Wednesday 22 November 2017

Bondings: Why Denise couldn't help falling in love with John

He wasn't her type and there was a difference in age - but Denise Dunne and John Murphy are loving life together, writes Andrea Smith

Denise Dunne and John Murphy are working together on Elvis Is My Daddy. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Denise Dunne and John Murphy are working together on Elvis Is My Daddy. Photo: Steve Humphreys

When Denise Dunne and John Murphy first met in RTE in 2002, she was 28 and he was 43. They struck up a teasing banter when they met socially in a pub one evening. "Denise spent the night telling me I was too old for her," laughs John, who was newly single following a divorce. "I went to the bathroom and brushed my hair a different way to try to make myself look younger. I was attracted to Denise as she's very sassy and funny, she flirts, says cheeky things and will talk back to anybody."

John, now 57, was born in 1959 and grew up in Shepherd's Bush in London, but he and his sisters spent every summer in Dripsey, Cork, where his dad Tim is from. His mum Margaret has now passed away, but Tim is 90 and now lives in Clonakilty. John left school at 16 thinking he might become a footballer, and then joined the Metropolitan Police. Over the following years, he got married and divorced, had two children and became a detective.

The catalyst for entering the world of comedy and writing was an unusual one. John oversaw the high-profile case where comedian Bob Monkhouse's joke book was stolen from the BBC and subsequently recovered, and was fascinated by the glimpse he got of this other world. He had always written up creative reports, speeches and jokes, but one day he had enough, quit the force aged 38, and asked Monkhouse's agent how he would go about entering the world of comedy.

The agent advised him to start off with the hard gigs, so he performed at working men's clubs, boxing matches, and did comedy warm-ups for various TV shows. Around this time Irish producer Philip Kampff was making a BBC show with Vanessa Feltz called The Love Detectives, and needed a scriptwriter with detective knowledge. John got the gig and loved it, and his writing career flourished. He moved back to Ireland to work on the TV3 show Perfect Match, and then on Who Wants to be a Millionaire, which is where he first met Denise.

"I was becoming a hard man and was extremely cynical, as I saw a lot of things in my previous job, including over 50 murders of children, but after I met Denise I started getting my humanity back," he says. "I became an optimist again. Denise is very strong, kind and protective and she drives me on. There is such a sense of adventure with her, and nobody would tell you to get over yourself faster than she would, which I need at times."

Denise, 42, is the youngest of Terry and the late John's three children, and she grew up in Blackrock. Her dad, who also worked at RTE, had been previously widowed and his son Joe lived with the family. Joe sadly died aged 28 when Denise was six. "Dad had a fatal heart attack two years later, aged 56, and everyone said he died from a broken heart," she says.

Denise studied communications at DCU and joined TG4 when she graduated. "I was ballsy and went for a producer/director course in my early twenties," she says. "I didn't get it, but they offered me a job with a bigger production company, so the south Dublin posh bird packed up her bag and moved down to Ring to make a documentary on hurling, which was a great grounding for me."

The talented young woman quickly rose through the ranks in TV and became a producer/director at RTE, and then went to work as a series producer with Philip Kampff for three years. She loved coming up with concepts and seeing them through, and worked on shows like The Restaurant and Operation Transformation. By that stage she and John had two adored small children, Moses, now 10, and Lola, 6, and Denise went back to work at RTE and is now channel producer of RTEjr.

There is a lot of juggling involved in Denise and John's lives, particularly these days as they have the mammoth production of Elvis is my Daddy coming up, which is the funny and effervescent pair's first joint venture. Produced by Denise and starring Eilish O'Carroll, Clelia Murphy, Elaine Hearty and Mark O'Regan, it's a rollicking night of comedy, music and theatre packed with songs from the legendary days of Elvis. John feels it's one of the best things he has ever written, judging by the rapturous reaction it has already received from audiences.

"We're delighted with it and are both grateful to have amazing careers in entertainment, as we love what we do and love life," says Denise. "John is exceedingly generous, and a great communicator and his writing skills are incredible. I had to follow his speech at our wedding, which was impossible, as I can't match his way with words. I thought he wasn't my type initially but I have lost a lot of people I loved in my life, so I live my life like every day is my last one and John has this same sense of adventure. He takes longer than me to get ready for a night out though, as he has more clothes and shoes than I have."

Elvis Is My Daddy by John Murphy runs at the Everyman Theatre, Cork, from Tuesday to Friday, and at the Olympia Theatre, Dublin, from May 11-14 and 18-21.

Sunday Independent

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