Sets appeal


Published August 8th, 1960 Photograph by Dermot Barry

I it’s a caption-writer’s dream, this delightful image from the summer of 1960. “Three men and a little lady”. “If we build them high enough, can we land on the moon?” Or maybe, “Who’s that twiddling my knobs?” The caption which appeared on page seven of The Irish Times, needless to say, is a considerably more sober affair. “Joyce, Lady Talbot de Malahide, patron of the National Association for Cerebral Palsy,” it reads, “accepts two radio sets which were donated by an anonymous donor in Hove, England. The presentation was made at the office of the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests for Ireland by Mr CF Matheson (right), chairman.” The other gentlemen are named as PP O’Donoghue and J Kenny.

More interesting by far is what the caption doesn’t explain. Why were these radios – antiques, surely, by 1960 – such a big deal that Lady T de M turned up in person to take charge of them? What kind of anonymous donor would send two radio sets all the way to Ireland? What’s the deal with the pictures on the wall behind: on the right, an abstract painting; on the left, some kind of revolutionary manifesto that has apparently been attacked with a flame-thrower?

In the end, the picture tells its own beguiling story. The intense expressions of the three men, from slightly disapproving (far right) to mildly amused (centre) to faintly scandalised (left – look at those arched eyebrows).

Lady Talbot de Malahide, meanwhile, looks as if she’s on her way to a garden party, complete with floral-print two-piece and jaunty be-ribboned trilby. One white-gloved hand rests on the table in front of her.

The disappearance of the other hand, added to the surprised expression of the man on her ladyship’s left and the demure demeanour of the lady herself, gives the picture its comic frisson. In her day, mind you, the one-time actress was said to be fond of a flutter on the horses. And she lived to the ripe old age of 83, dying in an English nursing-home in 1980. Clearly, this bit of radio daze didn’t do her any harm at all.

Arminta Wallace

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