Tuesday 20 November 2018

Bookworm: O'Mahony has retired – and RTÉ is the poorer for that

True critical voice: Andy O'Mahony
True critical voice: Andy O'Mahony

John Boland

The Book Show, presented by Sinéad Gleeson, will be a regular Saturday evening feature on Radio 1 from November 23 onwards, and if one can judge from last Saturday's extended pilot programme, it could be a worthwhile addition to the RTÉ schedules – certainly the discussion of Maeve Brennan's life and work was both engaging and engrossing, as well as being properly serious.

But in fact the show is a replacement rather than an addition and the programme it's replacing is Off the Shelf, presented for many years by Andy O'Mahony, who has retired without any fanfare.

That's entirely typical of the man, but his radio bosses should have been less reticent about his departure. Here, after all, was RTÉ's last intellectual, a person of wide interests, passionate commitment, deep learning, true critical rigour and rare interviewing skills – and blessed, too, with the most seductive of radio voices.

Down though the decades, these singular attributes were employed in many different formats – current affairs, religious programmes, even a famously controversial hosting of The Late Late Show. But the arts, and books especially, were Andy's abiding love, to discussion of which he brought an almost forensic attention to detail.

Indeed, whenever I was invited to discuss a particular book on Off the Shelf I made sure to be familiar with its every nuance and with every facet of its author's work lest Andy caught me napping or chancing my arm. Such, though, was his seemingly endless knowledge that his contributors almost always rose, or at least tried to rise, to the amiably demanding occasion.

The current trend is otherwise in media coverage of the arts, with books mainly there to be puffed rather than assessed and with their authors afforded the same kind of fanzine reverence that used to be reserved for movie stars and other celebrities – Radio 1's nightly arts show is a particular offender in this regard.

That was never Andy's way and RTÉ is the poorer for his retirement.

Irish Independent

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