Saturday 7 December 2019

Broadcaster was 'definition of kindness' - colleagues pay tribute to Brian Farrell

Broadcaster Brian Farrell on the set of 'Today Tonight' in 1990.
Broadcaster Brian Farrell on the set of 'Today Tonight' in 1990.
Broadcaster Brian Farrell circa 1970
Brian Farrell on the set of 'Prime Time'
The "Today Tonight - Election Debate" presented by Brian Farrell. Charles Haughey, FFParty Leader (L) shakes hands with Garret Fitzgerald, FG Party Leader (R) , 16th February 1982.
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

Brian Farrell was remembered as a pioneering and incisive broadcaster who was "the definition of kindness itself" by colleagues and friends last night.

The 85-year-old passed away yesterday surrounded by his family after a long battle with Parkinson's Disease.

The RTE broadcaster's career spanned over 50 years and he was described by President Michael D Higgins as "an outstanding broadcaster and political commentator" who "set the standard for others to follow".

Born in Manchester in 1929, Mr Farrell moved to Dublin during the Second World War.

Having studied at Harvard and UCD, he began his career as a book reviewer for the Irish Independent in 1957 before joining RTE six weeks after the station launched in 1962.

During the course of his broadcasting career, Mr Farrell worked on a range of current affairs programmes including '7 Days', 'The Politics Programme', 'Today Tonight' and 'Prime Time'.

All the while, Mr Farrell also worked as a senior lecturer in UCD's department of politics and ethics and was known for his encyclopaedic knowledge of Irish political history.

But he was an academic who carried his learning lightly.

"Brian had a vast knowledge of Irish politics and history," broadcaster Miriam O'Callaghan told the Irish Independent.

"He could reference events that happened 100 years ago as clearly if they had happened last week. But he never showed it off or flaunted it."

Ms O'Callaghan went on to say that Mr Farrell had the ability to "destroy and fillet politicians - but in the nicest possible way".

"There was no ego with Brian and that's very unusual in our industry," she added. "He was a true gentleman and one of the good guys."

From 1965 to 2004, Farrell presented all general, presidential and EU parliament election coverage for RTE and was, to quote Tanaiste Joan Burton, "a formidable interviewer for politicians to have to face".

Ms Burton also commended Mr Farrell on his ability to "translate the complex affairs of politics into something that the ordinary man on the street could understand".

"He brought politics to life," Ms Burton said. "And made it interesting and relevant for viewers."

In 1982, Mr Farrell presented the first ever general election Leaders Debate on RTE between Charles Haughey and Garret FitzGerald.

"I think that's what I remember most clearly," former colleague Pat Kenny said. "How he handled himself and how he handled politicians during the election coverage. He had real grace but was unafraid to ask hard questions or questions he already knew the answer to."

Mr Kenny joined the 'Today Tonight' team in the 1980s and was taken aback by the level of kindness Mr Farrell showed him.

"Brian was the definition of kindness itself," Mr Kenny said.

Mr Farrell was honoured with Jacob's Awards twice during his career; the first in 1968 for his presentation of '7 Days' and for his role in the RTÉ coverage of the 1977 general election result.

But he was modest about his achievements, when asked what his most memorable moment in TV broadcasting had been, Farrell replied: "My motto is that the most interesting programme is always the next one."

Over the years Mr Farrell built up a huge level of trust with viewers who respected his insight and intelligence but he was also known for his style and quick wit.

"He could be wickedly funny," Mr Kenny said. "He gave this impression of great formality on screen but he was a hoot and was the first to sing a song on a night out."

RTE's Director General Noel Curran echoed these comments saying Mr Farrell was "a fantastic colleague. Wise, witty and supportive." Mr Farrell is survived by his wife Marie-Thérèse and his children, Naomi, Bernard, Miriam, David, Rachel, Theo and Brian. His funeral will take place on Thursday at 10.30am at the Church of the Holy Cross, Dundrum.

READ: My loyal friend believed clear language meant a clear mind

Irish Independent

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