Saturday, August 26, 2017


Alec Reid
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There we were, Tom, Cormac, Niall and myself, on a nostalgic tour around Ballybrack, when Tom mentioned that there had been a reference to Alec Reid on the radio the previous day. Coming out of the blue like that, after all these years, it seemed like a good omen for our trip.

Alec was sort of the local intellectual, but with a difference. An enormously erudite and civilised man, as you will see from his obituary below, Alec was the anithesis of the popular view of an ivory tower intellectual. He had a great zest for life, a life which he shared with all and sundry. He drank in the local pub, the Ramblers Rest - the RR in the book dedications below - and his house was an open court, in more ways than one, for all who wished to avail of it.

Tom's and my contact with him arose from our simply living in the village, though Tom's two sisters used to babysit for the Reids. We had no inside track or significance beyond that. Alec was generous with his time and loved to share his life and enthusiasms, and we participated vicariously in an aspect of life which would otherwise have been closed to us.

Take a moment to listen to the poet, Michael Longley's, appreciation of him from John Bowman's archive programme. This was what Tom was referring to above.

Michael Longley on Alec Reid

A part of Alec's life was the Irish Times, for which he wrote drama reviews, particularly when there was any hint of Sam Beckett, one of his consuming interests.

The Obit Room

His Irish Times connection gave him access to that sacred journalistic treasure trove, the obit room.

This is where the paper accumulates information about living people on whose death the paper would be expected to contribute an obituary. Then when the person dies the paper can whip up a quality obituary in jig time.

There have been examples of the premature use of this material. I remember when it was thought that President Hillery was about to resign over some big crisis, like a rumoured affair with a young woman in Killiney, the Irish Times poured all of its vast obit material into three whole pages reviewing his career and all the other usual stuff. He didn't resign, there was no crisis, and I don't know what they did when he did eventually die. Probably repeated much of the stuff they had earlier used up on the fish and chip paper.

The Person in Question

A less known premature use of obit material occurred when Tom and myself got to participate in Bunny Carr's tv programme "The Person in Question".

Tom's diary entry on the screening interviews for The Person in Question

This programme set up a panel of young people who quizzed a famous person on their life, career and beliefs. In our case the person in question was Gerry Dempsey, then Chief Accountant in Aer Lingus. Gerry was an affable type who was very aware that he was a personality and I think considered himself a rounded individual.

When Alec heard what we were heading into, up he pops with the obit file on Dempsey. Think of all the research that saved us and how much he contributed to our image as intelligent, perceptive and diligent young men.

Tom's diary entry after the first shoot of The Person in Question

Tom has dug out his diary for the period and it has revived long forgotten memories. It appears, for example, that we had to re-shoot the first recording of the programme. I've no idea why, but I do know from dealings with RTÉ in a slightly later period that video editing facilities were both primitive and in scarce supply. I fluffed my words at a recording of Óró and they had to retake the two acts before our group as well as our own.

Tom's diary entry after the second shoot of The Person in Question

Me on the Person in Question

Tom on the Person in Question

Peter Lennon's Film

Peter Lennon and Raoul Coutard in Paris

Among Alec's good friends was Peter Lennon, the journalist, and in 1967 Peter had set out to make a film about Irish attitudes taking Dublin as his model. Alec introduced us and we taped a session with Peter which involved students talking about how they saw the society around them.

Our session with Peter Lennon

Unfortunately, one of our number subsequently had a fit of funk and withdrew their consent to any use of the material in the film. In one of my life's most embarrassing moments I had to seek out Peter and tell him he couldn't use the material. Peter made do with the material from students from the rival university, TCD, and you can see Cian Ó hÉigeartaigh and friends in the final film.

So there you are, fame foregone forever. I shudder to think what Alec thought about all of this. After all, he had introduced us and Peter was a good friend of his working to a tight budget and timetable with the renowned cinematographer Raoul Coutard.

The Rocky Road to Dublin, a very limited run

You'll have realised by this stage that the film was The Rocky Road to Dublin. Despite its being received to great acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival, it had only a very limited public run in Dublin at the International Film Theatre (Sugar Company), after which it vanished totally into an obscurity warmly welcomed by the Irish establishment. You can read Peter's own account of this disgraceful saga. There are no prizes for guessing the identity of the idiotic singing and dancing priest.

Looking at the film now, you are struck at how uncontroversial it is in many ways. It it is just a realistic chronicle of the times we lived through. And, in any event, it has been overtaken by the more recent revelations of what was really going on behind the scenes.

Ian Mayes has written an engaging obituary of Peter. There was another less engaging obituary in the Irish Times.

It has always been one of my regrets that my contact with Peter ended on such a negative note.

De Buke

Alec was a great admirer and friend of Sam Beckett and in an effort to bring Beckett's work to a wider public and to communicate the full extent of Beckett's theatrical innovation, he wrote a book.

The gist of the book is that Beckett's plays are there to be experienced. In the case of Godot, for example, it is waiting. He doesn't illustrate waiting or describe it; he makes you wait. It's all about impact. Beckett's carefully crafted work draws you in to the process. There is no story, no plot, just waiting. You can't analyse it, just experience it. The experience is both universal and personal. There are no background details, no contextualisation of the characters. Each member of the audience provides their own resonances.

Alec gives some extensive examples in the book, not so much by way of analysis, because strictly speaking this is not allowed, but simply in an effort to convey the openness of approach that is needed to appreciate this new kind of revolutionary theatre.

Alec signed our copies of the book in one of the two local bona fide pubs, in this case the Rambler's Rest. Mine read: To Paul who watched some of the birth-pangs with fine disinterested sympathy. Alec was very careful with words.

Tom's dedication reads: Let us not to the spelling of "desiccated" admit impediment, misprint, let or hindrance. For Tom, with all good wishes. This apparently impenetrable text refers to Tom finding a typo in the draft of the book. Echoing Shakespeare's sonnet, Alec is saying that he will not let this come between them.

Godot in the Pike - October 1955
Photo: Derek Michelson

The book also gives a comprehensive list of the various performances of the plays up to that point (1967).

In a somewhat pretentious review of the book in the Irish Times, Austin Clarke, allows that it "is very pleasant and I have learned quite a lot from it". I suppose we should be thankful for small mercies.

The End

Obituary in Irish Times (from Tom Ferris)
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Whatever about Austin Clarke's and his pleasant learning, I was astounded myself to read, just recently, the Irish Times obituary for Alec above. I had no idea of the vastness of his experience which makes it all the greater privilege to have known him.

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