Thursday 29 September 2016

Television: The ups and downs of a very high-flier

Tony Ryan: A Legacy, RTE One
* True Detective, Sky Atlantic

Published 27/06/2015 | 02:30

Game changer: Tony Ryan changed the face of aviation in Ireland
Game changer: Tony Ryan changed the face of aviation in Ireland

Anyone who came of age before the mid-90s will remember air travel as an enjoyable, if extremely expensive, venture. This was a time when Aer Lingus and BA ruled the roost and worked together to keep even a flight to London prohibitively expensive for anyone who hadn't spent six months saving for it.

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Then, goes the accepted wisdom, along came Michael O'Leary, who introduced the concept of both cheap flights and service with a scowl. It remains a source of bafflement to me that the man who did more to offer new horizons to Irish people was so openly despised by his own customers.

Then again, we're not a particularly logical race of people and, you have to admit, it takes a particular lack of grace to bitch about a bloke who enables you to fly to Spain for a tenner.

But behind every great man is... another great man mentoring him, and Tuesday's episode of Tony Ryan: A Legacy was notable for a number of reasons.

Tony Ryan's name may not mean much to as many people as it used to, but the founder of Ryanair flourished in an era when Irish business success stories were rare and he was a world leader in the notoriously cut-throat world of global aviation.

David Murphy's slickly produced documentary about one of this country's first international business moguls actually managed to turn what could have been a dry and dusty account of international high finance, into a rather riveting examination of pride, guts, greed, hubris and an unslakable thirst for hard work - basically, all the ingredients necessary to become the richest man in the country.

To say he was a self-made man would do a disservice to his train-driving father, Martin, who instilled the importance of hard work into his son.

For instance, Ryan junior was apparently fond of telling people that: "My father used to have an expression that the best steel goes through the hottest fire… 'You'll never have character, my son, without pain'."

That's an almost Jesuitical approach to the corporate boardroom, but there was certainly plenty of pain to go with the riches and adulation.

Deciding to float his company, Guinness Peat Aviation, just as the first Gulf War was kicking off, was surely ill advised, and refusing to lower the price caused the IPO to collapse.

But having learned from the American model that you're not really a success until you have been broken once and then rebuilt your empire, that's exactly what he did.

Of particular interest was the common thread that ran through all his former proteges - a sense of barely concealed fear.

Michael O'Leary and Ryan's former PA, Denis O'Brien, aren't exactly renowned for their shy and retiring nature, but both recall quaking in front of him. It was also telling that one former employee at least admitted that he would stop eviscerating some unfortunate underling whenever his grandchildren came by.

That's a lovely story, I'm sure.

But it certainly provided the odd image of those people who would go on to own half this country quaking in their boots and praying that some kids would come along to save them from their boss's ire.

The rich are different from the rest of us, I suppose, and require a drive that is simply beyond most mere wage slaves.

As he admitted on his death bed: "A lot of people will remember me as a bastard... And I was a bastard. But I needed to be to get everything done."

A man we should admire, if not necessarily love, he's further proof that we need more visionaries like him. But you probably wouldn't choose to hang around with him.

There was an undeniably dream-like aspect to the first run of True Detective that was both beguiling and infuriating.

In fact, there were times when it was like watching a Southern Gothic death ballad come to life, it was so dark and brooding. And, yes, it was frequently so impenetrable that I doubt anyone knows everything that happened.

But like all dreams, no matter how entertaining they may have been, recollection eventually becomes fragmented and hallucinatory.

That's why I keep meaning to go back and watch the first season of True Detective once more - was it as great as I remembered or was it pretentious tosh? More accurately, was it a bit of both?

The new run, featuring Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn and Rachel McAdams, moves from the bayou of the first season to the sprawling megalopolis that is LA and the first episode, though entirely different, had that same, vaguely underwater feel about it.

Corrupt cops and a gangster trying to go straight are hardly new devices, but writer Nic Pizzolatto isn't trying to rewrite the genre, he's just adding to it.

Whether this iteration of True Detective captures the imagination as much as the Woody Harrelson/Matthew McConaughey version remains to be seen but the signs are good - corrupt cop Farrell is suitably twitchy and violent while Vaughn has always had a face better suited to noir drama than comedy.

And now for something completely different and off topic - journalist George Byrne died in April and tonight sees a tribute gig in his memory in Whelan's in Dublin. He was my best friend and I miss him dearly.

There's nothing else to say, really.

Irish Independent

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