Waikato Stories – Richard O’Brien, Riff Raff and Coffee


For a time, 17-year-old Richard O’Brien cut hair in the Barber’s shop that sat against the grand old Embassy Movie Theatre on Victoria Street in Hamilton. When he wasn’t working he was next door watching movies. He had a special interest in horrors. A few years later he is in Britain and he comes up with an idea for a musical based on all those B-Grade double features he had soaked up in his time in Hamilton.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show opened in 1973. It was an instant hit whose enduring popularity has made O’Brien an enduring fortune.

Some year’s back they tore the old Embassy down and replaced it with a grassy knoll and a public toilet. Through the efforts of Mark Servian and the Riff Raff Public Arts Trust a statue was erected in 2004 commemorating O’Brien’s association with the city. Riff Raff did not arrive without his opposition, a small but vocal lobby group felt that ‘the statue was an inappropriate symbol for the city and might give the wrong impression.’

The Riff-Raff statue, a larger than life bronze of the gentleman in his space suit, was made by Weta Workshop and has become a major ambassadorial figure for the Rocky Horror phenomenon and the impression has been an overwhelmingly  positive one.

The River Kitchen, Metropolis and Scot’s Epicurean are close by and all offer exceptional coffee.

The River Kitchen arrived on the scene in 2007 offering contemporary Kiwi food styles based on seasonal Waikato produce and was an immediate hit. Multiple Award winners, their Lonely Planet entry draws customers from all over the world:

‘River Kitchen does things with simple style: cakes, gourmet breakfasts and fresh seasonal lunches (angle for the salmon hash), and a barista who knows his beans. It’s the kind of place you visit for breakfast, come back to for lunch then consider for breakfast the next day’.

Scott’s was opened in 2000 by the brother and sister team of Mandy and Jason Scott. This south end Café revolutionised the scene with its style and panache, qualities that have made its brand beloved and enduring.

A compact and finely tuned menu has won Scott’s a veritable trophy cabinet of awards. They introduced Alio e Olio to Hamilton and have made it into a perennial city favourite.

Metropolis truly is ‘living history’. Opened back in 1991 by another brother and sister team, Robert and Deborah Nudds, the cities first modern Café is stylistically idiosyncratic and open late. The menu is extensive and seasonal.

Between Scott’s and Metropolis is Brower’s. Second Hand Bookstores were once ubiquitous to NZ main streets, but have mostly gone the way of the Record Store in the age of the Internet. Browser’s survives partly to its proximity to the cities hospitality district.

Open till all hours, it’s an unexpected diversion after dinner and makes for an island of peace amidst the madding crowds. Browsers offers an astonishing variety of books, titles you didn’t know you wanted until you found them.

As for O’Brien, nothing he wrote after Rocky Horror even got close to touching the same heights though 1980 musical film Shock Treatment, which sank on release, is in the process of getting a stage reboot.

From 1990-94 he was the presenter of UK Channel 4’s game show, The Crystal Maze, which was in its time, was 4’s highest-rated programme. Otherwise he has kept up a regular recording schedule and acted in numerous big budget films and stage shows.

Recently, O’Brien returned to NZ and built himself a retirement villa in Tauranga. His 2010 application for NZ citizenship, (O’Brien was born in Britain, his parents migrated to NZ to farm sheep in the Bay of Plenty when he was lad), was turned down on the grounds that he was too old, (he was a robust 70 at the time).

Some awkward publicity and protests saw this decision overturned and these days O’Brien is a regular visitor to Hamilton where he can be sighted participating in various Riff Raff orientated activities. The Riff Raff Statue can be found on  Facebook and here:


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