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grace under pressure

As the country pays tribute, here are seven reasons Ireland loved Derek Davis...

A fiercely intelligent broadcaster who wore his talent lightly, a Big Tom tribute act – and the Timothy Dalton of the Rose of Tralee.

BROADCASTING LEGEND DEREK Davis passed away today, following a short illness.

His death, at the age of 67, was announced by his former colleague Sean O’Rourke on Radio 1, at midday.

The news was greeted with shock and sadness by friends and colleagues, as they shared their memories of a warm, fiercely intelligent journalist and broadcaster – who wore his talent lightly, and was always at ease in front of a camera or a microphone.

Here’s why Ireland loved to watch – and listen to – Derek Davis…

1. For his calm under pressure

They didn’t give him the Live at Three gig for nothing. Davis was a master of live television – able to make a complicated job (being engaging, dealing with people shouting things in your ear, responding to the unexpected) look simple.

The clip below, from RTÉ’s Live Aid coverage, provides a good example.

After the phone system “went mad” with donations – Davis appealed for “any P&T [Posts & Telegraphs] staff” to “please volunteer your services to the exchanges – because they’re beginning to get snowed under”.

Over on the BBC, they were getting flustered over the running order and looking embarrassed when Bob Geldof dropped f-bombs. But Davis was just looking relaxed and going with the flow. (Check out how he perfectly times the intro to Duran Duran in the clip…)

killianm2 / YouTube

2. For being part of TWO classic RTÉ double acts

Alongside Thelma Mansfield on the long-running Live at Three – and, before that, opposite Anne Doyle in the news studios.

Davis began his career as a news journalist with ABC in the US, and later with the BBC. After moving to Montrose, he pioneered the two-handed news bulletin alongside Doyle.

His former colleague Colm Connolly, speaking today, said that while he took the work “very seriously” Davis also became known for his quips and comments on news stories – livening up what had, until then, been a very po-faced house style.

Thelma Mansfield and Derek Davis presenting Search for a Star in 1997.

“The poor weathermen and women used to die a hundred deaths wondering about the joke he would crack about them or their attire, when he introduced them,” Connolly said.

3. For being the Timothy Dalton of the Rose of Tralee

Davis had a short but memorable stint as presenter of the Rose festival. The versatile host helmed the competition for two years in 1995 and 1996 – taking over from longtime presenter Gay Byrne and handing over the baton to Marty Whelan.

His reputation as the go-to ‘safe pair of hands’ was a factor in him getting the gig in the first place – he was only asked to anchor the show after Gaybo was taken ill at short notice.

File photo Derek Davis has died today. In his element, surrounded by Roses - in 1995.

4. For being part of the most Irish game show EVER

Alongside Twink and Ronan Collins. If you’re too young to remember, Play the Game was basically charades on TV.

Play the Game Christmas show (1992)

Play the Game Christmas show (1992) Yes, that's a nervous-looking Charlie Bird in the background. RTÉ RTÉ

5. For his surprising musical career

While he was still based at the BBC, Davis began submitting comedy scripts to the satirical comedy show Hall’s Pictorial Weekly – and was asked by the producers to star in a ‘Big Tom’ country-and-Irish parody video.

I thought to myself – nobody down there knows me, nobody up here will see this. So I’ll do it.

As he recalled years afterwards, “a few days later I got a phonecall offering me a job fronting a showband based in Cork.

“I thought ‘this is a mickey-take’.”

But it wasn’t, and so…

For the best part of a year … I traveled around closing more ballrooms than food poisoning.

Dlonra'sCountry / YouTube

The band’s name, by the way? ‘Mean Tom and the Bigliners’.

6. For his late-career role as a commentator on Vincent Browne

There was always a hugely positive response when he was on the panel.

exteriority / YouTube

7. For his honesty

Davis won widespread praise in recent years for speaking openly of his health problems – including his battle to keep his weight under control.

“You create a persona – a personality to go with your body size,” he told Brendan O’Connor – as he appeared on the Saturday Night Show after losing five stone as a result of gastric surgery.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner last year, he said he had taken the decision “to improve both the quality and the potential length of my life”.

dd5 Derek Davis - on the Saturday Night Show.

Davis made his last radio appearance just a few days ago, on Marian Finucane’s Radio 1 show. Fellow contributors to the programme have been speaking of their shock at his passing.

Read: Tributes paid to broadcaster Derek Davis who has died aged 67

Read: U2 gig to go ahead as scheduled following death of Larry Mullen’s father

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