The Live Mike
After over 10 years of succesful property dealing and 40 years of broadcasting, Mike Murphy, 65 this year, talks to John Byrne about his successes and his regrets, his memories of Terry Wogan and Dermot Morgan, and the autobiography he wishes he never wrote.
I don't miss [broadcasting] at all. I was getting to the stage where I was saying, 'Look it's time to go, you know, you're doing Winning Streak.' I was beginning to repeat myself. I enjoyed it while I did it but I don't miss it now. I had business stuff going on and I was under a lot of other pressures as well... in my personal life.
Then I discovered, accidentally that I was very close to copping out. I went to a doctor. I was feeling breathless going upstairs and things like that, but I didn't realise how bad I was. My doctor recommended I see a cardiologist. I went in to see this fella and had an angiogram that afternoon. He said, 'I'm sorry, I think we have a problem here. I'm going to get a surgeon to look at you.' So he got the surgeon, who said, 'I have to tell you, we can't let you go. You're 97 per cent clogged... I reckon a maximum two to three months.' So the next day I was operated on – I had a triple bypass. And that was it. It was grand, I got it done, and at the end of it I got over it as quickly as I could and moved on.
One of the wonderful bonuses for me is that I don't. Now, I do a bit, but to be honest I never realised myself that it brings about a certain self-consciousness in your demeanour. You're kind of conscious that people will recognise you, you don't stop to look at the buildings because somebody will walk up to you and start slagging you, say something nice to you, whatever. You're not your own person and even though there are advantages – you get the best table in the best restaurant and all that and you get invited to all the nice places – but I've always lived a very quiet life. I honestly love the fact that I'm not recognised now, love it, get a great kick out of it.
It was in the early '50s and I was in the Brendan Smith Academy of Acting. I had failed all my Leaving Cert exams at Terenure college. I won Best Actor of the Year for two years running.
[After that] I started selecting records for sponsored programmes [on RTÉ] and also producing sponsored programmes. I was offered a job as producer in Raidió Éireann, as it was then, which I didn't take. I was then offered a job as one of the first trainees in television. I was 19 and I didn't take the job because I had no interest in technology – much to the chagrin of my father who wanted to see me getting any kind of a bloody job because I was a desperate waste.
I was useless in school, I was useless at everything. He had a garage and I didn't like working in the garage. I hated cars, I had no interest in them, hated working at the petrol pumps, didn't like any of that stuff. So he just thought I was an awful...
So gradually, through doing sponsored programmes, I became quite interested in broadcasting.
My first big announcement on RTÉ was for a symphony concert, I think. I had to do it live from the studio. Terry Wogan, who was my boss, was sitting in the studio and decided to hold my hand in case I went pale and fainted. As I was reading the announcement in my best pompous broadcasting voice, he set fire to the end of the bit of paper it was written on. He thought it was hilarious. I didn't think it was funny till afterwards, but I did manage to get through it.
It smacks to me of being a sop and I can't see the people who listen to Rattlebag being terribly interested in switching on at 11 o'clock at night.
I was very critical of Pat Kenny at one stage. I would say that I was a bit unfair because I know that some of the criticism that I publicly made of Pat did hurt him.
I think he has settled into The Late Late Show and made it his own at this stage. People are always going to make comparisons with Gay, there's no doubt about it. It's a different style. I am delighted Pat is earning as much money as he is out of it. I saw interviews that he did with Trimble and Adams and they were two of the best interviews I have ever seen. I thought he was superb and that is Pat's forte.
I think Ryan is good. I think he was probably better on 2FM than he is on Radio 1 though. I suppose in a way Pat Kenny and Ryan Tubridy are what Gay Byrne and myself were during the '80s, '90s, whatever. I think Ryan is very lively, very good, quick witted, has a very strong image in terms of this young fogey thing that he purports to present and I think he's good.
And having said that, I just agreed this morning to go on the Ryan Tubridy Show on TV sometime in October. Even now I have a tingling of regret that I agreed to do it but I'll just do it.
Just coming back into the public eye. Just that. What do I talk about? I don't want to talk about my personal life. Do I talk about my business, Harcourt Developments? You don't want to be shooting your mouth off, you don't want to come across as, "Look at me aren't I great?" Anyhow, I lead a very quiet life when I'm in Ireland. I've a home in Florida. An acre in Florida.
