Jimmy Magee: A tribute to a great broadcaster and a great friend
From missing elephants to The Beatles - Peter Byrne reflects on his life with Magee
Jimmy Magee, who passed away on Tuesday night, will be remembered as a man who made an immense contribution to sports broadcasting in Ireland over a period of 60 years.
It coincided with an era when sport contrived to put Ireland centre stage on many occasions, and nobody captured the excitement and the drama of the moment better than Magee.
One of the qualities required to make it to the top in his profession is the ability to summon the right word or words at the precise moment of achievement, to preserve it for the ages. And nobody did that better than the man I was privileged to call my friend.
I first met Jimmy when we were still in our teens making our way in freelance journalism and urgently needing a ‘day’ job - to supplement our meagre earnings.
And that was how we became work mates, as clerks in a shipping office - a job that gave us some of the happiest times of our lives, at a stage when all our days were sunny and all our skies were blue.
We weren’t the most efficient clerical officers in British Railways, but I want to put on record that some of the allegations made against Jimmy and myself were distorted.
It is true that an elephant in transit from Holyhead to Dublin, in preparation for a big circus in the city, went missing and was eventually found in a wagon up a siding in Clacton-on-Sea and on the point of death through starvation.
It was also rumoured that we were in some way implicated through dereliction of duty in the loss of a steamroller which was later discovered under a small mountain of straw on a street down at the North Wall.
I shall remember my friend as a great ‘ideas’ man, somebody who thought outside the box at a time when we had lots of bright enterprises in mind but no money to bring them to fruition.
There was one occasion when he came bursting into the office barely able to contain his excitement. He had learned of a hugely talented but largely unknown group of four musicians in Liverpool. He was told that he could have ‘The Beatles’ for a fee of £2,000, a King’s ransom at the time, for an outdoor concert in Dublin in high summer.
So James did his sums, and reckoned he could hire Dalymount Park for £500.
Taking account of all other ancillary matters, he thought we could get out with costs of less than £3,000. By charging 4 shillings a head to an anticipated crowd of 20,000 we could cop a mind boggling profit. We would go to a nearby bank manager and make our case for a loan of £3,000 by giving him details of the cost involved, the profits we were confident we would make and a promise to bring himself and his wife on holiday.
Sadly, he was not impressed. First he asked how much Jimmy was earning - £5, while I earned even less.
The harsh truth began to dawn on us that it wasn’t going to work.
“Let’s call a spade a spade,” he said. Assuming Hurricane Hilda hits Dublin on July 9th, sheets of rain sweep the city from early morning and nobody turns up for your concert. What are you going to do then? On the figures you give me you will be paying back every penny you earn for the next 3 years and we will all starve.
“Lads take my advice forget about it all - the group you are talking about, what do you call them? ‘The Beatles,’ and we will all sleep contentedly in our beds for the next six months.”
For much of the next 60 years we travelled the world together, covering major sports events we and never forgot the austere bespectacled Bank Manager - and the day when we almost lost the very staff of life.
In later years we were both actively involved in the reformation of the Association of Sports Journalists in Ireland, and in that capacity derived deep satisfaction on being able to reassemble some of the great sporting personalites in this country in our lifetime.
Peter Byrne is a former Irish Times soccer and athletics correspondent.