Friday, June 06, 2014

Inside RTÉ

Click image for a larger version

I love everything about this book, from the cover to Betty herself.

I was going to say it's a real radio person's book, but, of course, Betty moved on to television. So, it would be more accurate to say it's a public service broadcaster's book.

Betty is committed to a very strong social agenda, but in the context of her broadcasting work, which seems to be most of her life, she is committed over all else to a public service agenda.

She has seen the organisation from so many vantage points, radio, television, trade unions and membership of the Authority itself, that the story carries a quiet authority of its own. The writing is crisp and crafted, and it is very personal.

I particularly enjoyed her concise and perceptive cameos of people, perhaps because her assessment coincided with mine where I had either met the person or already had a view on them.

Starting with Mícheál Holmes, whom I met in recent years, and whom I had down as a real radio man, one of my highest compliments. "Mícheál was not the campaigning type, but he had a fascination with good stories, and with the use of technology and gadgets to help find ways of illustrating people's lives." Sounds just like a younger version of the mature, but still curious, radio man that I encountered.

And Charlie Haughey, who, when Taoiseach, turned up unexpectedly at the studio in person, instead of being at the other end of a phone line, for an interview with John Bowman: "I want to see the whites of the fucker's eyes". Typical gobshite. I don't know whether that was before or after an occasion I remember when Haughey hung up the phone on Bowman, live on air, because Bowman was pushing him beyond a limit he thought he'd agreed with the producer. Betty doesn't refer to that one so she was probably not involved. She does make it clear, though, that John Bowman did not do interviews whose limits were determined by the interviewee.

On another occasion Haughey threatened to cut the licence fee if a programme on his covert and potentially controversial method of acquiring an electriciy generator for his private island was aired.

Then there's Ray Burke. Another obnoxious character. During a 1989 election programme, the "then Minister for Communications, Ray Burke, came up behind me, patronisingly tapped me on the shoulder, and said 'Yes dear, the Minister will have a cup of coffee, white, no sugar'". Broke Betty's concentration completely. But then Burke was never really interested in broadcasting as such.

And Eoghan Harris, who alternated bullying and charm and shouted people down at meetings, playing the Provo card when all else failed. She quotes Harris's own remark in a Today Tonight interview "I'm a propagandist, and always have been", he said, "that's what I do". And Betty's comment, "It is hard to argue with that self-assessment". Beautiful.

And Dick Roche. After telling us, for example, that "Tony Gregory was always apprehensive about his performance and about letting down his constituents", she goes on to say that "Others, like Wicklow Fianna Fáil TD Dick Roche, had no self-doubt or concerns before the show".

She thought highly of Pat Kenny, which I used to myself when he was on radio years ago. She had one really major bust up with him. Susan McKay had agreed to appear on the Late Late Show at very short notice to restore balance to an item where one of the participants was suddenly unable to appear. It was agreed, including by Pat, that Susan would be confined to outlining the excellent work done in the past by Dr. Maura Woods and that she would not be dragged into the wider emotionally charged and controversial discussion. Pat, on air, very pointedly did not honour this agreement and persistently tried to get Susan to comment beyond what had been agreed. No surprise there then. I always felt, in more recent times, that Pat considered himself more important than those on his show and behaved accordingly. Effectively the opposite of a good broadcaster. I had the same thing done to me on air once and it is not very nice.

Anyway, I enjoyed Betty's to-the-point observations on some of these people, but I'm not going to go through the whole book of them.

The book deals with weightier matters, including the future of broadcasting and the more recent controversies, such as the disgraceful character assassination of Fr. Reynolds in Mission to Prey and the famous supposedly Sinn Féin tweet aired on Frontline during the run up to the last Presidential election.

I found the book unputdownable and may even read it a second time.

You will see from the illustration of the cover of my copy above that Betty will not be getting any royalties from my reading of the book, but I'm sure, as a public service broadcaster par excellence, she will be sufficiently supportive of our wonderful public library service to forgive me.

Updates to 16/6/2014

Amazon censored my review.

I attempted to post the above as a book review to Amazon but without success. Now, I have 65 book reviews up on Amazon and never had a bit of bother with any of them. In fact, they normally came through within minutes. But not this one.

Amazon don't specifically tell you they are rejecting a review, but if it doesn't appear within 48 hours you are advised that it is unlikely to appear at all and you should go and check out their guidelines. So I surmised that there was a problem with this particular review and that it was the quote from Charlie Haughey regarding John Bowman. The possible sensitivity of my text had not struck me until the review failed to appear.

As it did not appear after well over the 48 hours specified, I resubmitted the review in a bowdlerised version (F word censored) to see what would happen. And Wow! The bowdlerised review came straight through, like a shot, though the word "gobshite" was asterisked to "gobs***e". So I think I was botted the first time round and am apparently not on any watch list as a result.

While the F word does appear in book titles on Amazon, this is an area over which they themselves have control and the book title in the reviews is inserted automatically from their own data base.

So now we know.

Bowdlerised review with editorial note here.

I'm sure Charlie would be absolutely thrilled, the oul bollix.

Update 22/5/17 Checkout my post on Maverick


Vivion Mulcahy said...

I think you may be right as to the reason for the censorship. Sad times we live in, when a quote from a well-known fucker referring to someone else as a fucker cannot be published.

Reminds me of Huckleberry Finn. For its time, had liberal attitudes regarding slavery, but is no longer on any school curriculum because of its inclusion of the word "nigger".

Póló said...


Some of us are trying to write history while others are madly trying to rewrite it.

Seán Ó h-Éigeartaigh said...

Shame shame on Amazon. This should be given full media coverage and the public and its customers informed. Am incensed.

Póló said...


I am currently chewing the cud in the long grass.

Anonymous said...

Ominous, all this censorship. Amazon has the size and power to fight the good fight for freedom of speech, yet this seems just cowardly.


Póló said...

It has been suggested to me that this is not confined to Amazon but is typical of many sites located in the United States.

It is sad to see a state which has no problem remotely droning women and children in far away places take exception to a good, tried and tested, anglo-saxon word.