Bleak news coming out of my radio this morning – double bleak news. Gerry Anderson of BBC radio and TV fame has died at 69 and former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds has died at 81.
I first became aware of Gerry’s existence when he started doing radio programmes from BBC Radio Foyle with Sean Coyle. I was working at the time on a kind of ‘Pick of the week’ for BBC radio in Belfast, and the two Derrymen’s humour jumped out at me immediately and featured again and again on our Pick of the Week. At that time his imagination, or his imagination along with that of Sean Coyle, was wonderfully fresh and surreal. Like a lot of people, I remember laughing out loud every time they produced another item from their instruction manual on how to learn swimming from the comfort and privacy of your own home. I sat at the same table with him in London when he received the equivalent of a radio Oscar for his work and typically he had caustic comments on a number of the speeches.
Even though he invented Stroke City to refer to Derry/Londonderry, he appeared totally uninterested in politics. On his morning programme once, he and Sean were discussing what they’d do if they could afford to quit working. Gerry made no bones about it: he’d get out of this place as fast as he could. “Them and their flags!” was his sum-up. In his later years he could be self-absorbed when interviewing people, and his short time with BBC Radio Four in London was a near-disaster. And like us all, he could at times be tetchy – sometimes pretend-tetchy, others real-tetchy. But he brought a note of wildness, recklessness and hilarity to broadcasting on BBC Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster that has never been matched.
Albert Reynolds was a very political man, even though he came to politics relatively late in life- after he’d made his millions on dance halls and pet-food. His input to the peace process was vital, as Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness both acknowledged this morning. There was an energy as well as a down-to-earthness about him that was infectious. Unionists sensed that this was a businessman, someone who, unlike his predecessor Charlie Haughey, carried no baggage. My abiding image of him is as he emerges from a car in Downing Street and hurries towards a waiting John Major, smiling and rubbing his hands together. You could sense his determination to get stuck into the hard work of peace-making and his relish for so doing. Because he knew that business on this island has little time for borders, he was able to appeal to those in unionism who thought in similar terms.
That’s how we tend to remember him. The British tend to remember him for the case he brought against the Sunday Times, a key part of Murdoch’s empire. Under the heading of ‘Goodbye Gombeen Man’, the paper accused him – in its British but not its Irish edition – of lying. Reynolds fought the case with energy and won it. The judge awarded him one penny in damages.
Does British justice often work that way, Virginia? Sorry – pass.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamnacha – May they rest in peace.
I was a quiet fan of Gerry, I’d always hoped that I’d randomly bump into him and have a blether (about nothing in particular).
I thought the TV programme where they used his radio show as the theme for a plasticine animation was hilarious….
I guess the phrase “a penny for your thoughts” takes on a different meaning today. Murdoch tried to waive the rules but Albert triumphed on the day. Once on the “Ed Sullivan Show” Albert sampled his own dog food to show his confidence in the product. It is said that when a man dies a library is lost. Albert and Gerry made the world a better place with their respective contributions to political and civic life. Ní bheidh a leithéidí arís ann.
That Gentleman Albert Reynolds just missed dying on Gentleman Jim Reeves’s birthday by a matter of minutes was very fitting.
That Albert’s tenure as Taoiseach coincided with a string of Irish wins in the Eurovision thingy was also v. fitting and PW, who was a totally superfluous member on the Taoiseach’s bloated staff at the time can recall one particular conversation during one of those, by now, annual Welcome Home bashes in Government Buildings for the Conquering Heroes.
One of the Warbeckian duties was to oversee the choice of celebratory drink to be dispensed which ought to have turned these bashes into a sort of Charladies Ball on Upper Merion Street (‘last night we had champagne, this morning we had real pain’) but never actually did.
Linda Martin was the winning chanteuse one year and PW was cute h. enough to prime her before the entrance of the T. through the Sycamore Room door which was the Reception Room du jour on these occasions. By suggesting she might bring up in conversation the T’s previous life in the biz called show, beside which there is none other.
The accommodating LM did as bid and this afforded PM the opportunity to go into Maor Trachta/ Traffic Warden mode which was the real purpose of the exercise, i.e., to steer the chat safely across the zebra crossing and in the direction the, erm, disinterested civil servant desired.
