Saturday 17 November 2018

The man in the Canali suit

Mike Murphy promised us hard-hitting TV when he returned from his business career. So what happened? asks Carissa Casey

Lost and found: Murphy with his
second wife, Ann Walsh
Lost and found: Murphy with his second wife, Ann Walsh

It was billed as the hard- hitting, flagship interview of his new TV series. But the boot that Mike Murphy promised to put into the former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern last week was apparently of such rare Italian leather that the presenter didn't want it scuffed.

Mike Murphy, the debonair funster of the 1980s and middle-brow art critic of the 1990s, is back.

"Do you remember me?" he asked the Late Late Show audience when he turned up to plug his new series The Big Interview With Mike Murphy, which goes out on Thursday nights on RTé One.

For those of a certain age, he's impossible to forget. He says he is the televisual kid brother of the veteran broadcaster Gay Byrne.

Byrne has successfully returned to the airwaves and is now an official national treasure. Turning 70 this year, Murphy appears to be hoping to do the same. But his new series has hardly wowed the critics (see John Boland's view below).

The guests -- ranging from broadcaster Marian Finucane to economist David McWilliams -- are rarely off the airwaves as it is.

Nor is Bertie Ahern a stranger to our TV screens of late. We have heard repeatedly how no one told Ahern that anything was wrong with the banks; that he hadn't a clue what Haughey was up to; that his close friends were just giving him a financial dig-out when he was Minister for Finance because of his separation from his wife.

And we heard it all over again in his interview with Mike Murphy.

Despite a nine-year year absence from the airwaves (give or take the odd documentary), Murphy seemed very much at home in his Canali suit (he says he was given two for the series), sitting in the window of the recently built National Convention Centre, with views out over the slick new buildings of Dublin's docklands, listening to Ahern's same-old, same-old.

"I like Bertie and I have real affection for him and I think he is and was a great politician," he told Gay Byrne in the second of the only two promotional interviews he has done for the series. To be fair, he added that he also believed the former Taoiseach got completely carried away and was irresponsible.

But of his own interview, he believed that people would be surprised.

"I think it is a very stimulating interview, so I am very pleased about it," he said.

Maybe Murphy hasn't seen or heard any of Ahern's other interviews. In fact, the entire show suggested that Murphy isn't actually living in the same Troika-controlled, austerity-ridden country the rest of us inhabit.

So why is he back on our screens? As he says himself, he needs the money.

Let's go back to the beginning. . .

Mike Murphy joined RTé when the national broadcaster was in its infancy. He was one of the station's most popular and presumably one of its most financially successful stars for over 35 years, presenting popular variety programmes such as The Likes Of Mike and later The Live Mike.

In the late 1990s he began presenting The Arts Show on RTé Radio One while continuing to present Winning Streak on television. His producer on The Arts Show was Ann Walsh.

In 1995 he separated from his first wife Eileen, with whom he had four children. It was an acrimonious split and for a while the story of their separation was rarely out of the tabloids. They later divorced -- presumably at some cost to Murphy -- and he married Miss Walsh.

In 1997 he joined Harcourt Developments, an up-and-coming property-development company at the time. He continued with his broadcasting career until a triple-bypass operation in 2001. He blamed the stress of work and gave up his RTé commitments.

Despite nearly 15 years as an executive director at Harcourt Developments, once one of Ireland's most successful property development companies, he resigned earlier this year with nothing.

"I was hoping that by the end of my tenure there I'd get a very generous farewell as I wafted off into the distance, but because of what happened, there were no spare funds for me to get a 'thank you very much' farewell and in the meantime my pension had taken a hit as well."

He still works as a consultant on Harcourt projects, including the Titanic Quarter in Belfast.

During the boom years, Murphy had certainly got used to a comfortable standard of living. With his second wife Ann, he still spends from late April to mid-August each year in a beach apartment in Florida.

"We play a bit of golf and I love the lifestyle and I love the place. I go up and down to the Bahamas because we (Harcourt) still have a sizeable operation there and I still go there quite a bit," he told Byrne.

He also insisted that Harcourt was one of the few property companies that is going to survive.

Along with Dublin's Park West and Belfast's Titanic Quarter, Harcourt owns properties in London, Jersey, Antigua and the Bahamas. Accounts covering the calendar year 2009 show that operating profits fell from €13.44m to €8.32m. The company also said that a large proportion of its existing loan facilities were being transferred to NAMA.

Murphy explained to Gay Byrne his early business relationship with Pat Doherty, the Donegal man who chairs Harcourt Developments.

"For Pat Doherty, with whom I went into the property business, I was helpful because I had a profile, and because I had a profile I could get into meetings in Dublin City Council. I could get in to meet people -- the difference being they would take my phone call.

"And I was bright and sharp enough to be able to know when and how to use that. I didn't abuse it. I was, as you say, an honest broker. I was utterly honest in all my dealings with everybody."

Murphy then became a founding executive of Harcourt Developments, which cut its teeth on the Park West site just off the M50 in west Dublin.

"It was a very difficult site. We started on that and it came right for us. It basically was the mainstay of the beginning of Harcourt Developments," Murphy said when contacted by the Irish Independent this week.

"I was the mainstay with Pat Doherty in the promotion and marketing of the company, in getting things across the line," he said. "I travelled a lot with Pat, so I was involved in a lot of the big deals we did over the years."

Murphy says he was never a shareholder in Harcourt Developments.

"I didn't put money into anything and I didn't own any part of the company," he said. He invested in property privately and "only in a minimal way. I don't have any exposure".

Murphy told Byrne: "Pat Doherty was number one, but I was involved with him, in the going-forward process. But then there was no going forwards when the crash happened and we were stuck, standing still and treading water. So my usefulness came to an end."

In late March this year, it was reported that Murphy had resigned from Harcourt Developments. In April, it was reported that he was in "advanced talks" with RTé for his first series in more than nine years.

Murphy explained to Byrne that when RTé producer Larry Masterson phoned him about doing something for RTé's 50th anniversary next year, Murphy declined. But he told Masterson: "Financially, I'm not in the best situation I've ever been in my life."

"Out of the blue" according to Murphy, Masterson and a colleague met with him and pitched the idea of The Big Interview.

He says that the money from his new RTé series was "not fantastic".

Like him or loathe him, Murphy was a skilled showman in his day. But he has a way to go before he wins new fans -- or even old ones back.

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