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Brendan Grace – Thanks for the Memories begins on RTÉ One this Monday at 9:30pm
30 Sep 2019 : Nathan Griffin
Brendan Grace - Thanks for the Memories
IFTN caught up with director Brian Reddin to find out more about his new highly emotional documentary series, Brendan Grace - Thanks for the Memories, a fitting goodbye to one of the greatest Irish entertainers of all time.

The three-part series documents the final months of Brendan's life as he prepared to put on the biggest party in town. Brendan Grace – Thanks for the Memories starts Monday, 30th September at 21.30.

30 years ago Brendan fronted the hugely successful RTE series, Sunday Night at the Olympia. It was a variety show with a mix of music, comedy, and dance. In February of this year, Brendan Grace set out on a challenge. He decided to put on a show with the Forget-Me-Nots choir and a group of his showbiz friends in the Olympia Theatre. He would return to the Olympia stage with a Variety show with a difference. He planned to devise and stage a show with the choir, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, and this series would go behind the scenes to document the emotional journey to opening night.

Then, Brendan got sick; at first with pneumonia, then with cancer. The series changed focus immediately and went from a documentary about a man fighting to put on a show, to the story of a man fighting for his life. Brendan did not win his cancer battle and passed away on 11th July. But, the story did not end there. He continued shooting the documentary right up until his final breath, determined that the show would go ahead. He left instructions on how it should be completed and promised to haunt the production if it did not proceed.

The Grace family took up where Brendan left off and with the help of Brendan’s friends and fellow performers the show went ahead. The concert planned by Brendan became a tribute to him and a celebration of his life and this series documents the preparations along the way.

Brendan Grace – Thanks for the Memories is a highly emotional series, which follows the journey of grief and loss while following Brendan in all his hilarious glory. The series will feature Dickie Rock, Red Hurley, Foster & Allen, Mike Denver, Paddy Cole, Sandy Kelly, Lisa Lambe, and countless others. Brendan convinced them all to take part in some brilliantly funny interactions.

With poignant interviews, hilarious interactions and brilliant use of archive footage, Brendan Grace – Thanks for the Memories is a warm, life-affirming series that will leave the audience laughing and crying in equal measure.

Brendan Grace – Thanks for the Memories is produced and directed by Brian Reddin and producer Rossa Ó Sioradáin for Dearg Films. The documentary is commissioned by RTÉ with Kathy Fox and Grainne McAleer featuring as Executive Producers for RTÉ. Director of Photography is Gerry MacArthur, Editor is Dave Dillon and the series is mixed by Mick Creedon in Number 4 and post-produced in Windmill Lane.

How did you first get involved in the initial project?

“I grew up watching Brendan Grace. Bottler was a huge part of my youth and we had our share of Brendan Grace tapes and CDs. I always loved him and when I first met him properly about ten years ago, he was as funny and charming and lovely as I had hoped. I ended up shooting a lot with him through the years. He popped up in travel shows I made. He cameoed in a drama I wrote and he was always willing to help out and put in an appearance.”

“Last year I approached him with the idea of making a full-length documentary about his life and career. He resisted at first, but eventually came around to the idea. It was a joy working with him on that programme and the huge response from the public to the finished documentary, Brendan Grace – Funny Man, meant the world to him. I was delighted to play a small part in allowing people see what he was really like and reminding audiences of what a national treasure he was.”

“On the back of that series, we began making this three-part series where Brendan planned to put on a variety show with the Forget-Me-Nots choir in the Olympia Theatre.”

Grace was a strong supporter of the great work of the special community choir, The Forget-Me-Nots. What can you tell me about documenting his time with the choir?

“Brendan had a hit in the ’80s with a beautiful song called The Dutchman. The song tells the story of a man suffering from dementia and how his wife cares for him. He got thinking about that song again and wondered if he could use it to help an Alzheimer’s charity. Brendan was great mates with Nora Owen, former deputy leader of Fine Gael. Nora was involved with the Forget-Me-Nots choir through her husband, who suffered dementia. The choir is an inclusive community choir who welcome dementia sufferers and their families. So, Brendan decided to re-record The Dutchman with the choir, release it again and give all the proceeds to charity. He did that last year and then decided he wanted to do more and that’s where the idea of putting on an old-style variety show in the Olympia came about.”

“It was an ambitious idea but one that proved deceptively simple once we began contacting potential performers. Everyone who ever worked with Brendan loved him and agreed to come on board immediately. No arm twisting or cajoling was necessary. Brendan was thrilled to be making this series and really looking forward to the final show. When he wasn’t filming with me, he was ringing or texting me. Ideas, notions, names, complaints about how I was keeping him up at night because he couldn’t sleep thinking about this series. They are all texts I treasure.”

The narrative of the documentary was changed with the diagnosis of Brendan's fatal illness. As a director, how did this affect your approach to filming his story?

“As the filming progressed, Brendan was having some problems with his breathing. He was diagnosed with pneumonia and hospitalized while in Florida. We had scheduled a big day where he was to meet Michael D Higgins in the Áras, along with the Forget-Me-Nots choir, and although he was very unwell, Brendan rallied and filmed with us that day. He was sick, but he made a commitment to be there and he was, which is a measure of the man. He would never let you down.”

“Shortly after that day, he was hospitalized again. He rang me constantly from his hospital bed, plotting and planning the show, determined to see it through. He made plans to shoot again with us as soon as he was discharged. We set dates. He expected fully to complete the series and see it through to the end. Our series then changed completely and went from the story of a man fighting to put on a show to the story of a man fighting for his life. Nobody expected him to pass away as quickly as he did. It was devastating. However, he insisted on the series going ahead and he filmed with me right until the end, reflecting on his life and still planning the show.

Even though he knew he hadn’t long left, he wanted the show to go ahead in aid of Engaging Dementia, thinking of others when he should have been thinking of himself. That was Brendan Grace. Last week the show went on without him and he sold out the Olympia Theatre with a show that became a tribute to him. His friends and family rallied and it went ahead. It was an evening full of love, laughter and lots of tears. He’d have loved it.”

How would you describe the journey of documenting Grace's final show?

“This series was the most personal, emotional and rewarding thing I have ever done on television. Our leading man left us midway through and we had to go on with it. It was incredibly tough and hard at times, but everyone wanted to finish it and its full credit to Brendan’s family that we managed to finish the series. They allowed us total access to everything that followed Brendan’s passing and allowed us to document their grief. I can’t think of any other family in the public eye who would allow a TV crew do that and I am forever grateful to them, especially Brendan’s wife Eileen who opened up to us during the most difficult time in her life. They have ensured that Brendan’s legacy goes on and he has left us with a beautiful, moving, poignant and hilarious legacy in this series.”

Brendan Grace – Thanks for the Memories starts Monday, 30th September at 21.30.

Tom Collins: “For me it's all about the work, which is about creating a reflection of a modern Irish cultural identity that can travel beyond borders, history and these shores.”
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