Tuesday 21 November 2017

Obituary: Fergus Linehan

The former journalist wrote many musicals, plays and adaptations for theatre

MUSICALS: Journalist Fergus Linehan wrote numerous revuessuch as Fair Game, Funnybones,
MUSICALS: Journalist Fergus Linehan wrote numerous revuessuch as Fair Game, Funnybones,
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Fergus Linehan, who died in Dublin last Tuesday at the age of 82, was the author of numerous musicals and revues, mainly in collaboration with Des Keogh and often featuring his wife, the well-known actress Rosaleen Linehan.

Born in Malaya, in 1934, he returned to Ireland as a young child. It was while attending University College Dublin that he met his life-long collaborator, Des Keogh. He also met Rosaleen at the same venue and they later married and lived for more than 50 years in Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Linehan was the author of two novels Under the Durian Tree (1995) and The Safest Place (1998) and he was also Arts Editor, television critic and film critic of the Irish Times during a long career with the newspaper from 1960 to 1999.

But he is probably best known as a writer for Gemini Productions' revues and musicals, mainly at the Eblana Theatre in Dublin which were "immensely successful and ran forever".

These featured a varied cast and often included his wife Rosaleen, Des Keogh, Maureen Potter, David Kelly, Norman Rodway, Anna Manahan, Frank Kelly, Jim Norton, Barry Cassin, among many others. They also often involved musicians Jim Doherty and 'Professor' Peter O'Brien.

Fergus recalled that the first thing he ever wrote was for Keogh - a number called Do Join The Hockey Club and said it was for Keogh's "idiot persona."

'Professor' O'Brien told an interviewer that the first 'two hander' that Rosaleen and Keogh did together was Two for Joy in 1976, written by Fergus.

His wife Rosaleen said she was only three weeks in the Dramsoc at UCD "when he put his eye on me - and I was only 17." The couple, both Geminis, fell in love at dances in the Swiss Cottage in Merrion Row, although Fergus says he loved her from the very beginning.

Apart from what Rosaleen described as a "tiny break, so we could grow up a little, when we were around 20," the couple were together ever since.

Fergus went on to write and collaborate on shows such as Fair Game, Funnybones, Black Rosie, Two for Joy, Just Good Friends and Please Don't Make Me Feel So Happy, among many others.

He also co-wrote one of the first RTE satirical radio shows, Get an Earful of This, with Frank Sheeran, which ran from 1970 to 1979. "It poked fun at everything and everyone," according to playwright Jimmy Keary, and ended with a rousing song lampooning some aspect of Irish life.

It also had a weekly serial called The McGombeen Saga featuring a property developer and his 'nouveau riche' wife - which illustrates just how far we have travelled in the last 40 years!

But Fergus was also a man of great moral courage. According to theatre director Peter Sheridan, he and his brother Jim "had one great friend in the media" in Fergus. His was the voice of sanity during the Gay Sweatshop controversy that engulfed the Project Arts Centre, which they ran, in 1976.

Councillor Ned Brennan was outraged of what he described as "the funny bunnies" and tried to have the performance banned.

Linehan's "informed opinion helped us to keep the doors open," Sheridan said in a tribute last week, referring to "a time when anything out of the ordinary was regarded as a threat to the established order" by most people.

Fergus and Rosaleen have four children, Hugh, who is Culture Editor of the Irish Times, Evanna, Fergus, who is director of the Edinburgh Festival, and Conor who is a pianist.

Apart from writing reviews and enjoying cricket with the Theatrical Cavaliers, Fergus liked conversation and wine. One of his stories was about Cole Porter, who was stuck for a word to fill the line 'a trip to the moon on (blankety-blank) wings'. "He was sitting morosely in a bar and this guy asked what was the problem and when he told him the guy replied 'on gossamer wings' and every time Porter went into the bar after that the guy would ask 'how's our song coming along?'"

Linehan was one of the best-known figures in musical theatre and journalism, but for those who knew him as he walked up and down to the shops in Blackrock, Co Dublin, he was also just one of those nice men who would stop for a minute to chat about the weather or some other everyday topic.

Sadly, like Denis Byrne and Pat Tubridy, he's now gone and another link with the past has faded with the final curtain call.

Sunday Independent

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