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Robinson, Pete(r Charles) 1951-2004

ROBINSON, Pete(r Charles) 1951-2004

(Pete McCarthy)

PERSONAL:

Born November 9, 1951, in Warrington, Cheshire, England; died of cancer October 8, 2004, in Brighton, England; married; wife's name, Irene; children: three daughters. Education: Graduated from Leicester University.

CAREER:

Comedian, media personality, and writer. Taught English and drama; cofounder of Cliffhanger Theatre Company; writer and performer for British radio and television programming, including Travelog, Channel 4, 1990-97; The Pier, Southern Television; X Marks the Spot, BBC Radio 4; Breakaway, and Desperately Seeking Something.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Critics Award, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, 1990, for Hangover Show; Newcomer of the Year award, British Book Awards, 2002, for McCarthy's Bar: A Journey of Discovery in the West of Ireland.

WRITINGS:

UNDR NAME PETE MCCARTHY

McCarthy's Bar: A Journey of Discovery in the West of Ireland, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 2000, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2001.

The Road to McCarthy, Sceptre Lir (London, England), 2002, published as Road to McCarthy: Around the World in Search of Ireland, Fourth Estate (New York, NY), 2004.

SIDELIGHTS:

Pete Robinson, better known as Pete McCarthy, was a much-loved writer and performer who died of cancer at age fifty-two, just months after his second book was published. McCarthy was born to an English father and an Irish mother. He adopted his mother's maiden name, McCarthy, when he became a professional actor because there was already an actor working as Peter Robinson. McCarthy was the eldest of four children and had considered becoming a priest until his parish priest convinced him otherwise. He lived in England and spent holidays with his family on the farm where his mother had grown up in Drimoleague in West Cork, Ireland.

McCarthy taught English on the Suffolk coast, then moved to Brighton, where with Rebecca Stevens, Robin Driscoll, and Martin McNicholas, he founded the Cliffhanger Theatre. The original intent of the founders was to perform in pubs for beer money. They performed in a number of cities and towns, and some of their work was adapted for television. Stevens, who wrote McCarthy's obituary in the London Guardian, noted that "Pete's role within the company was always more than a brilliantly funny writer and performer; he was a consummate facilitator—and the only one of us who could drive the van."

The troupe also performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in the late 1970s. McCarthy then developed his solo career, first on stage, then on radio and television. He appeared regularly at clubs, including the Comedy Store, where he began to draw on his Irish heritage in writing his routines. He toured with Roger McGough and again visited the Fringe in 1985. In 1989, he developed a show called The Live in Your Living Room World Tour, which involved his sleeping in someone's home, where he would wake everyone to give a performance. In 1990, he won a Fringe award for his one-man The Hangover Show, which led to an offer to host Travelog, a series for Channel 4. McCarthy also hosted an arts show called The Pier and was featured on several other programs.

McCarthy called McCarthy's Bar: A Journey of Discovery in the West of Ireland "an attempt to discover whether my feelings were genuine: is it possible to have a genetic memory of a place where you haven't lived but your ancestors did? Or am I just another sad plastic Paddy who has been conned by the Chieftains' albums and the Guinness ads?" In traveling through Ireland, the author's philosophy was to "never pass a bar that has your name on it," hence the title. On the odyssey, which took him from Cork to Donegal, he met many interesting characters, including some who are well known, such as author Frank McCourt and Noel Redding, Jimi Hendrix's bass player. He notes the social and economic changes that have occurred over the years and the "bungalow blight" that mars the Irish countryside.

Publishers Weekly contributor Mark Rotella wrote that McCarthy "narrates a series of hilarious and surprising adventures with an acerbic eye and a comedian's gift for timing." According to the critic, the author "visits places where historic tragedies still loom large," including a mass grave for the victims of the potato famine. Rotella called his account of this site "simple and moving."

In reviewing The Road to McCarthy: Around the World in Search of Ireland, Rotella noted that McCarthy "is like a character out of contemporary Irish literature, a traveler on a winding road surrounded by life's imperfections yet finding them beautiful despite it all (especially after a pint or two)." In this memoir, McCarthy recounts his visits to places far from Ireland as he searches for remnants of the McCarthy clan. He finds a McCarthy in Morocco, then travels to the United States to meet Larry McCarthy, who heads North American Clan McCarthy from his home in Butte, Montana. He visits McCarthy, Alaska, population eighteen, a copper-mining town named for its founder, as well as a Tasmanian penal colony established in 1803 where 65,000 British and Irish convicts were exiled. He celebrates at two St. Patrick's Day parades, one in New York and another in Montserrat. And he stops in pubs and taverns along the way, including those that are not named for a McCarthy. In the book, he writes that "first impressions of a bar are crucial. It's like buying a house, only more important. And if you're going to spend a week in a place, you've got high hopes riding on the only bar in town."

While in New York, McCarthy researched American McCarthys at the public library. He writes, "I'm amazed to discover that 20,000 Irish died while digging the New Basin Canal in New Orleans in the 1830s and that a similar number once lived in a shanty town in what is now Central Park, where they raised goats and pigs." For McCarthy fans and Irish everywhere, The Road to McCarthy is an insightful and humorous adventure into the Irish diaspora.

Alasdair Steven wrote for Scotsman.com that McCarthy "was a lover of people and places.… He did not have any modern gadgets (not even a mobile phone or an e-mail address) and gloried in being himself, a lover of things natural and a devoted family man." As Rebecca Stevens wrote in her tribute, he was also "a mass of contradictions: a private man with a huge circle of friends, a home boy who loved to travel, a writer who never learned to type. I shall remember him most as a great talker and consummate listener, a man who laughed more at other people's jokes than at his own, and someone who took infinite pleasure in the comic strangeness of other human beings."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

McCarthy, Pete, McCarthy's Bar: A Journey of Discovery in the West of Ireland, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 2000, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2001.

McCarthy, Pete, The Road to McCarthy, Sceptre Lir (London, England), 2002, published as Road to McCarthy: Around the World in Search of Ireland, Fourth Estate (New York, NY), 2004.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, January 1, 2001, June Sawyers, review of McCarthy's Bar: A Journey of Discovery in the West of Ireland, p. 903; September 15, 2004, John Green, review of The Road to McCarthy: Around the World in Search of Ireland, p. 201.

Entertainment Weekly, February 20, 2004, Raymond Fiore, review of The Road to McCarthy, p. 70.

Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2003, review of The Road to McCarthy, p. 1263.

Library Journal, February 1, 2001, Sandy Knowles, review of McCarthy's Bar, p. 116; December, 2003, Rita Simmons, review of The Road to McCarthy, p. 149.

People, February 16, 2004, Kyle Smith, review of The Road to McCarthy, p. 46.

Publishers Weekly, February 5, 2001, Mark Rotella, review of McCarthy's Bar, p. 78; October 27, 2003, Mark Rotella, review of The Road to McCarthy, p. 50.

Times-Picayune, March 17, 2004, Susan Larson, review of McCarthy's Bar, p. 1.

Weekly Standard, May 17, 2004, Maria Kelly, review of McCarthy's Bar, p. 36.

OBITUARIES

PERIODICALS

Guardian (London, England), October 13, 2004.

New York Times, October 17, 2004.

ONLINE

BBC News Online,http://newsvote.bbc.co.uk/ (October 8, 2004).

Scotsman.com,http://www.scotsman.com/ (October 12, 2004).*

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