Monday 18 November 2019

Secret RTE Producer tells alluring tales of a paradise lost

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

When I "followed" the Secret RTE Producer on Twitter, as I am constitutionally required to do, he or she had 3,000 followers. Next time I looked, a few days later, it had gone up to 26,000 - and it was not going any way other than up from there.

There is an obvious fascination when somebody in a large publicly-funded organisation purports to be telling us how the sausage is made, as it were (in this case a sausage of some quality that can probably be had in the RTE canteen for considerably less than you'd pay in the outside world).

But there seems to be a special curiosity about that hidden land of Montrose, creating a following that you wouldn't find for, say, Secret Bord na Mona Manager. An attraction which must be called for what it surely is: the vision that RTE evokes, of a kind of heaven.

Indeed by coincidence I happened to be getting a train from Connolly Station recently, when I saw a retired RTE executive waiting on the platform, presumably enjoying the free travel on top of his massive RTE pension. I am not aware of any contribution of the slightest significance which this man made to the cultural life of Ireland during the years in which he walked those spacious corridors, yet he made it there somehow.

He had that gift to which the Secret RTE Producer alludes, that ability to keep moving upwards in the organisation on the strength perhaps of a Jacob's Awards nomination back in the 1980s. He had that mysterious thing we call the "RTE gene".

That's what we call it, but we don't really know what it is, until we see someone who has it is spades, standing on the platform of Connolly Station, wondering how he is going to push in the day. All we know for sure, is that many of us don't have it - it may be something in our upbringing, it may be an actual gene that we are lacking, that would enable us to prosper in that wondrous place.

And for those of us who are in "the media", it is worse - because we are allowed to visit this place from time to time, to make a brief contribution to a show for which the presenter is getting roughly 40 times what we are getting. For us it may be an impossible dream, but it is still a dream that becomes a reality for these tantalisingly short interludes - and then it's gone again, and we're clutching our docket for the taxi (ah, the taxi dockets), back to this purgatory in which the rest of humanity must forever languish.

No, it does not come as a surprise that the entire Irish media and thousands more besides are irresistibly drawn to this Secret RTE Producer, to anything which claims to reveal more to us, of this Elysium which could never be ours.

But the fascination is even more acute now, because due to the decline of western culture, these beautiful visions of Montrose will soon be no more. To adapt Joni Mitchell, they're paving paradise, and putting up a parking lot. Or at least they're putting up 500 luxury apartments where the parking lot ought to be.

Increasingly we are talking about this singular way of life in the past tense. When we see that fantastically remunerated man at Connolly Station, his life's work done - such as it was - we realise that within a generation, we may not see his like again. That we are looking at the glory that was Montrose - but that is no more.

And, in truth, this makes us sad.

Because it was a truly astonishing thing, this idea that you could have a public service broadcaster funded by the licence fee… and they could have advertising revenue too… and still they'd lose loads of money.

In any other country in the developed world, if you told them that such a thing could happen, they'd just laugh at you. They'd be laughing - and yet deep down they'd feel like crying too, knowing that they were born in the wrong place, that they would never know such opulence.

There is indeed something in the hearts of all human beings which calls us to aspire to these conditions of work and play. Nowadays we find ourselves in radio and television stations which are not RTE, and which seem to be run by roughly the same number of people as you'd find in a branch of Centra in a provincial town.

It seems to work, yet it does not give us that profound feeling of relaxation that would come over us as we waited to speak on some RTE programme - the sense that there were about, say, 1,200 people somewhere else on the premises, doing whatever it was they did.

At such times, as you fell into a reverie thinking about the multitude to be found on "the campus", you would feel a strange kind of admiration for these people, that they could stir themselves to do anything at all.

Personally, if I'd been fortunate enough to possess the RTE gene, I could not guarantee that in these lovely surroundings, I could ever be bothered making actual programmes.

So, in fact, I salute those who, over the years of toil (or even TOIL - as in Time Off In Lieu) have managed to drag themselves somehow out of the canteen, or out of "the club". Or those who were sometimes sober in those years when public displays of alcoholism were quite acceptable in our industry in general.

To those who complain that RTE people are always interviewing other RTE people, I would suggest that if you were one of them, you'd find it hard to imagine anything better than what is in front of you every day on "the campus" - but you are not one of them, and you never will be.

And even in these brutal times you can still hear echoes of that mighty civilisation which is now gone with the wind; which has stood implacably and in the end victoriously against the introduction of breakfast television and the threat it posed to the things that matter - things like the work/life balance, and in particular the "life" part.

You can hear it in the way they're still telling us the results of football matches that happened the previous day. Like the slow food movement, which rejects the frenzied eating habits of the masses, you could call this the slow news movement.

You can hear it in the way that presenters will be talking of their summer holiday that was like "a blink" - albeit a blink that went on for THREE MONTHS. And a personal favourite arrived during the reading out of Premier League results, when the presenter insisted on pointing out that matches in which the two teams scored the same number of goals was "a draw".

Thanks for that mate, I said to myself.

I thank the Secret RTE Producer too, for telling us much that we already know, at the possible risk of being cast out - like Lucifer himself - from paradise.

Not only do we know it, aye, many have dreamed of it.

But no more.

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