Inner East Review
Tuesday, 5 December 2023

Leaving it all to chance. Sliding doors and the unexpected career of Richmond TV host Andy Lee

By Ian Moore
Updated March 17 2022 - 5:21pm, first published March 16 2022 - 5:00pm
Andy Lee ... more television in 2022
Andy Lee ... more television in 2022

Things happen to Andy Lee, the likeable Richmond TV host who has make a career out of a sense of humour. If there was a a life plan, it gave way in his university days to a series of sliding door moments.

It is not something that occurs sporadically; it is a gift that keeps on giving in a series of life-changing instances, from his first meeting with collaborator Hamish Blake, to the format of his current Nine Network series, The Hundred with Andy Lee, and the purchase late last year of an $8.5 million hovel on the banks of the Yarra.

At 40 years of age, it is hardly the time for a reflection on life but, if it were, Andy would find chance would have a leading role.

After leaving Camberwell Grammar, Andy had contemplated a life in business and enrolled in a commerce course at the University of Melbourne in 2001. So how did a commerce student transition to a life as a broadcaster and comedian?

Enter chance, in the form of a young Hamish in the commerce courtyard. "We started to make each other laugh and this is what set me on this path, for sure," Andy says.

"We started off mucking about, doing a few different things here and there, but the idea of this developing into a full time job never crossed my mind at the time."

However, there was sufficient appeal for the two to skip some university lectures to head up to RMIT where there was a student radio station.

"We pretended we were enrolled there and sort of got onto their radio station."

From there it was on to Fox FM. Hamish was doing some writing for the the Fox breakfast show and the two reunited on-air for a late-night Monday slot in 2003, based as much on their student broadcasts as their writing ability.

The exterior of the derelict $8.5m mansion Andy bought on the banks of the Yarra
The exterior of the derelict $8.5m mansion Andy bought on the banks of the Yarra
One of the living areas of the Yarra Close house
One of the living areas of the Yarra Close house

This ultimately led to the Hamish and Andy Show, which went national. It required a different discipline because parochial interests took a back seat.

"Hamish and I decided not to do anything topical or local and most of the show was our musings, ponderings and idiotic adventures. So it really didn't matter where listeners were."

Another sliding door emerges with the move from radio to television.

The pair made five half-hour television shows for Melbourne community station Channel 31. On the basis of these programs alone, Hamish and Andy were signed for a prime time slot on the Seven Network, turning their backs on the top-rating weekday drive-time radio slot.

It did not last long, however.

The show was axed after six weeks, leading to a number of other incarnations that included the successful Hamish and Andy Gap Year series, True Stories and several solo hosting roles by Andy.

Andy's current show, The Hundred with Andy Lee, now in its second series on the Nine Network, is another where chance played a hand. COVID-19 which send Australia into lockdown forced many shows to cancel, or restrict formats.

With a small panel, socially distanced, in the studio and a polling group of 100 people zoomed in from throughout the country it was a format tailor-made for pandemic production.

The format also suited Andy's style of being a conduit for, and enhancing, the humour of others - or being a foil to their disarming candour.

"People have been far more honest than I thought they would be. I think it is because everyone feels they are in a safe place and enjoying themselves and that encourages them to share," Andy said.

"There was one father in the first series who told us that he hadn't told his 10-year-old child as yet that he wasn't the birth father.

"Well, I kind of feel that he now might know," Andy said afterwards.

Outside of the cringeworthy moments which can be a pivot for unscripted fun, the show revolves around statistics, which, with a sample of one hundred people, provides an indication of what Australians think on various issues - at last providing use for some of the knowledge Andy gained at Melbourne University.

Andy sees more television opportunities in 2022, his podcast with Hamish that returns this month, as well as scope for more in his series of children's books.

In this successful diversion, the sliding door is again at work.

The idea of the book was for a first birthday present for his nephew, George, and he wanted to have it published in proper book form. "I have a friend who is a publisher and they do test books all the time," Andy says. "He asked if he could publish it and I said no.

"We argued for a little bit and a few months later finally he talked me into it. I'm glad he did. It has been translated into 38 languages throughout the world and we have seven books in the series.

"The series, Do Not Open this Book, sprung from when I was a kid. I didn't like being told what to do so I would do the opposite. I view it as a personality test for a kid to find out if they are going to be rebels or they are going to be quite obedient. If they open the book, watch out for them when they are teens!"

Chance also played a major role in an unexpected project - the purchase of a derelict Italianate manor on land that extends to the waters of the Yarra. The house was built in 1876, in now what is known as Yarra Close, Hawthorn. It is on a bend in the river which makes it possible to almost see Swan St from his back yard. "I'm still calling it Richmond," Andy says.

Andy's mother saw a story on the dilapidated mansion in a TV news bulletin and SMSed Andy a clip, jokingly declaring she had found him his new house. "As it turned out, it was, so she was the one that gave me the 'hot lead'."

The four-bedroom home, Ravenswood, was built in 1876 for Alexander Tough, a Scottish ship chandler with a business in Flinders St. It remained in the Tough family until 1903. It later became the home of journalist and author Clive Turnbull, who resided there from the early 1940s to his death in 1975.

Andy on the set of The Hundred ... 'People have been far more honest than I thought'
Andy on the set of The Hundred ... 'People have been far more honest than I thought'

Afterwards, it was allowed to fall into disrepair and has been unoccupied for more than 30 years. It was stripped back for new structural work in 2017, but the project stalled. The shell of the house that remains is heritage-listed and is awaiting restoration - a long-term project now to be undertaken by Andy and his partner, Bec Harding.

"It has no running water or electricity, so we've got our challenges there," Andy said. "The plan is to restore it and eventually live in it. I won't be on the tools too much myself. You don't want to see me do any DIY."

Maybe this could provide another sliding door moment. Could it be transformed into a TV series. Only time, and chance, will tell.

The Hundred with Andy Lee airs Tuesdays at 9.00pm on Channel 9 and 9Now.


Richmond is one of Andy's great loves. "It's a great area for sports and pubs alike," he says. His favourite haunt is the London Tavern in Lennox Street, a hotel owned and operated by Bill Perry, a warm and welcoming man with generous community spirit. . To regulars, Bill is as much a pastor, ministering to his flock, as a convivial publican.

"It was great when Hamish was living a few blocks away because we could meet at the London as it was equi-distant between us. Mick Molloy lives up the hill so he would join us there."

Andy also appreciates the diverse range of restaurants in the area. "I love going to the Union Dining at the other end of Swan St. Our favourite Indian restaurant, Jia Ho, is just up from there."

Demitri's Feast, a Greek restaurant is another Swan St favourite. "There are so many options, the Posty for a pizza, or the Richmond Club Hotel for a steak or parma and watch the sport on the big screen. There's also the Corner Hotel where we met up before going to the footy .We're spoiled for choice there."

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