Tuesday, November 20, 2012

FRANK HALL

Frank Hall was born in Newry, County Down in 1921. After a brief unsuccessful attempt at becoming a musician he moved south of the border to Dublin. He began his journalistic career in 1947 working for Independent Newspapers. He started working for the paper’s picture desk but in the early 1950s began writing a Saturday night dance column ‘Tempo’ for the Evening Herald then in heavy competition with the Evening Press. Under the pseudonym Frank Lee, he began the Evening Herald’s first diary which became known as ‘Going Places’. He also wrote a regular record review column for the paper under the by line Rick O’Shea. Frank interviewed the Beatles on the occasion of their visit to Dublin for a concert in Abbey Street and famously reacted after the interview that he believed that their popularity would not last.
He started in the RTE News room in 1964 presenting a topical programme called 'Newsbeat' but is most famously remembered as host of the political satire show Halls Pictorial Weekly that also starred Eamon Morrissey and Frank Kelly. The show ran from 1971 until 1980 broadcasting almost 250 episodes. In an interview Frank revealed that the programme was recorded on a Thursday with the crew in studio from 10am until 8.30pm that night. The show was the edited and broadcast the following Thursday. A far cry from Jon Stewart’s Comedy Channel ‘Daily Show’ that is on air today. It is said that during the halcyon days of \Hall Pictorial that Frank single handily kept comedy alive on RTE television. The show was set in the fictional town of Ballymagash and Frank trawled the local and provincial newspapers to get the funniest stories. An ensemble of characters appeared on the show with Frank and they themselves became household names like The Minister for Hardship and Cha and Miah, two Cork wits who knew everything about nothing. (A Youtube clip of Cha and Miah can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PyDWLSrbzUw&feature=channel&list=UL) The show is thought by many political commentators as a major part of the downfall of the Liam Cosgrave led Fine Gael/ Labour coalition Government of 1973 – 1977. His depiction of a Dickensesque Minister for Hardship, played by Eamonn Morrissey satarized the then Government seriously damaging its public perception. In the 1977 General Election Fianna Fail’s Jack Lynch swept to power with one of the biggest majorities seen in Parliament. Franks depiction of local county councils is still referred to today as the ‘ballymagash’ style. Frank Kelly when asked about the controversial axing of Halls Pictorial Weekly said that the then RTE controller of Programme Muiris MacConghail had taken the final decision and had persuaded Frank to give up the show after twelve years on the air. His fame never phased him. He counted one day that he had met a school friend from Newry who had been working at a border customs post until the IRA blew it up. When they met his friend asked him ‘what are you into?’ to which Frank replied ‘television’, ‘Is that making them or selling them? Came the reply proving that Frank’s fame was struggling to travel even around the island.
‘Ballymagash’ was a short lived reincarnation of the show in January 1983 broadcasting on Monday nights. Location filming for the series was done around Summerhill in County Meath. In keeping with the times, the show’s fictional town had its own pirate radio station. He was host for one season of the Late Late Show in 1964 when Gay Byrne briefly departed to broadcast in the UK. The critics were not kind to him and only relented when the show reintroduced the panel to the show.
In the mid 80s he was presenting a Sunday Night programme called Hall and Company but would leave RTE to take up a new role on behalf of the State. Frank was appointed the Irish Censor replacing the late Dermot Breen then leaving the position to Sheamus Smith in September 1986. During his time at the Censors Office Among the films banned by him was Monty Python's Life of Brian, which he described as "offensive to Christians and to Jews as well, because it made them appear a terrible load of gobshites". Frank passed away in September 1995 following a heart attack. He was married to Aileen Kearney and was survived by Aileen and their five children Don, David, Geraldine, Vivienne and Julie
The publishing of his will showed that he had left an estate valued at £257,098. RTE Archives section of Frank Hall can be found at http://www.rte.ie/archives/people/289754-frank-hall/

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