Newry.ie

As told by his eldest son Don Hall to Noreen Cunningham, Museum Curator, December 2019

Throughout his life, Frank Hall’s affection for Newry and its many characters was a source of inspiration to him and the magnet that drew him back, time and time again. Continuing on from last week this week’s article examines Frank’s work as a columnist with the Evening Herald and his career with RTE.

Frank’s big writing break came with a regular weekend column in the Evening Herald in which his task was to write about dances and the bands coming to the city. This led to a regular nightly ‘diary’ column entitled Going Places which he wrote under the pen name, Frank Lee.

The Savoy Cinema, Newry, 1940. This was one of three cinemas frequented by Frank Hall when he lived in Newry.  Photograph by Pat Hudson, courtesy of Catherine Hudson
The Savoy Cinema, Newry, 1940. This was one of three cinemas frequented by Frank Hall when he lived in Newry. Photograph by Pat Hudson, courtesy of Catherine Hudson

Attending events and meeting the movie stars, musicians and personalities visiting Dublin to promote their work, his challenge was to give readers an insight into the glittering life of his subjects and the views of those he would meet and interview. 

Peppered with his unique brand of wit and satire, his column had a huge following. As the Evening Herald’s ace diarist, his challenge was to win readers from his opposite number - the imposing Evening Press columnist and former army officer, Terry O’Sullivan. In addition, Frank had a weekly column reviewing records which he wrote under the pen name of Rick O’Shea. 

In 1953, Frank bought a house in Dublin’s north city suburb of Santry into which the family moved from Newry.

A decade later, his editor at the Evening Herald, Pearse Kelly, was appointed to a senior position with the then fledgling RTE Television. Knowing Frank, Kelly invited him to join his team in the news division – an invitation he accepted. In that role, his brief saw him present whimsical reports of everyday news events. 

ANNIE GETS HER MAN... Newry man Frank Hall, then a nightly columnist with Dublin’s Evening Herald, pictured in the embrace of glamorous Hollywood film star, Betty Hutton. The picture was taken during her 1950s visit to Dublin to promote the MGM hit musical ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ in which she had the starring role playing the part of Annie Oakley alongside the equally renowned Howard Keel. 
Courtesy of Don Hall
Annie Gets Her Man... Newry man Frank Hall, then a nightly columnist with Dublin’s Evening Herald, pictured in the embrace of glamorous Hollywood film star, Betty Hutton. The picture was taken during her 1950s visit to Dublin to promote the MGM hit musical ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ in which she had the starring role playing the part of Annie Oakley alongside the equally renowned Howard Keel. 
Courtesy of Don Hall

But, it wasn’t long before he moved into mainstream programming with the opportunity to write and present his own programmes, the most notable of which was Hall’s Pictorial Weekly.

Best remembered for its satirical outlook on political life, Hall’s Pictorial Weekly ran for 250 episodes. Said to be one of the two things happening every week that people never missed – the other being Mass on Sunday – Hall’s Pictorial Weekly ran from 1969 - 1980. 

The programme lampooned politics and Government in sketches performed by some of the best actors of the time - Frank Kelly, Eamon Morrissey and Paul Daly.

‘Frank Hall lampooned politicians and the politics of the period, and the people of Ireland loved it. Very much ‘of its time’ its biting humour was particular to the period and does not transport especially well, so much so that anyone looking at it now would wonder what all the fuss was about’ one viewer recalls. 

‘Frank was a satirist, true and true. His characters included the Minister for Gateposts and Telegraph Poles (styled on Conor Cruise O’Brien) and the Minister for Hardship (styled on then Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrove).  It lampooned the Fine Gael and Labour Coalition Government in power from 1973 – 1977. While some politicians loved it, the majority did not’ the viewer noted.

One character in the programme was a fictitious Fine Gael Minister called ‘Ritchie Ruin’. Other comic commentaries included references to Ireland joining the European Economic Community in 1973. In its ‘Ballymagash’ sequences, focused on a mythical Urban District Council, some of Frank’s characters were based on those encountered in his Newry childhood, including Fr Romulus Todd and Councillor Parnell Mooney. 

In other programmes reminiscent of the period, one focused on the ‘Ministerial opening of a Hair Shirt Factory’ while another dwelt on a broadcast by the Minister for Hardship seen warming his hands over a burning candle whilst promising to reduce unemployment by ‘reopening the workhouses’.

According to one University College Cork professor, Frank Hall’s programme and his weekly send-up of Liam Cosgrove’s government was an influencing factor in the Fianna Fail party’s 1977 election victory when Jack Lynch swept back to power with a 22-seat majority.

Frank Hall (wearing a bow tie in centre of photograph) during a press visit to a Renault factory in France where he can be seen with his rival diarist and social columnist Terry O’Sullivan (on the left wearing a white jacket) of the Evening Press. Courtesy of Don Hall
Frank Hall (wearing a bow tie in centre of photograph) during a press visit to a Renault factory in France where he can be seen with his rival diarist and social columnist Terry O’Sullivan (on the left wearing a white jacket) of the Evening Press. Courtesy of Don Hall

Towards the end of his career Frank’s passion for the movies – honed as a young man in Newry’s three great movie palaces - put him in pole position when the Government appointed him Irish Film Censor. Films that came across his desk at the time included the controversial Life of Brian (which he referred on to the Censorship Appeals Board) and the acclaimed Vietnam War classic Apocalypse Now. 

Throughout, he remained active as a newspaper writer, his work appearing in Irish Independent, the Sunday World and, for many years, as a regular contributor to Irelands Own.

Fondly remembered as one of Newry’s best known sons and one of Ireland’s most acclaimed journalists, writers, broadcasters and television personalities, during his career he received two Jacob's Awards, in 1966 and 1975, for his work on Newsbeat and Hall's Pictorial Weekly respectively.

In September 1995, age 74, Frank died of a heart attack in Dublin’s Mater Hospital. He is buried in Dardistown Cemetery with his beloved wife, Aideen, and rests directly below the flight path of airplanes making their final approach to Dublin Airport. 

As one who travelled little in his life, it is a fitting burial place for one who, in one of his retrospective broadcasts filmed in Carlingford, said: ‘of all the places in the world that I could travel to, I would choose to be here, overlooking the sea and the Mountains of Mourne in the background’.  It’s a thought that all Newry people will understand!

Newry and Mourne Museum is open to the public seven days a week with admission free of charge. For opening hours, information on events and exhibitions, other services and bookings please phone 028 3031 3178 or visit www.bagenalscastle.com.

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