Friday 21 September 2018

Michael Murphy: 'The time is coming to have a wider debate about raising the compulsory retirement age'

Michael Murphy talks about life, work and why love is truly all that matters

Michael with his husband Terry O'Sullivan and friend Emer O'Kelly
Michael with his husband Terry O'Sullivan and friend Emer O'Kelly
Joanna Kiernan and Michael Murphy
Michael Murphy and husband Terry O'Sullivan on their wedding day
Michael Murphy

Former newsreader Michael Murphy's unmistakeably dulcet voice is as pleasant in person as it was throughout his many years broadcasting as an RTE newscaster.

Like his colleague, Anne Doyle, there was always a certain sparkle in Michael's eye; a silent acknowledgement of the solid personality, behind the perfect diction and stoic poker face, which presenting the news required.

Over the last few years, Michael has become known for writing very movingly, and with brutal honesty, about his battle with prostate cancer. He is the type of person - one learns very quickly in his company - who is not only very honest with and about himself, but provides the opportunity for others to do the same.

He puts this honesty down to his other passion in life - his psychoanalysis work. Throughout much of his RTE career, Michael also worked as a psychoanalyst and has his own practice in Sandyford, to which he now devotes himself full-time.

"I got a scholarship to France after UCD and studied psychoanalysis," Michael tells me.

"Then, I got waylaid into RTE and I formally left RTE after about 20 years. I did 10 years as a newscaster and 10 years as a producer and director, so then I moved into the practice full-time, but I always kept a toehold.

"I worked weekends afterwards, but the main work all the time Monday to Friday, was, and still is, the psychoanalysis."

Last year, aged 65, Michael left the RTE newsroom altogether.

"It suits me fine because sometimes I was working seven days a week - four days in the psychoanalytic practice, and then three days at the weekend in the newsroom, and I need the time to concentrate on my writing," Michael explains.


Michael with his husband Terry O'Sullivan and friend Emer O'Kelly

Michael with his husband Terry O'Sullivan and friend Emer O'Kelly

"Because of better health and increasing longevity, I think the time is coming to have a wider debate about raising the compulsory retirement age in the public service from 65 to 70, but that's another matter for debate in the future; I'm not disappointed with RTE for invoking that."

However, Michael set tongues wagging when he was interviewed on the John Murray Show on April 1, 2014, and accused the national broadcaster of discriminating against him because of his age and sexual orientation.

All parties later claimed that the interview had been an elaborate April Fool's prank.

"I was game for a laugh," Michael grins. "With hindsight, I should have emphasised the date of April 1, so that people could wonder about what they were hearing, because some people were convinced by it and didn't hear John's explanation the following day that, in fact, it was an April Fool's joke."

It's not the first time Michael's sense of humour has caused a commotion in RTE. He once fell off his chair during a live news bulletin as he was laughing so hard at colleague Anne Doyle.

"It was the time Mad Cow Disease and it was the first time we had heard of it," Michael laughs. "So we were laughing away while preparing the nine o'clock bulletin, and before we went on air, we had a kind of unofficial Oscars as to who was the 'maddest cow' in the newsroom and we drew up a list.

Michael Murphy and husband Terry O'Sullivan on their wedding day

Michael Murphy and husband Terry O'Sullivan on their wedding day

"Then, we went into the studio and I was to read that story, but we dropped a story, which meant that Anne had to read it, so there was general hilarity. Then they dropped another story and it came back to me, and it kept going like that all through the bulletin and finally Anne had to read it, and because of the list we had drawn up, she was hard pushed not to laugh," Michael chuckles.

"Anne has a great sense of humour. I was laughing so hard that I actually slid off the chair and under the desk, but she got through it."

Michael hasn't bowed out of broadcasting completely. He has just finished a weekly psychoanalytic residency on RTE's Today Show and he also appears regularly on RTE 2fm. But, for the most part, Michael is mainly to be found working in his practice these days, or writing or performing his show Stories, Poetry and Dreams on stages around Ireland.

