Saturday 25 January 2020

Theatre world mourns the loss of legendary producer

Michael McHale

Former chairman of the RTE Authority and legendary theatre impresario Fred O'Donovan has died at the age of 80.

The theatre producer passed away in his sleep, surrounded by his family at the Bon Secours Hospital in Glasnevin, Co Dublin, yesterday morning.

He was well known throughout the city's arts world for his dedication to his work, and was the first chairman of the National Concert Hall, as well as presiding over the RTE Authority from 1981-85.

Last night, head of the RTE board Tom Savage offered his condolences to Mr O'Donovan's family, including his brother Bill, former head of RTE 2fm.

"Irish entertainment and performance -- on stage and screen, as well as in broadcasting -- owe so much to Fred's creative flair and confidence. We have all lost a good and gracious friend," he said.

Among the hundreds of performances he produced were 'Juno and the Peacock' and 'Man and Superman' with actor Peter O'Toole; 'Jury's Irish Cabaret'; 'Annie'; as well as a number of Christmas Pantomimes and annual shows at the National Concert Hall and for late tenor Frank Patterson at New York's Carnegie Hall.

In January of this year, 'Riverdance' director John McColgan produced a special 'Gaels of Laughter' tribute show to Mr O'Donovan at the Gaiety, hosted by broadcaster Gay Byrne. The producer remained on the theatre's school of acting board until his death.

Speaking in the run up to the tribute show, Mr McColgan said the producer had "contributed enormously to the world of arts and culture in Ireland for more than 30 years".

"He is justifiably loved and admired by all who have worked with him," he said.


Last night, Gay Byrne said he was an "outstanding producer" and "a great man of showbusiness".

During his long career with the Gaiety, he worked closely with Maureen Potter, looking after the pantos and summer shows in which she starred.

"He gave a start to so many people in showbusiness, whether they were musicians or dancers or whatever," he said.

In his role as chairman of the RTE Authority, he was often embroiled in controversy and he displayed huge energy and talent, Mr Byrne added.

Mr Byrne said he "was in great form" for the tribute show and for a follow-up lunch with his old pal, the broadcaster Cathal O'Shannon. The two octagenarians had recalled lying about their ages to get into the RAF.

Earlier this year, Mr O'Donovan had admitted he could not believe he made it to 80, having contracted TB while flying with the RAF, and after being given a year to live in 1948.

Asked this year what work he was most proud of, Mr O'Donovan said The Irish Cancer Society, which he co-founded with Professor Austin Darragh. He added: "I'm lucky. I've worked in a profession I love, with people I love, in a country I love. What more can a man ask?"

He is survived by his wife Sally, daughters Fiona, Sally Ann and Peggy, and son Freddie. His funeral will take place in the Church of the Assumption in Howth on Monday at 11.30am, with burial afterwards in Fingal Cemetery, Balgriffin, Dublin.

Irish Independent

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