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Take one former Taoiseach, two radio presenters. . .

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YOU can usually tell when somebody on radio is smiling. Their voice deepens and warms slightly, like a verbal wink. Matt Cooper was obviously grinning like a loon on Thursday evening as he summed up his listeners' texts thus: "Loads of you want Albert Reynolds back in politics but a few of you are a bit doubtful about him taking money from a dictator."

Some people have to wait their whole lives to deliver a line like that. Among them, sadly, might be Morning Ireland's Richard Downes, who had first dibs on the former Taoiseach several hours before The Last Wo rd , but failed to make as much of the opportunity.

The matter in hand was the state of emergency in Pakistan and that country's somewhat, er, mercurial president Pervez Musharraf. After the coup there, a mutual business buddy had asked Albert to help Musharraf reconcile with the US; "he apparently got power without even having to fire a shot and he was all his life in the army. . . and he certainly turned out to be a very good leader, " a breathless Reynolds recounted, before saying he was happy to help "because I did have President Clinton's personal phone from the time I dealt with him in Northern Ireland."

Letting slide the temptation to ask Al whether he'd ever returned Bill's blower, Downes made some of the right noises about "a lot of water under the bridge since then" and Musharraf being "in a lot of hot water now". It all became just too watery for words, though, when Reynolds started to say: ". . . and then he asked me if I would look at Kashmir. . ." and Downes interrupted ". . . which is another kettle of fish altogether, we'll come back to that some other time", and wound it up.

Thankfully, Coop the Scoop had Albert back on the phone (ah, stop it now) by teatime and, within seconds, Reynolds was holding forth about how he became a paid adviser to Musharraf in 2000. After a little to-ing and fro-ing about why the Pakistani president couldn't make a few calls for himself, Cooper cut to the chase. "How appropriate do you think it was for you, a former Taoiseach, to be acting as a paid adviser to someone who the international community would have regarded as a dictator?" Albert fell back on his "not a single shot fired" line and praised the economy Musharraf had developed. "By intimidating and scaring people, " said Cooper. Albert countered: "Six to 8% growth . . . you'd admire that yourself." "Well, it would depend on the circumstances, " said Cooper, sounding like a man who knows his society from his economy.

By this stage, Albert was offering "to make a long story short, because I know you're pushed for time. . ." with Cooper protesting: "No, go on, this is fascinating, " the smile in his voice becoming more audible. And . . . recognising that the small matter of democracy should never be allowed get in the way of a good story or the chance for some self-aggrandisement . . .

Reynolds did go on . . . was let go on . . . and it was fascinating. (If Today FM hadn't got such a tortuous website, I'd urge you to 'listen back'. ) You can, however, easily listen back to Morning Ireland, where Reynolds was cut short not because of a looming news bulletin but to facilitate the playing of two 'lite' packages, one about an exhibition of previously unseen photos of The Beatles, and another about a diamond selling for bucketloads in Geneva. Dear, sweet Jesus.

And finally, as those 'mixing-it-up' types on Morning Irelandmight say, to Rockumentary Rollercoaster (BBC4, Tuesday). DA Pennebaker was talking about his seminal Dylan docu-diary, Don't Look Back, and how difficult it was to get mainstream cinemas to show that wonderful but grainy film. "They were used to real movies shot in a painstaking way that all looked like the Sistine Chapel, " he recalled, "and this looked like the bathroom in the Sistine Chapel." His smile of vindication was a joy to hear.


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Back To Top >> 18/11/2007





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