Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Michael O'Hehir and his Legacy

John Bowman’s nasty and mean-spirited attacks on Michael O’Hehir in Bowman’s new book are further proof that there is such a thing as a Dublin 4 media elite, and that it exists independently of the vast majority of opinion in the country.

Michael O’Hehir wasn’t just the most loved man in the country. He was the most trusted. For instance; when CIE first introduced signal-controlled level crossings, stop gates where train tracks cross the public road, they needed a public information advertisement to explain to people what the gates meant and how you were supposed to navigate them.

Bear in mind that traffic lights wouldn’t be common at all outside of Dublin and the bigger cities. These level crossings would have been as alien to the majority population as HG Wells’s Martian war machines.

So what the nation saw in the ad breaks before, during and after the Riordans was a Ford Granada rolling up to the junction, stopping, and a small man with combed over dark hair and a Columbo overcoat getting out.

Once the little man started talking the nation immediately recognised the voice and knew it was in safe hands. If Michael O’Hehir said these yokes were ok, then they were ok. Michael O’Hehir was a man you could trust.

Nobody had that level of rapport with the Irish people, either before or after. Plenty of people couldn’t stand Gay Byrne, but it’s impossible to imagine anyone having an objection to Michael O’Hehir. It would be like picking a fight with Santa.

Impossible, until now. According to John Burns’s review of Bowman’s book in the Sunday Times, Bowman criticises O’Hehir under two species. The first is that O’Hehir saw a TV commentary as being the same as a radio commentary, and the second is that O’Hehir played down sendings-off, the better to protect people’s good name and the good name of the Gaelic Athletic Association.

TV commentary is in theory different to radio, yes. The broad stroke is that you need fewer words for TV because people can see the pictures. But a good TV commentary is still better than a bad radio one.

This is certainly the opinion of the people, who for years have muted their TVs in order to listen to Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh on the radio. The distinction didn’t seem to knock as much of a stir out of them as it did out of John Bowman.

What those people are going to do now that Ó Muircheartaigh has retired and RTÉ have decided they don’t need a chief GAA commentator at all, at all is hard to say. Bowman’s own opinion of the current state of RTÉ’s GAA commentaries is unrecorded.

That said, it’s hard to see any of O’Hehir’s current successors being employed by the BBC, as O’Hehir was for Grand National commentaries. The National has a relay of commentators, because it’s so long. O’Hehir’s job was to take over at Beecher’s Brook, a place where the race was often won or lost. A considerable responsibility for a man who didn’t know the difference between TV and radio.

To say nothing of the BBC’s concerns about the integrity of journalism, and any attempts by O’Hehir to protect the good names of the horses, should any of them take it easy around the back straight.

Did any newspapers splash that the Irish rugby team were on the beer with the English that infamous night in Auckland? Why did it take so long for the truth about Trapattoni’s dropping of Andy Reid to come to light? Whom exactly does John Bowman think he’s kidding?

The GAA players of Michael O’Hehir’s era lived in a different world with different rules to those of the modern world and the modern, all-intrusive media. Different Ireland, different rules. If John Bowman wants to have a go at anyone, perhaps he should look a little closer to home.

John Burns reported in his review in the Sunday Times that Bowman lists the producers of Prime Time Investigates. Bowman refrains from having a pop at those worthies for not knowing the difference between radio and TV, or for protecting the good name of the Gaelic Athletic Association and the ordinary working man. More smoked salmon, Marmaduke?