Saturday, 11 September 2010


Small town boy, big time dreams ...

We live now in an age where just to want to be famous is regarded as a career goal in itself.

Imagine then a small town boy with big time dreams, in an utterly provincial Ireland, sleepily making its way into the second half of the 20th century. This was no breeding ground for would-be actors and TP, 'being a peasant at heart', as he would later say, realised that his dreams of a life on the stage would have to be shelved.  For the moment, at least.

A great future in it ...

What happened next bears little examination, but it does suggest  perhaps that things happen for a reason.  TP picks up the story:

"Before I left St.Pat's, one strange and amazing thing happened.  The vice president [headmaster] came into the class and said: 'The manager of the Ulster Bank in Cavan has written to me looking for young recruits for the bank. They need staff very badly and there's a great future in it.'

"We chatted about it among ourselves and three or four of the lads said it was a great idea. I laughed at them all as they went off to see the vice president. I went to the college chapel, genuflected and, without any rational process, turned and walked out the chapel door and back behind the last person into the vice-president's room."

Just for a year or two ...

"So I went to Belfast to the do the bank exams and, for good or ill, I was called to the bank at the end of May that year.  This came as an enormous relief to me.  I was going to use the bank for a year or two and then I would become an actor."

Little could TP have realised that those few steps into the vice-president's office were to lead to a six year career with the Ulster Bank.

Staff of an Ulster Bank branch c.1940s
Now in the fold of the Ulster Bank, TP was assigned to his first branch:  "My first posting was in Granard and after a year I was moved to Trim and I spent a further year there.  Trim had a good musical society and I was very active that year.  When the bank decided to move me to Dublin, the people of Trim signed a petition asking the bank to leave me in Trim, as I was invaluable to the town and it's amusements.  The bank wrote back saying that they couldn't stand in the way of the brilliant career that this young man had in front of him in the bank.

So I moved to Dublin in the summer of 1950 to the bank's Camden Street branch.  Still, it was very nice of the people of Trim, all the same."

O'Connell Street, Dublin

The company of theatricals ..

When TP got to Dublin he wasted no time in immersing himself in Dublin's vibrant amateur dramatics scene including the Dublin Shakespeare Society and the Rathmines and Rathgar Musical Society with their ambitious Gilbert & Sullivan stagings at the Gaiety Theatre.

At times though, he was was perhaps becoming too absorbed in his thespian pursuits.

"Where's the BAG?!"

One of his regular assignments was to move large sums of cash by hand between branches in a canvas bag.  

Returning to his branch with what should have been one such sum he was greeted with a look of horror by the manager and his colleagues.  "The bag, McKenna! Where's the BAG?", they shrieked.

Well, he desperately thought, he'd last had it on the bus - on the seat beside him.  He'd rested it there while he used the time to learn some lines for his latest part, only he'd become so consumed in his task he nearly missed his stop.

That was when he'd shot off the bus ... without the bag!

Crashing out the branch doors he was away and up the street tearing after the bus and the bag.

Who knows what speed records he broke that day. 

An Inspector Calls ...

By 1954, TP was behind with his bank exams and one day, unannounced, an inspector arrived at the branch.  "You haven't done all the exams you should have been doing", he scolded TP, "... and I hear you've been mixing with a lot of theatricals and that's keeping your mind of your off your work. Well, we're going to transfer you to a country branch where you'll have nothing to do but think of your banking.'  The inspector carried on with propietorial zeal ... "You've a good career in banking.  We'll see that you get sorted out."

Getting 'sorted out' translated into a letter from Head Office a few days later confirming his transfer to Killeshandra.

Killeshandra: "Where you'll have nothing to do but think of your banking."
 TP was horrified.  "Killeshandra", he recalls ... " had one weekly bus in, one weekly bus out,  plus a creamery and a convent.  I couldn't face that and resigned."

"He'll starve, he'll starve ..."

TP's decision caused alarm all around. "Get his father on the line.  He'll starve, he'll starve!" declaimed his manager,  while at home he was hauled in front of a star chamber consisting of his father as judge and his cousin, Paddy O'Reilly, the State Solicitor for the county. 

They cajoled, they threatened, they pleaded, but TP was having none of it and he left them with his father's harshest tones ringing in his ears: "Don't you dare come back.  There'll be nothing left for you here".

"Still, I persisted," TP remembers, "... and it didn't deflect me."

Free At Last ... Almost

TP was on the very brink of leaving the bank, following his resignation, when the manager burst out of his office in a high state of alarm.

‘Mac, Mac!!’, he barked, ‘Commander Robbett, Mac?! He’s not got his money!!

Commander Robbett, a respected customer of the bank, was a retired submariner who lived in England but maintained a house in Dalkey. Each month he would have a fixed sum of £15 mailed to him by registered post, except that this time he had not received his envelope.

TP was completely taken aback, but he was swift to assure the manager that he had posted the envelope, just as he always did, from the Post Office in Harcourt Street. He’d only have to have them check the log of registered post and they’d have a copy of the receipt.

Quick as he could he tore across to Harcourt Street.

‘No, Sir … sorry, Sir. No record of registered post for that address,’ the Teller informed him as he closed the large, bound ledger. ‘Maybe you posted from another branch, Sir.’ He added.

That must be it, TP thought. Another branch? Yes, yes, Camden Street! Sometimes he’d go to the Post Office there.

And off he rushed back out into the street where the early Summer sunshine waited, mocking him with its gaiety.

At the Post Office in Camden Street though, another ledger was regretfully closed. ‘No, Sir. Sorry. No record … another branch possibly … Harcourt Street, perhaps?’.

TP’s bridges were thoroughly burnt. He was at a loss for any feasible explanation for where the money had got to and he could only make an ignominious return to the bank.

Well, all banks, small or large, lose sundry sums here and there, and in the normal course of events allowances would probably have been made for TP’s oversight, some kindly terms agreed. That would have been for certain, but for the fact that he had so firmly rejected the embrace of the Ulster Bank when he had given his notice.

Like a mistress spurned, no exception would be made by his employers in the face of such disloyalty. The errant sum, he was gravely informed, would be stopped out of his final salary cheque.

After six years service and with such an uncertain future ahead of him this final act of pettiness seemed like a cruel boot out the branch doors.

Some weeks on, towards the end of a late August day , and as had been widely prophesised (‘he’ll starve, he’ll starve …’), the fledgling actor was very much on his uppers with little more than fluff filling his trouser pockets.

Firmly fed up with his lot and tired of his digs, TP resolved to take himself out for a walk and a chance to think things through.

As he readied himself, for the first time in weeks, it seemed, a light rain began to fall. Undeterred, he reached for the back of the door where his raincoat had hung for most of the Summer and putting it on he felt something unfamiliar in the pocket.

Puzzled, he reached in with his hand and slowly retrieved what turned out to be a bundle of bank letters tied with clerical ribbon. At the top of it, a stout envelope addressed to ‘Commander Robbett’.

TP had taken the money for posting alright. He’d just forgotten to post it and there it had rested in the undisturbed raincoat.

Torn between near hysteria and relief, TP was by now in peals of laughter as he tore open the Commander’s letter and retrieved what was now his £15.

He wasn’t going to starve, not yet anyway, but richest of all, he and the bank were now, finally, quits.

No comments:

Post a Comment