Tuesday 16 January 2018

Richie Sadlier: Bill was the most kind-hearted man I ever worked with

'There was a warmth from Bill O’Herlihy from the day I first met him'
'There was a warmth from Bill O’Herlihy from the day I first met him'
Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

In an intimidating environment, you felt he had your back, writes Richard Sadlier

The RTE panel is one hell of a working environment. It’s hard to describe the feeling sitting in one of the seats when the cameras are rolling. It doesn’t matter who’s sitting to your left or right or how many people are watching.

It doesn’t even matter what game is on. What matters more than anything is that you feel like you belong in that company, and there was nobody better than Bill O’Herlihy to make you feel welcome.

There was a warmth from Bill from the day I first met him. Rarely would you just get a ‘hello’ when you turned up for work. It was almost always accompanied by an inquiry as to how you were or if you were busy. If the opportunity allowed, there would be follow-up questions. Unlike many people you meet in public life, he always gave the impression he was interested in your answer.

When you first meet a man who has done all Bill had done on television, it is a little unnerving to be talking about yourself. 

He would often remark on a programme he had recently seen you on and it was always a word of praise or encouragement. If he had specific pointers, he would begin by saying he wasn’t qualified to be giving advice to anyone. “Ye’re the experts,” he would always say, before imparting some of his vast experience on how to position your body or use your voice or make a point.

In my earliest days in RTE, the fact that he was taking the time to have a word with me was just as powerful as what he said. You immediately felt he had your back. 

When I got the call on Monday morning with the news of Bill’s death, my thoughts returned to those first experiences of working with him. I couldn’t remember the programmes we were on or the matches we were covering. I still can’t. Those details seem irrelevant. What I can vividly recall though, are the exchanges with Bill that the cameras didn’t capture.

Before every programme, the editor, the presenter and the pundits meet to go through the schedule. How much talk-time do we have and how do we want to fill it? Which topics are of most relevance and how do we want to discuss them? If there are differences of opinion we do our best to keep our powder dry, but you learn a lot about where each pundit thinks the focus should be.

After every one of those meetings, Bill would find a way of having a word in private. Be sure to make that point on air. Don’t be afraid to disagree. Above all, let’s make sure we enjoy ourselves. Again, it wasn’t only what he said but the fact that he was saying it. A television studio can be an unforgiving and intimidating environment. Bill had a way of always making it feel a little safer.

But the real moments of generosity and support came in the studio. Bill would find a moment to give you a reassuring wink off-camera. It might be to invite you into the discussion or to show agreement with what you said. He may even give you a smile while you were talking.

Sometimes it was a nod of the head or an approving glance, but it was always perfectly timed. There would be more encouragement in private after the programme.

I had the opportunity to thank him for all of this on the night he retired last July. There was a party in RTE to mark his final show after the World Cup final. Just before I left I approached him with carefully chosen words of thanks and good luck. He interrupted me during my opening sentence to offer some advice and encouragement based on what he had seen of me over the previous month. Even when the night was all about him, he would end up making the conversation about you.

The most kind-hearted man I’ve ever worked with. Thanks Bill, and God bless.

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