As RTÉ Radio 1's Sunday Miscellany turns 50 with a very special series of live Miscellanies at Dublin's Project Arts Centre this weekend, longtime Miscellany contributor Mae Leonard celebrates an Irish radio institution in her own inimitable fashion.
There are snapshots filed away in my memory bank. Moments when the world stops spinning and I hold that framed picture in my mind. I think I am a storyteller because I like to share my moments with friends and family and anyone I can capture to listen. Just like Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, I hold onto someone until I tell it all – every little bit of it.
One of those moments is my very first recording for Sunday Miscellany when I first arrived at the entrance of RTÉ. I had a well-rehearsed script under my arm and I was about to enter the Hallowed Halls of our National Radio Station to record the moment when I was rescued from drowning. I paused there to catch my breath and absorb the scene before me. Don’t ask me how long ago it was. Years have crept up on me and I cannot remember exact dates. But wait a minute. I wrote a poem to capture that moment. So I dig out an ancient notebook and there it is: – "I picked a frond of lilac from a purpled tree hanging over the wall of RTÉ" – The date at the top of the page is Tuesday the seventh of May 1985.
Did I aspire to be a contributor to Sunday Miscellany then? I am not sure. It was a dream, maybe. I never thought that stories of my special moments would ever make the grade.
I remember standing there to savour that moment. But my mind went into reverse to a couple of years earlier, when I was in Listowel at Writers Week. It was during a coffee break from our Hugh Leonard TV Script Writing Workshop that the man was pointed out to me.
Silver-haired, tall and well built. He paused outside the window to chat with someone. The person beside me said in an awed tone – "You must know him – he writes for Sunday Miscellany" – and everyone in the room emitted an even more awed "Oooooooooh". The programme was and is held in such esteem.
This December we celebrate 50 years of @RTESunMisc in @projectarts!— RTÉ Radio 1 (@RTERadio1) November 16, 2018
On the weekend of December 7th @RTERadio1 will host a radio festival of new writings and specially commissioned musical pieces #miscellany50
For more info & tickets: https://t.co/O9D9CmFJy6 pic.twitter.com/2kBBszOCFc
Did I aspire to be a contributor to Sunday Miscellany then? I am not sure. It was a dream, maybe. I never thought that stories of my special moments would ever make the grade. But there I was that May morning in RTÉ with the scent of lilac sweetening the air, and the pretty cherry blossom tree welcoming me in.
It was a different story when I reached the recording studio. There was the master himself – legendary producer Maxwell Sweeney - "Young Lady" he called me, ushering me to the squeaky swivel chair and lowering the microphone to my height. From behind his glass window, he ordered a voice level check that had me reading my opening lines: "Johnny Weissmuller taught me how to swim..." That was fine, but the chair squeaked and I was warned to sit still. "Give me broadcasting strength." Now I was stumped. What is broadcasting strength? But all’s well that ends well, and I left RTÉ that morning with an invitation to send in another script when I had it ready.
And as the fellow said – thereby hangs a tale. Producers came and went over the years and I have known - gosh, how many? – seven at least but always there is a smiley welcome for me when I arrive to record my next Happy Moment. I am not the "Young Lady" as I was addressed when I first arrived at RTE. I am the one calling the current producer "Young Lady"
Mae Leonard, originally from Limerick, now living in Kildare, is one of Sunday Miscellany’s best loved and longstanding contributors. She’s a writer, poet and folklorist and has had a number of books published including a poetry collection.She has won a number of literary awards, including the Cecil Day Lewis and the Gerard Manley Hopkins awards, and some time ago was shortlisted for the Francis McManus Short Story Award on RTÉ Radio 1.
Mae will appear at Miscellany50, a celebratory radio festival weekend of short writing and music produced to salute fifty years of Sunday Miscellany at Project Arts Centre, Dublin, from December 7-9 - find out more and get tickets here.