Riff Raff Public Arts Trust

Riff Raff Public Arts Trust

Mark Servian column: Go on, let the old Riff Raff in


Honoured: The statue of the Rocky Horror character Riff Raff on Hamilton's main street. Photo: TIMES file


Hamilton old boy: Richard O'Brien at Waikato University three years ago. Photo: TIMES file

Source: Waikato Times print edition

Waikato fan MARK SERVIAN puts the case for why Rocky Horror creator Richard O'Brien should be welcomed home to New Zealand

How can a country come to immortalise a man in bronze, but not rubberstamp his citizenship?

One answer is that when I initiated the project to create the Riff Raff Statue, I didn’t ask to see Richard O’Brien’s passport. It simply didn’t occur to me.

But it turns out that while the 68-year-old creator and star of the Rocky Horror Show has always called New Zealand ‘home’, he never got around to making it official. So why should we let him retire here?

Richard’s brother and sister have lived in New Zealand continuously since their parents, who died four years ago, bought the three of them here as children in the early 1950s. Two generations have paid taxes here for more than half a century, but our immigration rules apparently say the family cannot sponsor their brother’s citizenship because he is over 55.

The family settled in Claudelands initially but after a year they moved to Tauranga and Richard attended high school there. Then he moved back to Hamilton for five years, from age 16 to 21.  

He worked at a barber’s shop at the front of a historic cinema on our main street. He daydreamed as he trimmed the town gents’ hair alongside Pat Osborne, who would be there until the 80s. On Sunday nights the young bodgie ventured deeper into the Embassy for their Late Night Double Feature Picture Show.  ‘What ever happened on Saturday nights’ happened at the Lake Domain.

Richard went to London for the bright lights in 1964, but has always been one-of-the-fold for his family in Tauranga. He wrote the Rocky Horror Show in the mid-70s and has long said the inspiration for his unique creation was a thirty-something’s nostalgia for his formative teenage years back in Hamilton.

So me and many others came to see the spot where Richard once cut hair, now in an open space in the South End of Victoria Street, as THE birthplace of Rocky Horror. In that belief, I initiated the RiffRaff Statue standing there now, which has made the adoption of his flesh-and-blood counterpart seemingly universal in New Zealand.

Is being claimed culturally by a country enough to make someone qualify as a citizen? Is Richard O’Brien a New Zealander simply because he has credited his time amongst us with inspiring a unique, globally significant work of pop art?

I reckon it does, but I would say that! Happily, hundreds of people seem to agree with me, as that what they’re all saying on my ‘Let Richard O’Brien be a New Zealand citizen’ Facebook group, which has 1500+ members after three days.

So why has Richard O’Brien really been turned down at his first ask for citizenship?

Because when his name appeared before an immigration official, that poor person didn’t, or maybe couldn’t, look up from their keyboard to see the colour of the world. We really shouldn’t be surprised that a bureaucracy can’t process an indefinable being like Richard O’Brien through its paperwork.
But being a fair country, such indefinable characters can appeal to the mercy of the Immigration Minister – surely one of the most direct decision-making powers a NZ politician wields over an individual.   

To Minister Coleman I would point out the above, plus evidence of the applicant’s good character. On the Facebook group Merryn Corcoran in France says “The wonderful Richard O is a great supporter of Childrens Charities & has always helped me with my fundraising with UNICEF in London”.

Closer to home, Paul Mitchell says: “In the years that I ran the Hamilton Operatic Society and have known Richard, he has only ever been a phone call away for the best business and theatrical advice. As our Patron he takes a real and ongoing interest in our productions.”

So Richard O’Brien deserves to be a special case. Hamiltonians who agree should write to the Minister (see Facebook group for help). Or sign the petition started by Paul Barlow in cafes in the city.

I also call on the Hamilton City Council to offer Richard O’Brien the freedom of the city, so as to demonstrate our support for him.

The final question – why should we let ANYONE in as a special case?

In Richard’s case, we shouldn’t – he should have been let through on the first attempt.

Because denying Richard and his family the opportunity to be reunited in their long-time adopted home, particularly when most of them have been contributing here for nearly 60 years, is just inhumane.

So Mr Coleman, please let Richard O’Brien be a New Zealand citizen, not only because we all love him, want him, and think he deserves to be one of us – but because letting this family be reunited is simply the right thing to do.

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Special thanks to:
hamilton WETA Workshop Arts Waikato UltrafastFibre
Perry Foundation Creative Hamilton Waikato Museum Snapshot Cameras