Character of Cork: Alf’s long career is still going strong

A kid of the fifties, Alf McCarthy speaks to Breda Graham about his successful career in radio, his love affair with The Everyman Theatre, and Cork peoples’ nostalgia about Cork.
Character of Cork: Alf’s long career is still going strong

Boradcaster, actor, and writer, Alf McCarthy.

Touching on his childhood, Alf says that going to ‘the pictures’ in the Savoy was a real treat and that from an early age he knew he wanted to be up there on the screen, particularly if it was a Western.

“I used to write and put on shows in our garage and charge the princely sum of a penny, doing sketches, and myself and my friend Ken, holding a hurley (me) and a tennis racquet (him, because he could actually play the guitar), would do “Apache” by the Shadows, by singing “Dang Dang..Dang Dang Dang” and throwing in the moves as well.

“So, it was ordained in the heavens, that acting would be the big draw for me for the rest of my life, the fact that I was clinically shy was a bit of a bummer.

“The other source of entertainment from that era was the radio. In a pre-TV world, I was mesmerised by the power of this machine in the corner of the dining room, listening to sounds from across the globe, fuelling my imagination.

“The Goons, with Spike Milligan and Peter Sellars, with its anarchic and surreal humour, was mind blowing, when at the same time, Radio Éireann gave us step dancing on the radio. The sixties brought Radio Luxembourg, Radio Caroline and the beginning of a pop explosion. Listening under the blankets in bed, to late night radio on the transistor, was already informing me of my future career.”

He says he had a simple plan for his career which was to get into broadcasting and use it to become an actor.

“It only half worked,” he says. 

“From the moment I decided to get into radio, until I started broadcasting, the journey took me 10 years. I applied for everything, made up demo tapes, sent in programme ideas, did auditions for continuity announcing, each time getting a little bit closer. 

"At the same time, while working various jobs in the real world, I was doing discos, fashion shows, and trying my hand at acting.

“My great love affair with The Everyman began when they were based in the C.Y.M.S. hall in Castle Street. I would go along to see their various productions there and simply asked, how do you join? And I was in.

“The dream at that time was that a professional theatre would blossom out of their endeavours and when they moved to the Fr Matthew Hall, it seemed like that would become a reality. The wealth of talent, both on and off stage, augured well for the future and their September to Spring season would include at least four home productions of world class plays delivered by exceptional casts and directors. My own big break was getting to play Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire”, directed by the late Mick McCarthy.”

He says his career contained a lot of personal achievements and that he was always learning, and still is, and that the journey allowed him to explore so many avenues of broadcasting including presenting, producing, writing and acting on radio. Alf says it was the influence of his family members that fuelled his creativity and “all things artistic” in him.

“My sister Tess was nursing in England, when I was small and when she would come home, she would have catalogues from the various exhibitions and art galleries in London. This fuelled my interest in all things artistic.

“My dad had a jazz and swing band back then, so I was aware of the music that he played and of course my siblings were listening to Rock n Roll. But I remember it all washing over me, and being informed by osmosis in a sense, of the global artistic world, in its many forms.”

Speaking about his upcoming role as MC of the Songbook Series at The Everyman, he says it allows him to explore his love for mimicking and perfecting accents.

The Everyman recently received a great reception for its Swinging 60s concert which Alf described as “special” as the Sunday Songbook at The Everyman reaches its 20th year.

“We will be bringing people back to the fifties in our next outing, ‘Boppin’ at the Drive-in’, when we return on July 9.

“I am also rehearsing a wonderful one-act play ‘The Bespoke Overcoat’ by Wolf Mankewitz, with my good friend Dave Coon and I am writing a companion piece about Wolf and his extraordinary career in film, television and stage, which will illustrate the range of his talents.

“He lived in West Cork for the final 25 years of life, and when I mention his name, people invariably ask, Who? Well, all I can say is that I wish I had been given the opportunity to interview him, an amazing career.”

Touching on the best piece of advice he received, and sharing his advice to those who want to make it in the industry, he says: “‘Remember, Larry Gogan will never read the news’ — that piece of advice was given to me when I was starting out and looking for guidance, as to how I might get into the business. This zen-like pronouncement was meant as a dismissive soundbite, but me being me, I took it on board, and yes, I did broadcast music shows like Larry did, but I also read the news. Take inspiration from wherever you can.”

A very proud Corkman, Alf reflects on his love for the city he grew up in.

“I Love Niall Toibin’s line about Cork people getting nostalgic about Cork, even when they are walking down Pana.

“My father’s family business was stone cutting, the Yard was in Copley Street, and over the years they erected monuments, headstones and fine carvings across the city and county. So I was always aware of the family’s contribution to the fabric of the city, the coat of arms over the Old Custom House building would be a case in point.

“Also my dad had been involved, as were my aunt and uncle, in Mac’s Dancehall on Union Quay. He had his own band down the Arcadia and of course cousin Joe, of Dixie’s fame, who is still boppin’, gave us all a great sense of pride.

“But Cork people have a wonderful sense of place, and an intrinsic knowledge, that Cork, ‘Just Is Boy!’. As Tommy Tiernan so eloquently put it, even if a Cork person becomes president of Ireland, (yes I’m available for that too), ‘More importantly, they are from Cork!’"

Alf says that what makes him a character is his humour, which he says he got from his mother who had ‘a wicked sense of humour’.

“I have the ability to laugh at myself and at times that can be hilarious. But I have learned to trust my instincts, I am game for anything, and although RTÉ let me go when I reached a certain age, I have not retired.

“I am writing, acting and having good fun on stage with my besties, and I still compile music shows and put them on the internet, ‘Later With Alf’ (Yes I’m available for a radio gig too!),” he says.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Echo 130Echo 130

Have you downloaded your FREE ie logo  App?

People holding phone with App

It's all about Cork!

Have you downloaded your FREE ie logo  App?

It's all about Cork!

App Store LogoGoogle Play Logo

Podcast: 1000 Cork songs 
Singer/songwriter Jimmy Crowley talks to John Dolan

Listen Here

Contact Us Cookie Policy Privacy Policy Terms and Conditions

© Evening Echo Ltd, Linn Dubh, Assumption Road, Blackpool, Cork. Registered in Ireland: 523713

Add to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more