis, and chefs and choppers". Armed with a book about pay TV purchased from Amazon, he proposed a New Zealand-based documentary channel focusing more on people's stories, which placed overseas programmes alongside the locally-made ones that Kiwi viewers had always had a big appetite for.
Sky launched the Documentary Channel in November 2006, with Driver in yet another screen role as owner and programmer. In 2010 it was announced that he'd sold the independently-owned channel to BBC Worldwide, the first time a local channel had sold overseas. The BBC then relaunched the local channel as a retooled arm of its own channel, BBC Knowledge.
Earlier (in 2008) Driver returned to the other side of the camera, as a judge on Prime TV's New Zealand's Got Talent.
In August 2014 Driver was announced as the new managing director of Greenstone TV. In 2017 he "semi-retired", and moved into a short stint as the company's Chairman. Established by producer John Harris back in 1994, Greenstone made its name largely via a slate of documentaries and factual shows. In 2013 Harris sold the company to Australian indie Cordell Jigsaw Zabruder.
In 2011 Driver became a trustee of the Documentary NZ Trust, organisers of the Doc Edge film festival. He has also been part of the Digital Media Trust, the board which oversees NZ On Screen and its sister website, AudioCulture.
Profile written by Michael Higgins; updated on 4 May 2022
'Richard Driver - on his serendipitious career...' (Video Interview), NZ On Screen website. Director Andrew Whiteside. Loaded 21 June 2010. Accessed 21 June 2010
Jane Broughton, 'Richard Driver' (Interview) - The Press, 31 January 2009
John Drinnan, 'BBC Worldwide buys Documentary Channel' - The NZ Herald, 9 December 2010
'Richard Driver joins Documentary NZ Trust' (Press release) The Big Idea website. Loaded 12 April 2011. Accessed 29 September 2017
'Greenstone appoints new Managing Director' (Press release - broken link) Greenstone website. Loaded 4 August 2014. Accessed 28 September 2014