Saturday 16 December 2017

RTE letters reveal heartfelt attempt to hire Beckett for fledgling station

Katherine Donnelly

It was an eloquent and heartfelt appeal at a defining moment in the nation's history.

But celebrated playwright and novelist, Samuel Beckett, who had a vexed relationship with his native country, still said no.

It was 1961, the year when the national television service, then called Telefis Eireann, was being set up, and the job of head of drama fell to theatrical giant Hilton Edwards.

Television was a new experience but for Edwards, who co-founded Dublin's Gate Theatre in the 1930s, nothing was too good even for the "unspecialised audience" the populist medium would attract.

In July 1961, Edwards penned a letter to Beckett, then on self-imposed exile in Paris. He was already an international name and had been writing works for Radio Eireann since the 1940s.

Edwards told Beckett that he was making the "strongest possible attempt to find the best works I can at this popular level".

In the interests of making it as "exciting as possible" he wondered whether Beckett would consider writing something.

Edwards thought the drama schedule for the new station should include a weekly one-hour play, with at least one in four to be representative of the best of new Irish writing.

"It will be no easy task and I can do no more than try, but I would not feel I had tried had I not made this suggestion to you," he wrote.


What a catch Beckett would have been for the fledgling station -- eight years later, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Edwards signed off by acknowledging that "you, better than anybody, know the limitations and these I promise to extend as far as I am permitted".

Beckett did not leave him waiting for a reply, which was immediate, brief and to the point.

"I am tres unfamiliar with the television and its possibilities and so hesitate to write for this medium. And if I did I fear the result would be unacceptable in Ireland.

"Nevertheless, I am grateful to you for your suggestion and shall keep it in mind. To be agreeable to you personally would give me much pleasure. With best wishes, Yours sincerely, Samuel Beckett".

The correspondence is among the RTE Collection of Cultural Documents, which has been handed over to University College Dublin.

The archives contain both corporate materials and documents of national cultural importance dating from the 1920s to the 1980s, including 1,200 Irish language radio scripts.

UCD will now appoint an archivist to sort and catalogue the collection and the documents will be made available for study purposes.

RTE director general Cathal Goan said RTE had entered the partnership with UCD to ensure these important national cultural documents could be maintained and accessible to all.

Irish Independent

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