Like a Hollywood screenplay, 'This Is Charlie Bird' begins at the end, with the Supreme Court's rejection of Beverley Cooper Flynn's appeal in her libel case against RTÉ. Charlie Bird and RTÉ Economics Editor George Lee embrace after vindication in Ireland's longest ever libel trial.
Co-written with the Sunday Tribune deputy editor and Bird's former colleague, Kevin Rafter, this book takes a thematic rather than chronological approach to telling the story of the RTÉ News star's remarkable career in Irish journalism. This sequencing serves to remind the reader of the broad scope of Bird's work in 32 years at RTÉ, from the heart of Irish politics and the underworld of the IRA to humanitarian disaster around the world.
Full of anecdotes from behind the scenes, 'This Is…' also contains plenty details of off the record and public encounters with many of the country's most powerful people. Each vignette reveals another side to these famous characters and points up the close, if not always amicable, relationship between high profile politicians and journalists in Dublin.
One such example tells of a night when former Tánaiste, Dick Spring, shared drinks with Bird at the Department of Foreign Affairs before taking him in his State car to an RTÉ News Christmas party and later putting the reporter up for the night in his apartment. As if for contrast, Bird also tells of a later time when he was convinced the same former Labour leader kicked him in the shin for asking a difficult question.
The frightening level of power a journalist can hold is shown in Bird's account of reporting the end of the first IRA ceasefire, when he remarks that if he had got the story out sooner the two people who died in the Canary Wharf bombings would probably have survived. The book includes a dramatic image of the IRA's original ceasefire statement in 1994, which was typed onto a piece of paper not much longer than a biro.
Stories of Bird reporting abroad show his strong humanitarian conscience and also the considerable logistics involved in television journalism. He tells of an exceptional instance in 1985 of RTÉ and the BBC hiring a private jet to transport tapes of Brian Keenan's release from Syria to Cyprus so they could be sent on for broadcast. He also explains how much technology has changed the work in making television news, from times when film was sent up to Dublin on the train, to Bird and cameraman Magnus Kelly sitting on a traffic island in London editing news footage digitally just hours after the 7 July bombings.
In short, 'This Is Charlie Bird' is an excellent book that will make a fascinating read for anyone interested in Irish news or politics. But it does come up short as an autobiography because it makes the news, and not its subject, the central character. Bird is frank about the lack of closeness between himself and his parents and brothers, for example, but most of the stories in the book about his life outside RTÉ News are very briefly observed.
Perhaps this is because of the reporter's public battles with newspapers over stories about his private life, but by choosing not to use the book as a forum for these details he may leave some readers wondering about the man behind these stories behind the news.
'This Is Charlie Bird' is available from the RTÉ Shop, priced €19.95.