‘I understand you promoted Jim Reeves in your day, Taoiseach?”
‘I certainly did, Linda, and not only that but…..’.
An Taoiseach then went on to tell how he had to call the taffeta-toned Texan on the phone to break the news that due to the overnight death of Pope John 23 the following couple of nights’ shows would have to be cancelled. And that the Texan’s baritone’s reaction was ‘gentlemanly in the extreme’. PW had to bite his tongue in the bureaucratic way and stopped just short of asking if the singer had ‘put his velvet lips a little closer to the phone’.
Gentleman Jim was greshing in the Gresham Hotel on O’Connell Street, the Gresham being Dublin’s go-to hotel for visiting celbs at the time. The word Gresham being derived from the Leprechaun ‘greisim’/ I luxuriate.
Albert Reynolds was dissed by C. J. Haughey as belonging to the ‘country and western wing’ of the FF Party. If CJH had spent rather less time in trying to ape his ‘alleged’ betters in the ‘city and eastern’ wing of what passes for the Free Southern Stateen’s ‘high society’ he too might have achieved something substantial during his tenure as PW’s boss. More cowboy boot spurs a-jingling, perhaps, and somewhat less jodphurs, riding crops and Gandon-designed country mansion might have served him and his hooded-eyes, not to mention his silver-teapot servility, better.
Many Eire-loathing eyebrows (not least those in The Unionist Times) were arched with disdain as the chemistry of the relationship between Reynolds and Major. This arching was based of their all too predictably awry Anglo-Oirish contempt for the show called biz. They conveniently ignored the fact that John Major, was he not, the son of a trapeze artist, Tom Major-Ball. So, his DNA pre-determined a certain ease in dealings with that other high-rise performer, the former owner of the Cloudland ballroom.
Indeed, David Bowie had purloined the name in the line ‘Ground control to Major Tom’ in ‘Space Oddity’ after spotting a circus poster of his fellow-Brixton resident.
Another PW memory of Gentleman Albert’s tenure also, curiously enough, has a distinctly showbiz ring. It involved the curtain-call of the then Taoiseach, i.e, the day the Fr. Brendan Smyth s–t hit the fan. While all h. was breaking loose within the hallowed halls of Government Buildings, one oasis of calm was preserved. Again, another of the onerous duties of the superfluous PW. This oasis was, once again, the Sycamore Room which on this occasion was transformed into a waiting room was the girl friend of the visiting US Congressman for New Jersey (pronounced ‘Joisy’)
Bad day to come a-calling for Congressman and future Senator Robert Torricelli, for sure. While he was ensconsed in the ante-room of the T’s office his current girl friend had to kick her stylish high heels in the company of the down at heel Perky, the designated spoof-generating comfort-giver of the day.
Now the average waiting time for the typical visitor (Cardinals, costermongers, CEOs, constituency cranks, that class of caller) was 30 minutes in the ante-room, this day was different. A half an hour stretched to an hour, to 90 minutes, to two hours and so on.
This proved indeed onerous for the normally tongue-tied PW: his only relief was the occasional opening of the door to glance out in pretend concern at what was going down in the corridor, the Long Mile Road corridor between the T’s office and the Dail whose plush Axminster carpet was almost worn down that very same day, by scurry-minded minions with scraps of paper in hand, hithering to and fro..
The fact that the girl friend of the visiting politico was a cutie not unknown to the generality in the world of pop music rendered PW’s task all the more taxing. Indeed, two and a half hours were to pass (during which time the growingly impatient US Congressman in the ante room was heard to muse aloud ‘if the fact that his host was a Rooskie had anything to do with the delay?’) before he could pluck up the courage to ask the g.f. if she had ever confronted Neil Sedaka over the perceived slur contained within this verse:
‘When it came to a superstar
Jenny was a braggart
Spread it all around to everyone in town
That she once had Mick Jagger (ooh!)
Oh, but there’s no doubt when the truth came out
True love will always conquer.
She didn’t get Mick, but she got a kick
And a black eye from Bianca’.
