Littleton, Michael Flannan (1938–2002), broadcaster, was born 5 March 1938 in Limerick city, the eldest child of Michael Littleton and his wife, Bridget Long, shopkeepers of Tulla, Co. Clare. He had two brothers and three sisters. Educated at Tulla national school and at St Joseph's College, Roscrea, he graduated BA in English and Spanish from UCD in 1959. He joined Radio Éireann on 1 May 1961, where he served as assistant to the general features officer, (Patrick) Francis MacManus (qv). A series of promotions followed, as he became successively the assistant head of features, magazines and current affairs (1 July 1971), head of features and current affairs (16 May 1973), acting controller of programmes (1 September 1976) and managing editor of features and arts programming (16 January 1995).
Soon after he joined Radio Éireann, that service became part of Radio Telefís Éireann. The new television activities of RTÉ devoured the lion's share of its resources, capturing in the evenings the attention of most of those who had hitherto listened to radio programmes. Radio personnel fought to maintain public interest in their older medium, which was thought to be in possibly terminal decline. Littleton played a central role in the development of the new all-day radio schedule, which was to win remarkably large audiences. Many RTÉ radio programmes launched then are widely regarded as having stimulated the creation of public awareness and debate in respect of issues of social, cultural, and political significance in Ireland during the last three decades of the twentieth century. Littleton deserves great credit for these programmes, for which he was managerially responsible. He was a discerning assessor of the quality of proposed productions and a strict but fair judge of what was subsequently broadcast.
Under his guidance, coverage of current affairs on RTÉ radio in particular was expanded. For example, Here and now was created, which was presented each mid-morning by Liam Nolan, later by Rodney Rice. It was superseded by Day by day, presented first by John Bowman and later by Pat Kenny. Women today broke new ground, providing a platform for women whose concerns had hitherto been somewhat neglected and reflecting their changing role in Irish society; it was presented first by Marian Finucane and then by Doireann Ní Bhríain. These and other broadcasters became household names. During Littleton's time the ‘phone-in’ was established as a radio format that the Irish public generally liked. Today at five, Saturday view, and The Sunday show were among other memorable programmes with which Littleton was associated. He believed also that reflective radio documentaries were of great value to citizens. He facilitated the creation of informative and entertaining series of high quality by original broadcasters such as Colm Keane.
Littleton was a pioneer in general election coverage. He safely steered RTÉ radio through at least five general elections and through emotionally charged referenda on abortion and divorce. For many years he personally produced the distinguished Thomas Davis Lecture series, and oversaw the publication of books based on these. During his forty years of service with RTÉ radio he held a number of senior positions, including head of features and current affairs, acting controller of programmes, and managing editor features and arts programming, and he initiated the Francis McManus Short Story Award. RTÉ radio documentaries won the Prix Italia in 1995 and 1997 (with a special commendation in 1996).
Outside his work Littleton read widely in mathematics and was twice the Irish chess champion; on a number of occasions he represented Ireland internationally at chess. His studied and logical style of management reflected the nature of those activities. He also liked to play bridge, and had a particular interest in choral music and the works of J. S. Bach.
Strongly committed to public service broadcasting, Michael Littleton was a quiet and discreet man. He was a formidable but fair boss, whose dry sense of humour sharpened the clarity of his observations. He proved to the satisfaction of audiences and critics alike that popular programmes could also be consistently intelligent. He is fondly remembered by many people who went on to hold prominent positions throughout the media, and to whom he was a mentor.
On 28 July 1983 Littleton married Terry Christina Shorten. He retired from RTÉ on 29 April 2002 and, having suffered from ill-health for much of his later life, died less than four months later, on 21 August 2002.