When I think of Des Bishop, the first thing that springs to mind is the American/Irish comedian who jokes about G.A.A, immersions, how Irish women are always cold, and his rather catchy Gaeilge version of Jump Around called Léim Thart. While I was familiar with his TV show In the Name of the Fada, where he attempted to learn a standard of Irish sufficient to perform an entire standup act through the language, I saw a completely different and vulnerable side to him in last night’s touching documentary which was shown last year for the first time.
In a one-off hour long show Bishop returned to Irish screens to tell the deeply personal tale of his father, Mike, who was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in 2009. Inspired by his father’s illness, the impact it had on the Bishop family and their sense of humour in dealing with it, the documentary followed Des as he developed his latest internationally acclaimed stand up show My Dad was Nearly James Bond.
I found it difficult not to fall for Mike’s charming ways and beaming smile. His body appeared to be frail, but there was a glow from his face that refused to give up easily. A man clearly blessed with good genes, it was hardly surprising that Bishop senior was second place to replace Sean Connery as James Bond, but was beaten to it by George Lazenby. When his three sons were born, Mike gave up the glamour of his acting life for a steady job in a swanky Manhattan department store, but he warned his children “never go into retail.”
His honestly and openness about his terminal illness was admirable, but equally heartbreaking as his family struggled to come to terms with his approaching death. The process of watching Des realise that his beloved father was gradually going downhill, but yet observing him as he managed to inject a little humour in death was inspirational. The reality of the situation was really brought to the fore when Des stated that some of his best memories with his father are of the time they spent together in his dying days.
Throughout the 18 months of his father’s illness Bishop talked about how the parental roles were reversed as Des became the parent and Mike became the child as he washed him, shaved him and encouraged him to eat as his body began to shut-down and battle against the chemotherapy. The reality of how families unite and come together when a loved one is diagnosed with an illness was highlighted in this poignant documentary. Mike stated on several occasions that he “didn’t want to go” as he was “enjoying” the time with his family.
In a beautiful and tasteful way, Bishop managed to bring viewers on an emotional rollercoaster by taking a trip down memory lane. From recalling his father’s scene in The Day of the Triffids to discussing the frank and moving story of the life-lessons that his father taught him, Des gave an honest, tender but yet insightful depiction of a family struggling to cope with the inevitable.
The unfolding of events that emerged during Mike Bishop’s illness became the show his son always staged.
Mike Bishop passed away in February 2011, surrounded by a loving family.