No, the girl friend in question was not Jenny, but rather the beatific Bianca. Boring job being a bureaucurat., sans doute. The reason why PW couldn’t wait to get out of the Civil Service; took it twenty years to do so.
To conclude: reference has already been made to ‘arched eyebrows’. The same e. were a. when Gentleman Albert was compelled to quit the stage so soon after his – and Dublin’s -greatest triumph. Helped on his C and W way by Eireland’s equivalent of the deadeyed poster of Myra Hindley: the wild-eyed one of Fr. Brendan Smyth. (How they tittered, how they chaffed in TUT !).
Now, how come that came about so suddenly, from the left field, like?
Bide a wee, once more with PW.
Stagedoor Jenny who inspired the verse above was the ‘Queen of 1964’ the same year as the Taoiseach’s hero, Gentleman Jim met a premature death in a plane crash. A couple of miles outside the sublime singer’s hometown of Carthage, Tx stands his statue: inscribed on the plinth in the shape of a record is the simple inscription: ‘Jim Reeves: Producer, God’.
Just as an old adage has it ‘that those whom the Gods love etc’ so also, there is an old Latin tag which goes along the lines: ‘Carthago Delenda Est’/ Carthage must be destroyed.
Perhaps, it was a case in 1994 of ‘Alberto Delenda Est’?
But who, pray? Would. Want. That?.
A short time before this when The Great Untouchable was about to enter Government Buildings for the first time (bearded, baddish grasp of Leprechaun,, no grasp of economics, a malign influence, hugely popular etc) there were the stirrings of a Curragh Mutiny within Roinn an Taoisigh. Threats were made and a determination to drape the Union Jack (oops, almost wrote, Butcher’s Apron) from the roof of said buildings was voiced. Threat never carried out. Then, at least.
A cuter form of hoorism prevailed.
Enter, stage left, Fr. B. Smyth of the Norbertine Order, or rather wild-eyed poster of same.
Mind you, PW said nothing.
Albert Reynolds did a lot for the peace process and like John Major deserves credit for that. Major had his hands tied by the Unionist MPs who whored themselves out for temporary gain, some things never change and although his use of the nonsensical term `mainland` was and is grating he too did as much as possible to end the war. I have to say I always found Gerry Anderson`s schtick irritating, but there was no denying his talent. May they both rest in peace.
I think it’s simple .There are those of us who easily”got” Gerry Anderson and those who would never be able to enter the surreal world he inhabited as a radio personality. I thought he was the only thing on Radio Ulster that cut through the usual “Ulster codswallop”. there was an urbanity and a musical nous that is mostly sadly missing in the world of Hugo Duncan and all that happy clappy …”ye will…ye willl….yew willll!!! God save us he understood that there were a few hundred of us out there who understood irony and actually enjoyed real music as opposed to that old sanctimonious sentimentality that seems to be the main bread and butter .
I was offside for a day or two there, where wi-fi was a mish mash ….in Belfast at a wedding in Belfast’s fanciest hotel ….offside both mentally and physically….you might say I was having a “lost weekend” ….mid week ….I only heard news of Gerry’s passing about an hour ago on the car radio on the way home….Sad news indeed …I was patiently awaiting his return after more than a year’s missing in action ….He’ll not be back and Radio Ulster will remain a wasteland in his absence…I’ll miss his perception , his entertaining books and his laconic banter….another good one gone down.
Albert Reynolds deserves all the plaudits for pushing the peace process to the fore front in spite of the negative powers that were against it at the time. Ironically enough I am sure there was a huge sigh of relief when from these same powers when Bruton succeeded him, which says everything about that skank. In fact under Bruton’s tenure it wasn’t surprising when the process hit the rocks……some would think Bruton’s was doing their bidding for them at the time?
Fair play to Reynolds, his legacy is secure. Go mbeannaigh Dia ar a anam.
Albert Reynolds place in Irish history is secure for the vital role he played in the Peace Process – and crucially – getting Bill Clinton on board which directly led to the GFA.
A Re-United Ireland is inevitable – and Albert Reynolds can take huge credit for ensuring this will happen.