Dermot started writing to me when I was on the early morning radio programme in RTÉ. I started reading his letters out because they were so funny. He was a teacher at the time. He was lovely, manic, warm, friendly, very generous, a fabulous man. I think I was in the States when I found out about his death. Somebody said it to me casually, 'Isn't it terrible about Dermot Morgan, he died.' I was shattered, I couldn't believe it. He really went at a manic pace through his life and you know, too much pressure, too much... Never relaxed, never reflected, just went and went and went. It was so sad... But I think he left a wonderful legacy.
Tony was a very nice guy, but he loved the idea of being a broadcaster and he got to read the 11 o'clock news headlines on radio. This was gigantic for him. He loved the idea of being famous and being a personality. I, on the other hand, was struggling to get a break.
"So anyway, I had to go to confession and I had a few goodies to tell because I wasn't the best behaved at a certain stage in my life. I decided that I better not go to my own parish where the priest would know me so I went down to Rathmines instead. At the time I had got on the radio alright – I was doing stuff in the evening on RTÉ. So I told the priest this whopper of a one that I had and he gave me absolution and 'God Bless you.' I'm was just getting up to go and he said, 'Just a moment my son – that wouldn't be a familiar voice I hear?' So I froze. 'How do you mean, father?' He says, 'That wouldn't be Tony Lyons, the news reader, would it? I said, 'It would, father'... Then I had to go to confession on the other side of the church because I just told a lie."
Why did you write your autobiography, Mike and Me [which contained extensive material about his private life, in particular about his bad relationship with his father]?
I'm sorry I did it. I shouldn't have bothered... I suppose I was examining my conscience and looking back on my own life, where I was. I wrote it when I was starting my middle 50s. I had been through the trauma of the break-up of my marriage. I was in difficult financial straits at the time. I didn't do the book for money [it didn't sell well – "people felt it was inopportune"].
I did it as an exercise in self-examination. I wish now that I had done it as an exercise and then taken six months, looked at what I had written and said, 'Should this be made public?' It is a regret. But I can't reclaim it, I can't say sorry I didn't mean to do that, I can't tell you all to ignore it, it's been done."
I joined up with [developer] Pat Doherty, who I was drinking with socially, initially for no remuneration and then I gradually got things together and then we formed a company...
Park West [the company's first largescale project] was a big thing. We took a big gamble at building there because this was a no-go area. I had to deal with the Provisional IRA, we had to deal with all the gangsters, drug dealers – we had a real hard time out there. There was all sorts of extortion.
We had meetings at times and we were threatened. They wouldn't say where they were from, but we knew. They just wanted to 'mind the place for us'.
Fuck off! And then there would be a few kind of stirrings, a few windows broken, cars smashed... of course you couldn't tie them down. But then our security guys, some of them were beaten up badly and nearly drowned after being held under the water in the canal.
I didn't know all that [planning corruption] was going on. I never knew that people like Frank Dunlop were paying councillors. I was dealing with councillors in the early days in Park West. I would never for a moment have thought to say, 'Would you like a few bob in your Evening Herald?' It would not have crossed my mind to even suggest it to anybody.
There would have been rumours about it but it never reached me. We do things like support a golf outing, a cause, we make legitimate donations to the political parties, but we've never given any money that we shouldn't have.
Nothing has been proven against Phil. That little pen gun he had was just a joke. I think it was very unfortunate. I'm sorry that he got involved at all in the first place because I have huge time for him, professionally and personally. He has a wonderful brain. He's a very strong, hardworking character and I'm personally very fond of Phil... I don't believe that there's anything sinister in what Phil does. I actually don't. Was it a misjudgement in his part? I don't know. But I certainly don't believe that there was anything further, a moment of ill judgement on his part.
I regret I gave up my rugby. I loved it. I regret I didn't get to play against the All Blacks. It was a great ambition. I suppose I regret that I didn't do something in the academic line but the fact is that I reckon I got three degrees just doing the radio show.
In my personal life, of course, I regret that things I did hurt people. I do regret that but I don't know anyone apart from Mother Theresa who has died without any regret. We all wake up at four o'clock in the morning with the ghost standing around the bed.
But generally, I like the kind of life that I've led. I haven't done too much damage that I know of, but if I have, I've tried to repair it and I've been very lucky – great career, business and health and family.
So, there's a big credit side and the debit side is not nearly as great. p
This was an edited transcript