Hall, Francis James (‘Frank’) (1921–95), journalist, broadcaster, and film censor, was born 24 February 1921 at 40 Cecil Street, Newry, Co. Down, son of John Hall, a seaman, and Mary Hall (née Golding). He was reared in an eccentric extended family household, which probably inspired the humorous characters that peopled his adult comedy. His father, a Dublin native, led a varied career that included work as a disc jockey in the USA and a salesman of army surplus clothing. Hall was educated in the local Christian Brothers’ school, leaving at age twelve to work in a men's clothing shop. He emigrated briefly to London, where he worked as a waiter among other jobs. Moving to Dublin, he was employed in the art department of Independent Newspapers. For eight years in the 1950s he wrote a column for the Evening Herald on popular music, and covered varied show business topics under several pseudonyms. As ‘Frank Lee’ he wrote a social diary, ‘Going places’. He contributed book reviews to the Irish Independent. On the inauguration of Telefís Éireann (1961), he joined the newsroom as a reporter. After interviewing the Beatles before their 1963 Dublin gig, he famously predicted that they would not last. His flamboyant, unorthodox, somewhat self-aggrandising style of reporting irritated more staid practitioners of the craft; he once interviewed a steeplejack while apparently clinging precariously to iron scaffolding in a whipping wind, when in fact positioned a few feet above the ground. Consequently he was kicked sideways into his own programme, Newsbeat (1964–71), which covered light stories countrywide in a news magazine format. He increasingly injected his taste for quirky humour into the choice of subject and its presentation, concentrating on colourful personalities and offbeat situations; his more seriously minded reporters moved to more conventional news and current affairs programmes. During the 1960s he also worked on RTÉ radio, contributing to the daily ‘Topical talk’ after the lunchtime news, and presenting a weekly roundup of the provincial press. For one year he presented RTÉ television's Late late show (1964), when the programme's original and subsequent host, Gay Byrne, concentrated on his BBC career; Hall proved uncomfortable in the talk show setting.
Newsbeat's revised format evolved into Hall's most celebrated series, Hall's Pictorial Weekly, which ran on RTÉ television for ten seasons (1971–80), making no pretence to factual news coverage. Set in the office of a small newspaper in the fictitious town of Ballymagash, the programme combined sketches of social and political satire, and outlandish fictional rural news items, gently mocking the conventions of provincial newspapers and the rural life portrayed therein, while savagely satirising the style of local politics and identifiable figures at national level. Hall wrote, edited, and presented the programme, assisted by a small team of talented actors (performing both male and female parts), most notably Frank Kelly, Eamonn Morrissey, Pat Daly, and Paul Murphy, with cartoons drawn by Terry Willers, and production by John Condon. The numerous comic characters of Hall's invention included Parnell Mooney, lunatic chairman of the local urban district council; the Corconian park bench philosophers, Cha and Miah; and the bachelor brothers, Mickey and Barney, slurping tea from saucers as they set the world to rights in their slovenly farm kitchen. The wittily irreverent lampoons of leading politicians were especially sharp-edged during the tenure of the Fine Gael–Labour coalition government of 1973–7. Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave was burlesqued as ‘the minister for hardship’; Minister for Finance Richie Ryan as ‘Richie Ruin’; Minister for Labour Michael O'Leary (qv) (1936–2006) as ‘Dimples O'Deary’, handsome heartthrob of the Cork Mothers of Seven; while opposition leader Jack Lynch (qv) was genial ‘Jack Finch, the Real Taoiseach’. Hall strenuously resisted periodic attempts to restrict his control of the programme's content.
Widely popular at the time, with consistently high ratings, Hall's Pictorial Weekly is remembered as RTÉ television's most potent satirical programme. Some analysts maintain that it significantly undermined the reputation of Cosgrave's government, contributing thereby to Fianna Fáil's landslide general election victory of 1977. Richie Ryan subsequently accused Hall of having been a loyal Fianna Fáil supporter, who was unfair and unbalanced in his treatment, and made light of serious problems. Many observers have contended that the programme lost its bite in the late 1970s with Fianna Fáil in government. Hall won two Jacob's broadcasting awards, for Newsbeat (1966) and Pictorial Weekly (1975). His comic inventiveness and genuinely passionate indignation inspired such later Irish satirists as Gerry Stembridge and Dermot Morgan (qv), who collaborated in the 1990s on RTÉ radio's Scrap Saturday.
Having served five years as assistant censor (1973–8), Hall was appointed official film censor (1978–86). Applying the traditionally conservative standards of the office, he was especially vigilant regarding material that tended to query the teachings or authority of the Roman catholic church, or religious belief generally, including unfavourable representations of catholic clergy. He forbade cinematic depiction of any sexual behaviour (such as incest or homosexuality) that contravened catholic morality, and persisted in cutting all verbal and visual references to contraception (termed ‘sex hygiene’ in his published decisions), even after the 1979 legislation allowing sale of condoms for bona fide family planning purposes. He controversially banned Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979) (an irreverent comedy about a man mistaken throughout his life for Christ), which he subsequently described as ‘totally blasphemous, offensive to Christians and to Jews, because it made them appear a terrible load of gobshites’ (Ir. Times, 22 Sept. 1995). A contemporary commentator critical of the decision marvelled that Hall, the master satirist, had failed to perceive that the film was merely a ‘Palestinian Ballymagash’ (Ir. Independent, 22 Sept. 1995).
Hall married Aideen Kearney, with whom he had eloped when both were teenagers in Newry; they had three daughters and two sons, and resided on Shanliss Dr., Santry, Dublin. Keen on maintaining physical fitness, he was a robust walker, especially on the Bull Island, and practised yoga. A passionate devotee of jazz music, in his young years he played double bass in dance bands, including the orchestra of Mick Delahunty (qv). His thirty-year extramarital relationship with fellow broadcaster Frankie Byrne (qv) was made public some years after both their deaths; a daughter born to them in 1956 was given for adoption. Several days after suffering a heart attack, Hall died 21 September 1995 at the Mater Misericordiae hospital, Dublin, and was buried in Dardistown cemetery, Old Airport Rd.