Journalist and author Vincent Power recalls interviewing Bill O’Herlihy in 1997 for his book, ‘Voices of Cork’.
Peel away the ‘okey-dokey’ TV image of Bill O’Herlihy, the veteran sports anchorman, and you found a newspaperman at heart.
My indelible memory is of his boyish enthusiasm recounting the fun and mischief of his earlier career as a sub-editor and reporter with the then Cork Examiner and Evening Echo.
It began in 1954 when the youngster from the city’s Glasheen Road got a job offer from the then Examiner chairman, Tom Crosbie, and by his 17th birthday he was learning his craft in the reading room, a proof-reading cradle for aspiring journalists.
He graduated to a subbing job on the Echo under the watchful eye of an austere editor, William Declan Mary O’Connell (WDOC). Frequently wading through mountains of copy he awaited the familiar question from WDOC.
“Well, boy, have you got a lead for me?”
Bill laughed heartily as he recalled the dreaded moment when he drew a blank. Oops, no lead today.
“What was I going to do? I spotted a paragraph on the foreign wires about a big battle in Indo-China. I decided to, well, extend it. I got the paragraph and wrote a whole story around it.
“Of course it was highly irresponsible when I look back now. Nobody was ever the wiser. William Declan was happy that the job was done but he never knew how. He’d probably turn in his grave today if he found out.”
By 1959, he landed a job in the reporters room and so began a long and distinguished media career.
Full of the joys of his “special status” as a Cork Examiner reporter, he once got a reality-check from Tom Barker, a true gentleman, who deputised as news editor.
Barker checked his copy and scolded the cub reporter.
“Bill, you split an infinitive again.”
Looking back with typical self-deprecation, he laughed: “Funnily enough that stayed with me for the rest of my life and, to this day, I won’t allow anybody split an infinitive.”
By the age of 26 he made his first television appearance and the rest is history.
I asked how he’d like to be remembered... “As somebody who never lost his head; who kept his feet on the ground; who recognised he was the luckiest person in the world to have been blessed by a lovely wife and family and who was able to combine two careers; and who never forgot his roots.”
A secret ambition, he confided, was to become Ireland’s Alan Whicker, jetting around the world to interview the rich and famous in exotic places. Or else, closer to home, when he switched off his microphone for the last time, he’d relish a spell as editor of the Irish Examiner, “the epitome of achievement”, as he described it.
“Promise, I won’t split any infinitives.”
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