Marty Whelan, 65, grew up in Killester, Dublin. He still lives on Dublin’s northside. He married in 1985, and has two children. During the 1970s, he worked as a DJ for pirate radio stations in Dublin, and 1979, he joined RTÉ Radio 2. He currently presents a weekday radio show Marty in the Morning on Lyric FM. He has also presented numerous TV shows on RTÉ since the 1980s, including Where in the World?, Rose of Tralee and Winning Streak. In May, he will helm the Eurovision Song Contest on RTÉ One
I was a Monkees maniac growing up, but when I got that bit older suddenly The Beatles clicked in. I came to them in the late Sixties with Abbey Road, and then moved back and rediscovered stuff that older guys had been listening to. Now I’m a maniac for them. They’re geniuses. Lennon and McCartney, in terms of popular song-writing, are there with George Gershwin and Johnny Mercer. What they created will survive for eternity.
Larry Gogan was a star as far back as when I was in primary school. For me, the idea of trying to emulate people like him – he was just way up there in the firmament. He was cool. He had a style of his own. He was a huge influence on everyone who followed him. Apart from anything else, he was gorgeous. A super man. I had the great luck over the years doing the Eurovision, Larry would be doing the radio and I’d be doing the telly. We’d go down for dinner. Jeepers, we’d have great craic. No one would be left un-slagged.
Gay Byrne had all the skills. I think people have forgotten the fact that he didn’t just present The Late Late Show, he produced it. It meant he wasn’t told, “This is what we’re doing, Gay.” He was holding the meeting with the rest of the crew every Monday saying, “Well, why didn’t that work? What are we doing on Friday? Let’s do such-and-such. This is a good book.” He was running the show along with his team. It was part of the genius of Gay and how he survived as long as he did. Gay brought a whole bunch of other things to the party. He was very special. A consummate professional.
Terry Wogan, I loved all my life. He was a big influence on my broadcasting career. He was very natural, very comfortable in his own skin. I learned an awful lot from Terry. He was great company. He also did the Eurovision for years. We have similar personalities. We enjoyed the same stuff, the same daft humour, like Spike Milligan and The Goons. If you can hone that sensibility and bring it to the listener, you’ve got a thing going. You go out there and do the best you can and hope you entertain. That’s what it is.
I don’t tend to lose it when I’m live on air or on set. It goes back to a line that Terry Wogan said to me years ago. We were talking about when things go wrong on live television, and the idea that no one will notice. Now if you’re listening and something goes wrong, you noticed because it just happened. If the scenery falls on the set on telly, it fell. There’s no point in pretending it didn’t. You go: “Oh, look, the sets on the floor.” If it goes wrong, it goes wrong and go with it. Don’t try to pretend it didn’t happen because it did happen. Everyone knows it happened. That brings its own Zen.
I’m an only child. I didn’t have older brothers. Growing up, myself and my friend, Leo, would listen to Goon LPs his brother had. That was how I was introduced to Spike Milligan and The Goon Show – from listening to records, not to the show on the radio. They were so radical for their time, in the 1950s. They were satirising the establishment. Having a go. It was very clever. People couldn’t believe it, but they got away with it. Brilliant people who definitely had an influence on me.
Spike Milligan was insane. I interviewed him on telly one time. He was brilliant. He had an amazing mind, but he was a manic depressive. He was high/low. You didn’t know what you were gonna get. To meet him – and to spend some time with him – was such a thrill. He was an odd bloke but a good man I would say. He was so sharp, so quick that you had to be on your toes with him.
Henry Kelly did a show at lunchtime on BBC called Going for Gold. It was huge. He had that talent, that ability to hold court. It’s different when it’s one to one to when you’ve to deal with four or five people. It’s also about balance, making sure everybody gets it in, and no one is left out. He was very cool.
When it comes to books, American politics is my thing. The biggest influence would have been Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s All The President’s Men, a book about Watergate and Richard Nixon. I read it when I was at school. I got really interested in the scandal. Nixon fascinates me. I’ve read so many of Bob Woodward’s books over the years. He’s an amazing author. I had the good fortune to meet the two lads, Woodward and Bernstein. They were at the Olympia in Dublin. I was like a child. I hero-worshipped them.
Recently I finished two enormous volumes on the life of Hitler by Volker Ullrich. Would you believe it? I just got a figary. I decided I wanted to really read about him. Astonishing stuff. Horrendous. The whole idea of Nazism was astonishingly horrible. You think: how did it happen? When you think about what’s going on now [in the Ukraine], it takes it into a new light.