With these words of caution, President Eamon De Valera launched Telefís Éireann on New Year’s Eve 1961. His pre-recorded opening address (which can be seen on the Clip of the Week page on this site) was part of the launch, live from Dublin’s Gresham Hotel on O’Connell Street. Cameras filmed the invited guests who dined and danced in the ballroom and the public who danced outside in the snow. The evening included poetry readings by actors Siobhán McKenna and Mícheál MacLiammóir, a look back at the preparations for the television service, and an hour of music and song featuring the renowned comedy duo of Jimmy O'Dea and Maureen Potter.
Ireland has changed a good deal in the fifty years since and much of the transformation has been recorded and explored by RTÉ as the public service broadcaster. Now, TV50 offers an opportunity to remember the experiences of the last fifty years as seen on television, and imagine those to come in the next half century. It will begin on the anniversary of the birth of Telefís Éireann, just after midnight on New Year’s Day 2012, welcomed by Miriam O’Callaghan presenting New Year’s Eve Live from Studio 4.
Announcing TV50, RTÉ Director General Noel Curran said: “Television has served as both a window and mirror to an evolving nation; witnessing and chronicling huge change across five decades of Irish life. I hope that in that time we have served the viewing public well: that we have reflected their lives in a way that is nuanced and recognisable; that we have stimulated our conversation as a nation; that we have informed the populace in a way that has furthered our democratic rights and responsibilities; that we have promoted a sense of national identity. And that we have entertained and engaged along the way. If we have done that, we’ve fulfilled our role.
“It’s a job that we are committed to and humbled by. We don’t always get it right, but we strive to do so in every programme we commission, produce, and broadcast; in every piece of content that we publish; in every interview that we transmit. As the public service media organisation, we hope that our audience will enjoy this celebration of fifty years of their lives. We’re just telling their story.”
Glen Killane, Managing Director TV, added: “The four thousand-plus hours of home-produced programming we broadcast each year, reflecting the life of this country, are always Ireland’s most popular. TV50 offers us the opportunity to show the viewing public just some of those moments again. The selection to be re-broadcast on television is diverse and eclectic and captures the mood and the mode of the nation at many different times.
“Between sixteen and twenty archive programmes will be launched each month on the RTÉ Player in ‘TV50 Classics’. They are further snapshots of Irish lives across the last five decades. The rich resource that is the RTÉ Archive, which is open 24/7 to the public for clips and photos, will launch a new website. Radio will broadcast special TV50 programming. RTÉ.ie will deliver a special TV50 website and ‘The Late Late Show’ and the ‘RTÉ Guide’ will celebrate their fiftieths, too.
“I hope that this will not only serve as a comforting slice of nostalgia for us all in tough times, but also be a source of national pride: recognising how far we’ve come as a nation, as well as how far, and where, we want to go next.”
RTÉ Television will celebrate TV50 with newly commissioned programming which looks at the role of television and the audience’s engagement with it, remembers some of the comedy and drama we’ve enjoyed and offers opportunities to re-visit key television moments over the past five decades. With output for all ages throughout the year, programmes begin on New Year’s Eve with key peaks in early January, May and September, not forgetting the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of The Late Late Show in May.
RTÉ Radio will mark the anniversary with special Bank Holiday programming on all bank holidays throughout 2012. Highlights include a series by John Bowman, author of the recent ‘Window and Mirror: RTÉ Television 1961–2011’, as well as TV50-themed editions of ‘Sunday Miscellany’, ‘Documentary on One’ and ‘Drama on One’. And the RTÉ Concert Orchestra's New Year's Eve Gala live from the National Concert Hall on RTÉ Radio 1, will mark TV50 with a medley of famous signature tunes arranged specially by conductor and Golden Globe nominee Brian Byrne.
‘TV50 Classics’ - themed selections from the TV Archives – including drama, comedy, chat-shows, interviews and children’s programmes, will be released on the RTÉ Player on the first of each month throughout 2012.
The ‘RTÉ Guide’ will mark TV50 and its own anniversary with a special commemorative edition on sale from St Stephen’s Day, including a 16-page replica edition featuring highlights from the very first issues of the ‘Guide’ to hit Irish shelves. And throughout 2012, the RTÉ Guide will look back over the stars and shows that made the headlines and compile their best interviews, the best (and worst) covers, look at changing tastes in food and fashion, welcome guest editors and search for their biggest fan.
The RTÉ Archives preserve a unique record of Irish life and the year of TV50 will see the re-design of the Archives site in Spring 2012, enhancing visitors’ experience of television and radio clips. In addition, photographs, written documents and online exhibitions, will provide a multi-faceted picture of how RTÉ covered Irish life over the past five decades.
RTÉ will also partner with other organisations for TV50 events including the launch by An Post of three stamps, featuring Gay Byrne on an early ‘Late Late Show’ set, newsreader Anne Doyle in studio, and RTÉjr presenters Emma O’Driscoll and Ógie. (For more information, see www.irishstamps.ie.) And in ‘Window & Mirror: RTÉ Television 1961–2011’, John Bowman gives an account of RTÉ itself in its first fifty years of existence, available online in the RTÉ Shop and at book shops nationwide.
On RTÉ Online, this site will feature Photo of the Day, Clip of the Week, TV Stories and programming updates throughout 2012, and viewers are invited to share their experience on the TV50 Twitter account (@rtetv50) and on Facebook (www.facebook.ie/rtetv50).
As well as looking back at our lives and the country’s story, TV50 looks forward and asks questions, just as President de Valera did on New Year’s Eve 1961.
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