Neil Roberts, who founded New Zealand’s biggest indie, Communicado, and was a former director of television for pubcaster TVNZ, died Nov. 8 of cancer at St Joseph’s Hospice in Auckland. He was 50.
Roberts grew up in the small central North Island town of Wanganui, where he preferred the poolroom to schoolroom. At 16 he became a cub reporter on the Wanganui Chronicle, where his writing skills were first noted. He went on to work for Melody Maker in the U.K. and on Fleet Street newspapers before returning to New Zealand in the late 1960s to work in print journalism.
He moved from Radio New Zealand in 1975 to join the state-owned TV2 as a reporter, and became one of the channel’s most controversial. As a reporter on TVNZ’s “Eyewitness” current affairs in 1981, he resigned in protest when management apologized to the Prime Minister Robert Muldoon over one of Roberts’ stories.
Out on his own as an independent, he discovered there was no independent television industry in New Zealand and set about changing that by founding Communicado.
He was joined by producer Robin Scholes, who went on to produce New Zealand’s award-winning feature “Once Were Warriors.” Deregulation of broadcasting in 1989 boosted the independent sector, and Communicado produced a range of entertainment and serious documentary programs.
He parted with Communicado in 1996 and in April the next year was appointed TVNZ’s director of television, a network that was wallowing.
He designated a programmer for each of TVNZ’s channels, promoted marketing and set in place a number of program projects.
After a major rift with the chairperson, he quit in April 1998.
He traveled to London for a holiday and returned in a flourish having bought two MiG fighter planes to add to his Ferraris and Rolls Royce cars. Soon after, though, he was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer.
He is survived by his wife, Sherry.