"The show is essentially extracts from the three books, which I wrote: House of Pure Being, At Five in the Afternoon, and a poetry book, The Republic of Love," Michael explains. "Since I am a broadcast journalist, I wrote so that people could speak it, so I thought, why not get a few of the colleagues from my era to do just that and we have had Eileen Dunne, Emer O'Kelly, Eamonn Lawlor, and Deirdre Purcell will be joining us for the final two shows."

The show has received rave reviews. "It has been extraordinary," Michael tells me. "People have been tremendously moved because it is showing how people deal with difficulties. Men deal with things step by step.

"Women have access to the left and right brain, they can do a number of things at the one time," Michael says. "So when a man looks at a problem, what's necessary is to come up with a solution, whereas women look at that as an opportunity to deepen relationships and they are interested in one another and, eventually, the solution will come, often from a more collective way.

"I am able to show that in the show, which is very interesting."

Michael does not shy away from putting words on issues which others might tend to avoid. "I think that comes from the psychoanalysis," he smiles. "Before you can become an analyst, you have to do analysis yourself and I did over 20 years of analysis, twice a week.

"So you come to know yourself pretty well and there are some basic things that come out of that, for example, all that really matters in life is love.

"That is the primary thing - that is what we are here for, and the other important thing then is to inhabit who you are and that you don't dumb it down. There should be a self-affirmation there, in spite of doubt, because we are never sure of anything 100pc. The only person who is 100pc sure is a psychotic."

Love is something that Michael has been lucky enough experience with his partner of over 30 years, Terry O'Sullivan. Michael describes Ireland's progress in terms of equality for the gay community since he came out as a young man to his family in Castlebar, Co Mayo as 'incomprehensible'.

"When we went for the civil partnership three years ago, there was no conception in our minds that we would have a referendum coming up on same-sex marriage.

"It didn't dawn on us and that is only three years ago, so we have come such a long way," Michael explains.

"I never made any secret of the fact that my orientation was gay from when I met Terry and all of my friends knew, but I was in RTE and I was reading the news, so you didn't advertise it; I wouldn't have gone out to gay bars or anything like that.

"That, of course, has all totally changed and I think there has been a continual coming out, not necessarily to do with the gay issue, but on all sorts of levels, where you come to inhabit who you are without fear of anybody judging you, and you withdraw relevance from those who disapprove. That's the way you deal with it.

"We are still in a process of coming out and of growing up as a nation and extending that equality."

"When I was young, I wouldn't have classed myself as being gay. I would have always thought that I, like everybody, was going on to get their career, get married and all of that, so I was part of that mainstream," Michael remembers. "It was only when I was in university and I was in the States that I began to read people like the French writers Jean Genet and Andre Gide, who were gay, and they were naming things and I felt, 'well that is me'. So it actually came through literature that I realised, and so, that was a defining moment for me.

"I was in the States on a J1 visa and it was the time of Woodstock and it was great I was down in Greenwich Village at discos on the weekend, all of that stuff; that is when I understood myself that I was gay."

Michael met Terry while producing and directing a show called Access Communtiy Television for RTE.

"It was essentially the first reality television show and we took it all over the country and enabled drama groups to come together and make a specific programme in their region," Michael explains.

"So we were making one in the Rutland Centre, which is Ireland's premier addiction centre, and obviously we couldn't use the clients, so what they did was, in order to give a flavour of it, they set up all of the people who were counsellors there to take part in a group-therapy session and the person who was leading it was my partner Terry. So I had the opportunity to see him over that period."

"A television is like an X-ray," Michael adds. "If you are watching a politician on TV, turn down the sound and watch them and you will have a good idea of what their soul is like because it comes out through the eyes.

"I saw Terry on the television and thought, 'that's a good guy.' So, when it came to the wrap party, I made sure I was sitting beside him," Michael smiles.

Michael's 'Stories, Poetry and Dreams' show is at the Dalkey Book Festival on Thursday, June 11 and at the Royal Theatre in Michael's hometown of Castlebar on Friday, July 3

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