Irish diplomats in London foster TV production links between British and Irish companies to build on Ireland’s successes as a media production hub
The late, great Irish comedian Dave Allen was loved for his irreverent and challenging wit which he brought to prime time TV shows in Australia and Britain in the 1960s, 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s for which he was often denounced by politicians and the Church in Ireland. At one point during the height of the IRA’s terror campaign in Britain, said the BBC, both it and Dave received death threats.
Dave died just over 13 years ago at his home in London with his beloved family nearby, aged 68.
Last week he was posthumously honoured at a special event at the Embassy of Ireland, the British Irish Television Dinner, for his outstanding achievement as the exemplar of Irish talent in comedy and media. Allen’s widow Karin, son Ed, and daughter Jane, received the award on behalf of Dave, whose real name was actually David Tynan O’Mahony.
The dinner was held in association with Media-Con, an event designed to strengthen television co-production between Irish and British companies and devised by former RTE producer and Web Summit executive Lesley O’Connor and producer Stephen McCormack of Straywave Media.
Also receiving an award, and held up as an example of Irish achievement in British TV, was Lisa McGee, the writer and creator of Channel Four’s hugely popular Derry Girls, a comedy set against a backdrop of The Troubles. She said she felt like part of a growing ‘movement of strong Irish female comedy writers’.
In past years series like Dave Allen’s, Father Ted and even Derry Girls would never have been made in Ireland by the state-owned broadcaster RTE. Yet despite – or because – shows like Dave’s and Father Ted were denounced from the pulpit, and by TDs, they were hugely popular with Irish audiences.
Ireland’s Ambassador Adrian O’Neill, whose Embassy team arranged last week’s awards, dinner and networking opportunities, recalled with joy watching Dave Allen as a schoolboy in Dublin and how he was denounced by the powers that be in Ireland. Last week’s Irish Embassy event showed just how much things have changed as Irish TV executives are actively seeking just such material.
Ambassador O’Neill described Dave Allen as “a true trailblazer” who had paved the way for other Irish comedians in Britain. It was thus fitting that Irish and British TV executives gathered in his memory at a dinner “for the industry to celebrate and recognise strong links between Ireland and the UK in terms of television talent, both on screen and behind the camera”.
“In a world of global content, our global network, connections and partnerships have never been more important,” he added, mentioning that throughout the evening there would be no mention of the dread ‘B’ word (Brexit).
The success of Derry Girls was particularly heartening and significant coming as it has during the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, he said. No-one should have to relive those days, said the Ambassador.
Ms McGee was accompanied to the event by many of the cast of Derry Girls.
The Ambassador mentioned that at the same dinner a year ago a conversation between between BBC head of comedy Shane Allen and Eddie Doyle, who was then head of comedy for RTÉ, led directly to an RTE BBC co-production that made the TV series based on the film The Young Offenders (produced by Julie Ryan) which was screened on BBC 3 this year.
The Young Offenders had just won the 2016 Irish Film London Súil Eile Award and its lead actors Alex Murphy and Chris Walley were the inaugural recipients of Irish Film London’s Ros Hubbard Award for Acting.
Mr Doyle was at last week’s dinner, this time as Head of Content Production for BBC Northern Ireland. Other guest included RTE’s director general Dee Forbes, head of television drama Jane Gogan, director of audience, channels and marketing Adrian Lynch, director of content Jim Jennings and director of co-productions and acquisitions Dermot Horan.
Guests also included TV3 director of programming Bill Malone, Sky UK & Ireland director of programmes Zai Bennett, Channel 5 director of programmes Ben Frow, Channel Four’s Director of Programmes and Head of Comedy Fiona McDermott (who commissioned Derry Girls), Sky executive producer Liz Lewin, and Irish comedians Aisling Bea, Angela Scanlon and Roisin Conaty among others. All were searching for ‘new product’, contacts, and ideas.
MediaCon founders Lesley O’Connor and Stephen McCormack who urged the guests to come up with an idea that by the same time next year could be in production. The evening heard that Graham Norton’s production company Reflektor was developing a programme idea in the US with the Tiger Mountain production company that arose out of last year’s dinner.
Ireland has already established itself as a successful and growing hum of TV production with internationally successful TV series like Line of Duty, Game of Thrones, Penny Dreadful, Into The Badlands and Night Flyers. But, as the MediaCon founders said, producers are always looking for new content.
The next MediaCon Summit will be at Dublin Castle on 13-14 September.