Broadcasting, banter and bromance
Subsequently O’Herlihy developed two parallel careers, one as a sports presenter (an unexpected sideways step at the time) and the second as a PR guru, his “full-time job”. He set up his PR business in the 1970s and instantly regretted it. He says that he could relate to George Lee when the he left Fine Gael to run back to RTÉ.
Instead of quitting, however, O’Herlihy persevered, to become a PR man of note. Indeed he was one of “the National Handlers” (John Healy’s term) for the Fine Gael-Labour governments of the early 1980s. He doesn’t go into too much detail about this other than to say that he couldn’t curb Garret FitzGerald’s overuse of subclauses in speeches.
The wider activities of O’Herlihy’s successful communications business aren’t analysed in depth. At one point he rebuts allegations that he lobbied the government to lift sanctions on Iraq on behalf of a client, and he also delivers a few short sympathetic lines about a former employer, Michael Lowry.
I suspect that somewhere in O’Herlihy’s house there is an alternative, PR-themed biography, a black dossier that, like many such dossiers in leafier suburbs, will never see printer’s ink.
(I complete the review. Fintan cycles to the printer with my handwritten copy, muttering under his breath. I recall my teenage years in Co Kildare.)
O’Herlihy is much more personally revealing about his heart attack, his recent struggle with cancer, the deaths of his sisters and his strong religious faith. He’s also quite candid in the “present tense” studio sections about the creation of compelling television and his occasionally tumultuous relationship with his panellists.
The absurd/banal minutiae are entertaining (“Talk moves away from Brady’s sunburn,” he says of some ad-break banter), but he doesn’t shy away from issues they’ve had in the past, such as the time Eamon Dunphy’s book on Matt Busby got a bad review from Johnny Giles or the time Dunphy turned up with a few drinks too many. (Actually, many of the anecdotes revolve around Dunphy, to whom our narrator is nonetheless bromantically attached.)
Occasionally when reading I wondered what Ireland would be like had the easygoing O’Herlihy remained at the helm of state-of-the-nation current-affairs programmes (I’m no counterfactual historian, but I suspect Michael Lowry might be leading us) or where he’d be without panellist-savants like Dunphy and Giles.
On the other hand, his tense retelling of the Saipan incident suggests that he’s dealing with the real state-of-the-nation stuff anyway, and, as he notes himself, his job is really to make the panellists look good.
Ultimately, O’Herlihy’s memoir isn’t earth-shattering, but it’s likeable, candid and pretty entertaining. Like himself.
(The review is now being printed. The production staff hug and high-five one another. I muse vaguely about the future before saying my catchphrase.)