From Carmela Soprano to Mary Raftery: Katie Hannon of RTÉ on her cultural touchstones 

Born on a farm in Co Kerry, Katie Hannon draws on an ecelctic mix of favourite books and TV shows, as well as singling out the broadcasters she admires 
From Carmela Soprano to Mary Raftery: Katie Hannon of RTÉ on her cultural touchstones 

Katie Hannon of RTÉ.  Picture: Kieran Harnett 

Katie Hannon grew up on a farm in north Kerry, attending secondary school in Listowel. 

After more than a decade in print journalism, she joined RTÉ in 2004 where she has worked as a political correspondent and presenter, including Saturday with Katie Hannon, 1pm, RTÉ Radio 1.

Inspired by Lou Grant 

The show that has stayed with me from childhood is Lou Grant, a spinoff from The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the late 1970s. 

Ed Asner played Lou Grant. It was set in LA. Lou Grant worked for the fictitious Los Angeles Tribune newspaper. 

I remember being kind of obsessed with the ace reporter, this woman called Billie. She was on the metro desk. 

Lou Grant was your classic hard-nosed editor with a heart of gold. 

If my memory is right, it was an authentic portrayal of a newsroom, quite gritty. They were always struggling with serious stuff, social issues and ethical dilemmas. 

I remember episodes about domestic violence, about housing for poor people. It was a great show.

British satire

Drop the Dead Donkey – a 1990s satirical show on Channel 4 – was so sharp. It was a take-off of Sky News, basically, based on a news organisation called GlobeLink. 

If you're running over time in a news programme, the editor will cut the final item – it’s where the show’s title “drop the dead donkey” comes from. 

The whole idea was that new management came in and tried to make them more down market, more tabloidesque. 

There's one joke from it that I remember from almost 30 years later; I don't know why. 

It was around the time Robert Maxwell died. They ran an office sweep. A prize was given to the most outlandish circumstances around his death, which was that he had a heart attack and pole-vaulted over the railing of his yacht and drowned in the sea. 

It was such a funny show. 

Left, pioneering Irish journalist Mary Raftery; right, Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep.
Left, pioneering Irish journalist Mary Raftery; right, Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep.


Although it’s a bit uneven, Veep is excellent satire, and the way things turned out in the Oval Office, hardly satire at all. 

Julia Lewis-Dreyfus, who was in Seinfeld, is absolutely brilliant in the lead role as vice president of the United States.

Eventually, she briefly becomes president for bizarre reasons. 

She is completely self-obsessed, without an ounce of moral fibre, appalling to her daughter, and she has this hapless team around her that keeps the show on the road, including an incompetent comms guy, and a guy who looks after her every need, carrying her handbag, giving her lipstick, and so on.

Keeping up appearances with The Sopranos

The Sopranos was stunning. James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano was unbelievable and his wife, Carmela, is a brilliant character. 

It’s amazing how we think we know these characters, these New Jersey mobsters. 

She was the epitome of “keeping the front up”, not asking too many questions, but completely understanding the life they had created, and where the money was coming from.

The Charwoman’s Daughter

I was a voracious reader as a child. I remember loving The Charwoman’s Daughter by James Stephens. 

Bizarrely – for a child growing up on a farm – I became obsessed with Mary Makebelieve, this teenage girl living in tenement slums in Edwardian Dublin, and her dreamy world. 

My sense of it was that she had this bond with her mother who had to do all this menial work but had high hopes – she had notions even though this was the place she found herself in life. 

The only way Mary Makebelieve could have a different life was if she married up, but she lived in her own head, wandering around the streets, thinking whimsical thoughts. 

The novel has somehow lodged itself in my brain.

GUBU days and Haughey

One of the best political books I’ve ever read was The Boss by Joe Joyce and Peter Murtagh about Charles Haughey’s GUBU era. 

It was brilliant and based on jaw-dropping subject matter. 

A book to help you really understand a time and a political culture. 

What made the book also was that he was still in politics at the time it was published. 

It wasn’t one of those cosy books written in retrospect when a character has left the stage. It read like a thriller.

The Charwoman's Daughter by James Stephens; and The Boss by Joe Joyce & Peter Murtagh.
The Charwoman's Daughter by James Stephens; and The Boss by Joe Joyce & Peter Murtagh.

Scoop and the news cycle

Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop is fantastic. 

It was written in the 1930s. It’s about an insignificant journalist who writes the nature notes for a newspaper. 

He gets mistaken for a more famous cousin who is a writer and he gets dispatched to cover a war in Africa. 

It's the account of how this works out. He accidentally has a major scoop. 

It's very clever about how these things are done, how wars are covered, the madness of it all. It's a great book. If you ever find it in a second-hand bookshop, pick it up.

The peerless Mary Raftery

Mary Raftery’s documentaries, States of Fear and Cardinal Secrets, were astonishing pieces of work. 

She did – if you’re in the business of making documentaries – what you could only ever hope for. 

They were seminal, and transformed public discourse in relation to the institutionalising of children and the church’s handling of abuse cases. 

I knew her a little and looked up to her a lot. 

She was powerful – not just in assembling information, not just uncovering what she uncovered, but being able to present it in such a devastating way.

She was incredibly dogged. She understood how the system worked. She worked out where to find these files in the Department of Education and stood her ground until she got them. 

She went where nobody had gone before, which was huge. 

She gave voice to people who had never been given a voice before, who nobody would have believed, who would have been afraid to speak out. 

That was a huge service she did – to them and the whole country. 

She had huge integrity herself and huge respect for the most vulnerable of people. 

She developed incredible trust because of that. That’s what you need if you’re going to uncover dark secrets.

Vincent Browne and a sense of jeopardy

You have to hand it to Vincent Browne. Things would happen on his show. That's always useful. You knew there could be drama. 

Maybe to some degree it became a bit “for the sake of it”, but you do need that sense of jeopardy in current affairs. 

You need to have a sense that this isn't just going to be everyone playing their part. 

You need a presenter that is going to ask the questions viewers want asked and to hold people to account. That's the gig.

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