Saturday 24 August 2019

'TV portrayal is not like the Terry Keane that I knew'

Gillian Bowler is underwhelmed by the one-dimensional portrayal of her friend, and others featured in the RTE drama, "Charlie"

Lucy Cohu as Terry Keane
Lucy Cohu as Terry Keane
Terry Keane
Gillian Bowler
Lucy Cohu as Terry Keane in 'Charlie'
Charles Haughey with Terry Keane

Gillian Bowler

Terry Keane was a very complex person and that made her fascinating.

Which is why it has been such a disappointment to see her portrayed in such a one-dimensional and frankly untrue fashion in RTE's docudrama Charlie. It looked more like Fair City than a serious drama. Terry is - sorry, was - a very warm and generous person. She was always willing to be helpful to people who needed help.

She was very kind to people who were needy and she looked after them and she would have had them round to Christmas dinner if they didn't have any money. She was witty, she was intelligent, she loved good company, but she didn't suffer fools gladly.

But there was more than one Terry. The same woman who would take in a person from the street and give them a bed for a few nights was no pushover. And if she disagreed with you, especially if you were her friend, she would argue with you until either the subject or you were exhausted - which you often were because her reasoning would be very compelling and soundly based. But mostly this was because she loved a good discussion - it was a kind of sport to her, and she was very good at it because she was very intelligent and very well read.

It is such a pity that none of this comes through in the TV portrayal of Terry. Instead she is presented as a good-looking sort of luminous woman who bewitched people. Yes, she was a very good-looking woman, though not in the classical sense, but there are plenty of good-looking women around so it wasn't just down to looks. She was at ease with people and put people at their ease, men and women. She was tremendously good company and a great hostess. She was interesting and interested, but she had her limits because her interest wasn't faked; so if a person was boring, she couldn't be bothered. She knew how to put together the kind of crowd that would spark off each other, but let's face it, if you worked in a boring job and discussed statistics all day then maybe you wouldn't make it to the top of her invite list. Her knowledge of politics was vast - she could tell you everything about any seat in the country, and she was politically clever. And another important thing to say about Terry, a vital thing to say, is that she wasn't motivated by money. Not in any sense was she interested in acquiring wealth.

If she had a failing in her dealings with people it was that maybe she was sometimes too trusting. This was another contradictory side to Terry which went to make up this very complicated woman. She sometimes failed to differentiate between the fakes and the real people and that would occasionally lead her to take the wrong advice from the wrong people. I did on occasion say to her: "You're being manipulated and there is no point in this and you'll just be the one who'll end up suffering."

Charles Haughey with Terry Keane
Charles Haughey with Terry Keane
Terry Keane
Lucy Cohu takes on the role of Terry Keane
Charlie Haughey and Dr, Garret FitzGerald shake hands befored an RTE TV Seven Days programme in centre is presenter Brian Farrell. Photo: Tom Burke
Haughey family at dinner. From left: Kieran, Eimear, Charlie, Maureen and Connor. Photo: Tom Burke
Charlie Haughey with Fianna Fail deputies and PJ Mara (left) make their to the press conference in Government Buildings following his election as Fianna Fail leader in 1979
Charlie Haughey and Dr, Garret FitzGerald shake hands befored an RTE TV Seven Days programme in centre is presenter Brian Farrell
Charlie Haughey with Fianna Fail deputies and PJ Mara (left) make their to the press conference in Government Buildings following his election as Fianna Fail leader in 1979 . Photo: Tom Burke

So, knowing Terry for many years as I did, and appreciating the many faceted personality that she was, it is hardly surprising that my reaction to watching the first two episodes of Charlie was one of being underwhelmed. Like everybody else, I had heard all the hype and I was curious. But half way through the second episode, I found myself dozing off, which I think says a lot.

I feel sorry in a way for the actress playing the part of Terry. I read somewhere that she said it was all done very quickly and she had practically finished shooting when she began to really appreciate something of the real Terry, but by then it was too late to correct such a shallow impression.

To imply that Terry could be swayed by a man buying her a dress implying that she was some kind of lady of the night was so awful. It just wasn't true. I don't want to go into the details of Terry's relationship with Charlie, but it most certainly wasn't about the price of a dress and it's insulting to all concerned to think that it would be about buying a dress in Brown Thomas or something. Anybody who knew them knows that.

I was able to say to myself: "This is just a drama," and not take it too seriously, but a lot of people watching it would not be able to do that. They might look at it and think: "That was Terry Keane." It wasn't, and anybody who knew her will tell you that.

And it wasn't just Terry. I knew many of the central characters portrayed in this drama, as did an awful lot of other people. I didn't recognise any of the characters to be honest. Whoever it was they were trying to portray, I found myself getting irked. I would remember that period and I was at a loss as to who half the characters were. To me it was totally made up and it didn't have any of the ring of truth; and I should know what has the ring of truth and that didn't have it.

Let's face it, they were making a programme about a man who is now dead and some of the main characters are dead, but many of them are still alive and around. It was such a great opportunity with half the country still intrigued by that period and those people, but the opportunity has been wasted.

They could have done more research. They could have captured a more accurate, more rounded picture of the times and these fascinating people and it probably would have made for a better drama. But they didn't talk to anyone I know. They certainly didn't talk to Terry's family - and some of the references in that respect were very hurtful.

The late Brian Lenihan Snr was portrayed as some kind of idiot gombeen. That is a terrible let down to a highly intelligent man. I met Brian Lenihan Snr. I feel sorry for him and his family that he would be portrayed after his death as some kind of go-for guy who would do whatever Charlie said, because he was an extraordinarily intelligent man with a mind of his own. And yet he's portrayed as "Yes Charlie, no Charlie."

And then there is the role of PJ Mara. I mean I know Nidge or Tom Vaughan-Lawlor is practically a national hero here because of Love/Hate, but he isn't remotely believable as PJ Mara, who had a hundred times more style and wit than what we see in Charlie. It's not the actor's fault - he has to play the hand he's dealt, but really, all you are getting is a watered-down version.

I'm sorry to be so tough on this drama, but there are enough people around, people who were friends, people who worked with her for years, and some of them are the most gossipy people you could meet. They could have got the family - both families in fact, the Haughey family, too. They would have got the good and the bad, because you know, for all of us in life you just don't get totally good reviews; sometimes we get bad ones. They could have asked me, they could have asked a lot of people I know and they didn't ask.

Some of Terry's friends I have spoken to have suggested just leaving it. What's the point? But the point is that these were real people with real lives and now all of that is being traduced in the name of drama.

Worse, because it has the "imprimatur" of drama, people are more inclined to believe that it is all true and accurate rather than applying a Coronation Street standard to it. They know, at least, that that is made up. What they don't know about Charlie is that, in my opinion, much of it is fictional.

At least a dozen people who didn't know Terry have said to me, since the series started airing: "You knew her, didn't you? What did you think?"

Each time I have turned the question on them and asked for their opinion first.

So far, not one person has told me it was good or that they enjoyed it.

Sunday Independent

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