It Was 25 Years Ago Today…ish (Part 1) – Off Message 8

It’s 25 years this autumn since I got my first full-time break in this business we call broadcasting.

Which means it must have been 25 years ago this month that I auditioned for Head 2 Toe.

How that even came to happen at all is itself a bit of a tale.

In late 1988 I was writing a regular television column, looking at trends in the industry, for the long-defunct, fortnightly, free Dublin Event Guide when I went out to RTÉ to interview Moya Doherty (later of Riverdance fame, then a senior RTÉ television producer).

Moya was producing She’s Got It, a six-part series for RTÉ ONE where five leading Irish female singers – Maura O’Connell, Mary Black, Dolores Keane, Honor Heffernan and Susan McCann, I think – plus American Nanci Griffith, fronted their own individual shows, chatting and performing with their musical guests.

Half an hour after my interview with Moya was finished and the tape recorder had been switched off, she and I were still talking, the conversation having turned to the lack of a good music show on RTÉ television and the need for new young presenting blood (at the time, I guess, I could at a stretch have been charitably described as ‘young’).

As I got up to leave Moya suggested I get back to her in the new year – it was now late November – and that we’d put together a proposal for a music TV series that I would co-present.

“A wha’?” I wondered. “Oh, a proposal? So programmes don’t just end up on screen by themselves? People have to come up with an idea, develop it and then pitch it? Ah right so.”

So in early 1989 Moya and I met up a few times in RTÉ and between us bashed out a proposal that, as far as I can remember, fairly blatantly ripped off the blueprint for Channel 4’s five-season and cool-as-chips music series, The Tube, which had been decommissioned in 1987, coming up with our own cheaper, potentially affordable version.

In fact, at one stage I remember mentioning to Moya that it’d be terrific if we could have an opening sequence similar in spirit to an animated one that kicked off the Channel 4 music show which was on at the time that had replaced The Tube. (The name of it eludes me – hell, it was a quarter of a century ago – and Google hasn’t been much help. It may possibly have been Live at The Roxy or Big World Cafe but I wouldn’t bet on either.)

Anyway, Moya quickly put me straight, pointing out that Channel 4 would probably have spent as much on that great opening as our entire series would cost. It was an early lesson in the difference generally between Irish and UK television budgets.

Sadly Moya and I were beaten to the punch by an in-concert-at-the-SFX series, Seven Bands On The Up which RTÉ commissioned instead and our undoubted award-winning masterpiece never saw the light of a cathode ray.

Still, it didn’t exactly end in tears.

When we found we weren’t going to get to make our great music series Moya suggested I should instead audition for Head 2 Toe, which after a year on air was being totally revamped.

“What’s Head 2 Toe?” sez I.

“RTÉ ONE’s weekly fashion programme,” sez Moya.

“Fashion?” sez I. “You’re not serious?”

“Ah, you won’t get it,” sez Moya, “but the experience will be good for you,”

The rest, as you might know, is history.

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