The programmes, the personalities, the politics – on and off-screen

The 1970s

Ireland’s first Eurovision Song Contest win came in Amsterdam on 21 March 1970, with the song ‘All Kinds of Everything’, written by Derry Lindsay and Jackie Smith, and sung by Dana (Rosemary Brown), an eighteen-year-old girl from the Bogside in Derry. Éanna Brophy in the ‘RTÉ Guide’ reported: “There we were, all 200 million of us, watching 26 stations strung across the globe from Russia to South America, giving the schoolgirl from Derry our full attention and admiration as she sang her way out of the classroom and into stardom.” In April 1971, Ireland hosted the Eurovision Song Contest for the first time, presented by Bernadette Ní Ghallchóir, at The Gaiety Theatre in Dublin.

In 1971 An Taoiseach issued the first directive based on Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act, 1960 which required RTÉ to cease broadcasting representatives of illegal organisations. Section 31 eventually led to the dismissal of all nine members of the RTÉ Authority when, at lunch-time on 24 November 1972, RTÉ Radio broadcast a report based on an interview by Kevin O'Kelly with a member of the IRA, Seán Mac Stiofáin. On 26 November, O'Kelly was imprisoned for contempt of court when, during the trial of MacStiofáin, O'Kelly refused to identify the defendant as the subject of the interview. Section 31 was eventually lifted in 1994.

In March 1971, Cigarette advertising on RTÉ Television ceased. Frank Hall's amusing and satirical series began in 1971 with the full title ‘Hall's Pictorial Weekly Incorporating the Provincial Vindicator’. The show was set in a mythical town, Ballymagash. Hall’s Pictorial Weekly wasn’t afraid to get close to the bone. In his book ‘Window and Mirror’, John Bowman says: “It divided local councillors throughout Ireland: some laughed but many more passed resolutions complaining that it belittled their efforts.” More than 250 ‘Hall’s Pictorial Weekly’ shows were produced over its 10-year period on air.

Ireland’s entry to the EEC in 1972 was covered extensively by RTÉ. There was a series of special reports on the Common Market and the signing was covered live on television. Our entry to Europe coincided with the Eurovision news exchange beginning to send Irish images and news throughout Europe. RTÉ was also able to provide more European news coverage to Irish viewers through this network. Coverage of events in North and South America, the Far East, and Africa also increased as Irish viewers watched international stories like the US withdrawal from Vietnam and the US Presidential elections.

The 1970s saw big investment by RTÉ in the new technology of colour television. The Railway Cup Finals in Croke Park of 1971 was the first home-produced, colour production, followed soon after by Ireland's first hosting of the Eurovision Song Contest in April. In 1976, ‘The Late Late Show’ finally went colour, the last major programme to undergo the change. By this year all studios, outside broadcast and film production units were full colour.

RTÉ’s Annual Report in 1973 published statistics reporting that 77% (542,000) of households in the Republic had a television set; 530,000 had a television licence and 27,000 had colour televisions.

The first broadcast of News for the Deaf on RTÉ Television was on January 1975.

The Broadcasting Complaints Commission was established in 1976.

RTÉ’s second television channel, now RTÉ Two, went on air in 1978, providing viewers in ‘single-channel land’ with more choice. It also recognised the demand for youth-oriented programming from Irish audiences. The first faces seen on RTÉ Two were the continuity announcing team of Bernadette Ní Ghallchóir, who hosted the 1971 Eurovison, Raymond Maxwell and Roisin Harkin. The station was launched with a live show from the Opera House in Cork, with singer Val Doonican topping the bill. There were messages on the night from President Hillery and Taoiseach Jack Lynch.

Pope John Paul ll visited Ireland from 29 September to 1 October 1979. RTÉ Television and Radio provided comprehensive coverage of the visit. The television coverage won wide acclaim. Vatican Radio announced from Rome that if “the voice, the image and the message of the Pope were carried everywhere in the world at a high technical level, this was due to the miracle operated by the Irish television service”. Irish Broadcasting Review, Spring 1980.

Bosco, a popular children's programme on RTÉ Television, first went out in June 1979 as an eight-part pilot. It ended up running for 17 years, until 1996. Miriam Lambert was the original puppeteer on ‘Bosco’, followed by Paula Lambert. It was a mix of fun and education and Bosco also spoke the ‘cupla focail’. Presenters on ‘Bosco’ included Marian Richardson, now an RTÉ radio presenter and producer, Frank Twomey, who was well known for his ‘Bull Island’ characters, Jonathan Ryan, Grainne Uí Mhaitiú and Philip Tyler. The show included much-loved, shot animations Plonksters, Faherty’s Garden, The McSpuds and the Tongue Twister Twins, along with an episodic trip through The Magic Door.