Theatre producer Fred O'Donovan dies


WELL-KNOWN theatre producer and businessman Fred O’Donovan died yesterday aged 80.

A chairman of the RTÉ authority from 1981 to 1985, he was best known in the Irish showbiz fraternity for producing the long-running variety show Gaels of Laughterstarring Maureen Potter at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin.

He also produced numerous Christmas pantomimes, Jury’s Irish Cabaret, The Jack Benny Show, and Juno and the Paycockstarring Peter O’Toole, Siobhán McKenna and Jack McGowran.

Gate Theatre director Michael Colgan – who met Mr O’Donovan in the mid-1970s when he joined the Irish Theatre Company – described him as a great all-rounder. “I was hugely fond of Fred. He did it all and we won’t see the likes of him again.”

A native of Fairview in Dublin, Mr O’Donovan served as chairman of the National Concert Hall at Earlsfort Terrace in Dublin when it opened in 1981.

He was also an original member of the Independent Radio and Television Commission, which issued the first batch of commercial radio licences in 1989 to compete against RTÉ.

During his time as chairman of the RTÉ authority, he became embroiled in controversy when accusations were made of interference in the station’s editorial output.

A planned Late Late Showdebate in the format of a court where the arguments for and against the 1983 abortion referendum would be presented, with viewers acting as the jury, was controversially dropped from the schedules when Mr O’Donovan issued a statement saying a chatshow was not the appropriate forum for such a debate. The debate was transferred to a current affairs programme.

Speaking to The Irish Timeslast night, Gay Byrne described Mr O’Donovan as a wonderful showbiz producer but added that he made an error during his time at RTÉ.

“He was a great theatrical impresario who gave so many people a start. As chair of RTÉ, however, he didn’t consult with the rest of the authority and got into trouble with them,” he said.

“He also showed great enterprise in his time and was involved with Eamonn Andrews, Lorcan Bourke and Dermot Cafferky in running the TV Club in Harcourt Street, a recording studio and the dining ship on the canal, but they all went bust.”

RTÉ authority chairman Tom Savage expressed his sympathies to the O’Donovan family.

“On behalf of RTÉ, I offer condolences to Fred’s wife, Sally, to his daughters and his son, and to his brother, Bill, formerly head of RTÉ 2fm,” he said.

“Irish entertainment and performance – on stage and screen, as well as in broadcasting – owe so much to Fred’s creative flair and confidence. We have all lost a good and gracious friend.”