So a second RTÉ Archives article has inspired a blogpost here – the first was about Gortnaclune ’94 and a whole slew of anniversaries – I should buy them a coffee or something, huh?
Now their piece last week about it being 25 years since the short-lived Century Radio went on air has reminded me of auditions.
No, not because I tried out for Century but the great Marty Whelan did – it was his show that kicked off the station’s ill-fated schedule that first Monday morning in September 1989.
But when he controversially walked out on his popular RTÉ 2fm gig to move to Ireland’s first commercial national radio station earlier that year he famously lost his three TV gigs, such was RTÉ’s determination – unfairly, but I guess understandably back then – to make an example of him.
Marty’s loss was my gain.
When I was alerted to the revamp that was due to happen at Head 2 Toe on the back of Marty’s departure, while I was reluctant at first to ring the producer whose contact details I was given – what the hell did I know about fashion? – I quickly figured, hey, what had I got to lose?
A few months later I found myself in an RTÉ television training studio about to do an audition that would dramatically change my life.
Now I know a lot of people give out about how humiliating auditions are, having to prostrate and prostitute themselves in front of incompetent fools who simply don’t realise how fantastically talented they are, all the while inwardly screaming, “Choose me, choose me!”
I imagine we’ve all heard stories of ones that have gone horribly wrong; less so the ones that went beautifully right.
But they’re part and parcel of this business and that’s not going to change anytime soon; I mean, how else are producers to know if presenters might be right for a programme or actors for a role if they don’t stick ’em in front of a camera at some point?
I’ve only ever done ten; and I got three of those, which as any jobbing presenter or actor will probably tell you is a pretty decent batting average, so you’ll understand when I say I’ve never minded them.
The first two were as singer for bands after I left college when I still half-arsedly harboured musical ambitions. I was undoubtedly rubbish as I never heard back on either, so the less said about them the better.
I also auditioned twice for acting roles, both more by accident than design. I was unsuccessful going for The Commitments in 1990, though not by much, I was repeatedly told by casting agent, Ross Hubbard, and six years later got lucky with the Father Ted Christmas Special, only for my tiny role to end up on the editing floor, for no other reason than on the day I couldn’t act my way out of a paper bag.
Some day no doubt I’ll tell the stories of these thespian failures here (I have since in Lack of Commitments – Off Message 27 and The Final Cut – Me and Father Ted – Off Message 20), but for the moment I want to concentrate on television presenting auditions (oddly I’ve never had to do one for a radio show).
In London I tried out for four TV shows, the first three in the few months after arriving there in March 1998.
I was barely off the plane than I was found myself perched on a park bench in posh Parsons Green holding a Corrs album trying out for Watchdog.
It was no small coincidence that an old NIHE Dublin (now DCU) classmate was its then programme editor. Never ever underestimate the who-you-know factor, folks.
But what about the Corrs, you may well ask? Well, turns out someone had written to the programme complaining that they were hard done by because they bought a copy of The Corrs’ Talk On Corners when it first came out in late 1997 with only 13 songs on it but had they waited until after April 1998, for the same price they’d have got it with an additional track, the band’s cover of Fleetwod Mac’s Dreams. A first world problem – before the term had even been coined – if ever there was one.
Anyway, they asked me to do a report on it and if it was good enough they might broadcast it in the last episode of their 1997-’98 season and possibly offer me a fulltime gig as a reporter for 1998-’99. They did. And they did.
They probably shouldn’t have but that’s another story.
A few week’s after Corrgate – ouch, sorry – and having agreed to join Watchdog as a reporter I got a call to come in and meet Daisy Goodwin, then a senior producer at Talkback, one of the UK’s biggest independent production companies, and subsequently founder of her own Silver River Productions.
She’d seen my presenter showreel and wanted to chat, which was nice, even though I was upfront with her from the start that I had just accepted the Watchdog gig so was no longer a free agent.
An hour later and she’d somehow managed to talk me into auditioning for a new fashion TV show they’d just got commissioned, which turned out to be Channel 4’s She’s Gotta Have It; this despite me repeatedly telling her I had no interest in returning to fashion programming, having left Head 2 Toe four years previously; or that I wouldn’t actually be able to do it because of my upcoming Watchdog commitments.
So a few days later I did the audition, during which they asked me to try out for a gadget show they were developing…which once again I did while repeatedly telling them I wouldn’t be available to work on it if it ever got green lit.
A few days later the phone in the flat rang. It was Peter Fincham, then head of Talkback, subsequently Controller of BBC One and now Director of Television at ITV, a man even then I’d have given my right arm to talk to, asking me if in fact I had signed up for Watchdog. I told him that while contracts had yet to be sorted, I’d said yes and wasn’t about to go back on my word.
But we agreed that once I got settled at the BBC I’d give him a shout and we’d hook up for a chinwag. Sadly despite my best efforts over the following months I never got past his overly protective secretary so that chat never materialised. If anyone wants to pass this onto Peter, maybe it’s not too late.
The fourth and final London try-out was in that post-Watchdog period before I figured I was probably better off for a while concentrating on an off-camera career. It was for a proposed series about, of all things, hair, a group of us gathering one morning in a basement studio in Channel 4 to be put through our paces. I don’t remember very much about it except that Paul King, former singer with ‘90s pop preeners, King, and a then MTV VJ, and Anna Richardson, who subsequently made a splash with C4’s Sex Education Show, were also among the wannabes.
I’ve no idea if the idea ever actually made it to air or if it did who presented it. I sure as hell didn’t.
I also once auditioned for the Eurovision Song Contest. Yeah, I know, but in 1989 for some reason I felt as a presenter it was in many ways the ultimate gig. I still do, though only if shiny-floor entertainment is your thing. It’s not mine.
I didn’t get it, despite my Leaving Cert French and digging out my best suit, but was reassured when I found out that I was pipped to the post by none other than Ronan Keating. There’s a career highlight right there.
But of them all the biggie of course was Head 2 Toe. That summer morning in 1989 was pivotal in my career; at the time I probably didn’t realise how pivotal but there’s no doubt it kickstarted my 25 year broadcasting career to date.
On the day, I remember being pretty relaxed. Not that I was cocksure but maybe because it wasn’t my dream gig, I know I wasn’t overly nervous.
The producers had asked me to prepare a clothes-themed interview with someone and to bring in whatever props I needed for it. So I roped in my mate Tom Doyle, then mainman with Dublin bluesy rock four-piece, The Hellfire Club, to bring along a selection of his extensive leather jacket collection to discuss what makes a good one.
We ended the chat with him being faux-disgusted to find a sub-standard rogue coat in amongst his assorted treasures, only for it to turn out to be mine.
I’ve always assumed the producers liked our limp attempt at humour. That and the fact that just as I was about to start the interview when they asked me without any warning to do a short PTC – piece to camera, not Pat talking crap as someone suggested a few years later while on location – introducing the story, I did so without blinking.
Whatever, no one was more surprised than me – except maybe my old man…how he laughed in very reasonable disbelief – when a week or so later they rang to offer me the job.
Many months afterwards I found the audition tape lying around the office and cheekily took it home for a sneaky watch. I remember being surprised at some of the big names that had gone for it. And that none of us were particularly good.
The reason I think I got it? Not because I was the best, but. as I’ve said many times since, probably because I was the least worst.