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TOM MEEHAN - A REMEMBRANCE (article first published : 2003-01-3)

Actor and raconteur Frank Graham pays tribute to the late Tom Meehan, well-known for his many comedy radio programmes.

My career as a fledgling radio actor began in 1971, but I did not work for Tom Meehan immediately (as I so very much wanted to do) because The Men from the Ministry had a full cast and was effectively a "closed shop". However he must have had some faith in my future because he cast me in his second comedy series Two's Company and I was off.

Many, many more comedy series, not to mention plays, serials and half-hour drama series were to follow and it was from Tom Meehan more than anybody that I learnt how to deliver a line, develop a microphone "technique" (sounds pretentious - I don't mean it to) and convey the pictures as we radio actors were required to do, convincingly.

When he corrected me and other actors during a rehearsal, I listened; listened to the technical jargon and worked out the sense of what he was saying: don't hit pronouns; look for the operative word in the sentence and stress that .... it all made sense.

Tom was no gentle teacher; he could be a bugger to work for and he didn't spare you - but he got what he wanted by being non-compromising and I looked up to him as a man with huge experience at the mike, who based his characterisations on his own rich variety of personal observations.

He was very much more than just an actor; he was brilliant as a producer (in movies he'd have been called a director) and as a scriptwriter. When overseas scripts for shows such as Men from the Ministry, Father, Dear Father and Friends and Neighbours became depleted, Tom (and his son Barry) carried on writing their own ... and did magnificently. Tom was also particularly adept at adapting best-selling books for radio; I, for one, couldn't wait for the next lot of scripts to come up.

About 23 years ago I organised with the Principal of the boys' high school where I was teaching at the time, to invite Tom to be Guest Speaker at the school's annual Prize-giving Day; his wife, Joy, would present the prizes.

All guest speakers on such occasions are expected to inspire the pupils, particularly those about to leave the school as matriculants, with a "message". I have never forgotten Tom's:

He told the boys a story of a French teacher (in England) who asked her class: "How would you say to some-one in French: 'Come here!'?" A small boy raised his hand and said: "I would say: 'Venez ici!'" The teacher was suitably impressed and then posed the second question: "How would you say to some-one: 'Go over there!'?" There was a ten-second silence during which the class digested this - and then the same small boy hesitantly raised a hand and said: "I'd go over there and say: 'Venez ici!'"

His message was: “Make what you know, work for you”. He told an entranced hall packed with more than 1 000 parents and pupils how he had done just that all his life; observe and learn. And apply what you have learnt.

The era over which he presided has, sadly, long gone. It is even sadder now that he is no longer amongst us. May the Master rest in peace.

Frank Graham, Durban, January 2, 2003