Tuesday, July 01, 2008


Latest updates: 5 December 2008 (to include link to Peter Braun essay on the launch of the International Features Conference: see Michael Littleton entry)

This is a small archive of photographs taken in and around RTE Radio's Features and Current Affairs (FCA) department, then led by Michael Littleton, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Accompanying the pictures are short vignettes of some of the people who worked there at the time.

There are pictures of a Women Today election special in Studio 1, of Community Radio West, one of the last such projects with the Mobile Radio Studio, as well as some occasional photos taken in and around the Radio Centre; perhaps a hundred images or so in all. Clicking on most (but not all) of these images will enlarge them to full-screen.

I was then a producer at RTE and took many of the photographs. Perhaps it is in the nature of radio that the visual record is so sporadic. Nonetheless these picture offer small glimpses of RTE Radio's history -a history that has not been chronicled in a considered way since Maurice Gorham's Forty Years of Irish Broadcasting in the 1960s. Some of the pictures that will eventually appear transcend mere sentimental interest and hint at how Ireland was then beginning to change.

It was a strange time at RTE. The optimism of the 1960s was spent, and Ireland was in the grip of the second oil recession and a crippling budget deficit. Emigration started again (I was one migrant, albeit by choice) and I remember a Gay Byrne Show from Sydney (produced by John Caden) hymning the joys of life in Australia. The Tiger Economy was, by the lights of the time, unimaginable. Yet, there were other currents at work in Irish life. Women Today notably crested a new wave, while the Pope's visit in 1979 - a huge challenge for FCA - was a high water mark for Irish Catholicism. The future for the church was as unimaginable then as was that for the economy.

Yet there are parallels between RTE then and now. For our generation, every year brought cutbacks as the organisation struggled with recession. I imagine today's producers know a similar experience. They can take assurance from the fact that creativity often thrives in times of recession; indeed the architecture of today's Radio 1 was put in place in the late seventies and early eighties. While I only listen to RTE on visits to Ireland, it still seems recognisably the service for which I worked twenty five years ago.

The Feature and Current Affairs department was a veritable kaleidoscope of Irish life. Nonetheless there were notable absences. When I joined, there was one woman producer, Petronella O'Flanagan, who had produced a woman's programme, Between Ourselves for Radio Eireann in the 1950s. (It was presented by Ginette Waddell who was one of the treasures of the REP). Petronella retired in 1975, and for a time FCA was an exclusively male preserve (on the producer side) until the arrival of Clare Duignan and Betty Purcell, both of whom were to feature large in the story of Irish broadcasting. Indeed, after a long stretch in television, Clare is back in the Radio Centre as managing director of the service.

For me the clock stopped at RTE, and indeed on much of Irish experience, on 4 February 1983, rather as the characters in Fellini's Satyricon are stilled forever in the tesseras of a Roman mosaic as the closing credits creep across the screen. Ephemeral though that world seems now, it mattered intensely to us at the time, and several of my then colleagues matter greatly to me even now.

This site is an act of pietas. I recently met some old RTE colleagues, some of whom I had not seen for twenty five years. As we talked, I realised that these photographs deserved a better fate than to lie forgotten in an attic in West London. My original plan was to publish the pictures with a light linking text. But as I began to write, I also began to remember......

The logo on the home page template was RTE's corporate symbol from the late 1960s until the early 1980s, a stylised version of St Bridget's Cross, designed by John Cogan, who was then head of corporate design. St Bridget's Cross in various guises remained the corporate symbol until it was quietly 'designed out' several years ago (a straw in the wind, perhaps, that Christianity was no longer seen as an essential anchor of Irish identity).

I also hope to add to and annotate individual postings - the pix and comments are a first take. Also, the posting dates have no significance. Blogging was the easiest way to get this material online quickly. I hope, in time, to create a proper website. And if former FCA colleagues chance to see this, and would like to add thoughts or pix, I'd be delighted. I can be contacted via the 'View my Complete Profile' page.


Póló said...

What a fantastic blog.

Just read through all of it. A very emotional trip down memory lane.

Míle buíochas agus go maire sé.

Póló said...

This is not a photo of Radio Éireann but from Radio Éireann - Moore St. from the 3rd floor. Probably early 1960s.