The ultimate undercover reporter

Most famous for his BBC TV series MacIntyre Undercover, which aired the first time in the autumn of 1999. It made Donal a household name in Britain and Italy (You'll know why later), as well as the rest of the European continent. His firm voice, handsome face and willingness to be undercover for 18 months combined with his very personal angle on things is probably what made the series a success.

Irish by birth, Irish at heart

He was born in Dublin in 1966 (the same year as his twin brother strangely enough) to an Irish father and American born mother. Growing up he was very active in sports and managed to get to number 12 on the world ranking in Canoeing. That was in addition to being a quite successful rugby player. After studies in Dublin he moved to London to complete a Masters in Communications at City University. From there the route into media was quite easy and he went to work as a journalist for The Sunday Tribune and The Irish Press.

Television calls

In 1993 Donal made his first appearance on TV as an undercover investigator for the BBC. The program was called On-The-Line and his first assignment was to show the lackluster employment standards in the adventure sports industry. The follow up to that was a program on cruelty to animals in the Irish greyhound racing cirquit. Ths won him awards both in Ireland and the USA. On top of that he got seven people convicted for cruelty to animals.

After this he moved on to ITV and a program called World In Action. During this time he spent 11 months undercover as a night-club bouncer to unveil the drug dealing network that a lot of them were involved in. This won him two Royal Television Society awards and three serious death threats after the inital screening.

Macintyre Undercover

As I mentioned earlier this was his big breakthrough to the general public. For over 18 months he planned and executed four parallel undercover jobs to uncover illegal and immoral behaviour in different areas of society. At the same time he wrote a diary style account of his life undercover, which is available in book form under the innovative name "MacIntyre". The series is eye-catching drama with a very personal account from a journalist using the latest surveillance technology to catch the investigated people on camera. The book makes it sound extremely difficult and nerve wracking something he didn't really communicate to me in email exchange I had with him after the series. But I guess he had to save the good bits for the book...

Football Hooligans

Joining the Chelsea holigan crowd he manages to infiltrate them to the core, and even gets the ring leader to admit on camera that he almost killed a police officer. The camera was hidden of course, unknowingly to the thug/victim. This admittance led to the police being able to prosecute several of the hooligans and two of them got prison sentences. It also gave Donal a bunch of new death threats which forced him to go into hiding and occasionally use bodyguards. What really impressed me was that he was dedicated enough to get a Chelsea tattoo on his arm to convince the hooligans. On top of that he had it removed afterwards. Ouch!

Brompton Care Home

In this episode, closest to Donal's heart, he manages to get two previous employees to admit to five criminal assault offences against patients or former patients, as well as getting Medway Council to close down the unit. The program caused an uproar in the UK, where laymen and professionals alike expressed their disbelief with the level of neglect that he managed to bring to light. As a sideline the police in Kent made some unfortunate allegations about the program and its editing (misleading was the word), something that led to Donal MacIntyre suing the Kent Constabulary.

Elite Model Agency

Probably the most desireable of the four undercover assignments was the one as a photographer for Elite model agency, mainly in Milan. Quite a feat to manage to survive as a photographer without knowing anything about film speeds, aperture, shutter speeds, etc. He even had special training to make it look as if he knew what he was doing. But of course, surrounded by beautiful young women and heaps of cocaine while doing television can't be easy ;-) But he did show that the model profession is not necessarily a safe one, and that it's important to choose your agents, especially if you're going to Italy (hence the comment in the first paragraph).

The aftermath to this show was probably the most spectacular. First Elite suspended two of their top executives for alleged sexual misconduct. Then a reporter, whose name I can't remember, wrote a very angry column in London's Evening Standard where she accused Donal for taking all the glory while leaving all the hard work to assistants. I remember reading in that column that she should have saved Donal from being found out several times, partly by knowing a little about photography.

The real twist of the tale is that Elite later sued the BBC for libel. Both of the executives claimed that the footage had been malicously manipulated to make them look bad. BBC was forced to hand over more than a hundred hours of not broadcasted material to see whether the cutting had been libelious and unfair. In the end BBC admitted to giving Elite an unfair portrayal and they settled out of court for an undisclosed sum in June 2001.

Solomon from Nigeria

The last episode in the series was about the Nigerian con-men who write to people and want to borrow a small amount of money to get a fortune out of their native country. Strangely enough the con trick is extremely successful, and people end up paying "a small sum" over and over, until they decide to stop trowing good money after bad. But by then men like Solomon have disappeared.

What really proves how skilled they are at appearing and disappearing is how they managed to avoid any direct proof or confrontation, in spite of the fact that Donal MacIntyre is after just that. This eisode led to no arrests, no libel charges, nothing. I only hope that more people were made aware of the scam and won't fall for it that easily. (Note: If you get any email where you can make lots of monety fast and easy, always treat that with suspicion. If it sounds too good to be true it usually is.)

Timothy McVeigh

After spending around a year trying to get back to "normal" Donal decided that he wanted to infiltrate the execution of the Oklahoma Bomber. What some people do for their relaxation, eh? Anyway, it was screened on BBC in June 2001, but unfortunately I didn't see it. And a far as I can tell not very many other people either, since I haven't been able to find a review on the net. If you know of one, or more about the program, /msg me.

MacIntyre Investigates

The latest in his series of undercover work. Three episodes that are currently (April-May 2002) showing on BBC.

Street Robberies

The first in this series is mainly set in Brixton, Borough of Lambeth, London, where street robberies have been rampant the last years. The timing for the premiere couldn't be better with Tony Blair going out the same day saying that fighting street crime must be on the top of the agenda. Anyway, with all his spy equipment, stab proof vests and make-up he sometimes makes an almost ridiculous figure, especially since he has trouble getting robbed in spite of waving a Nokia 5510 and a very obvious lap-top bag around. Ironically the Brixton police had a special street crime prevention drive with lots of unifoms on the beat. Things like that doesn't make things easier.

New dance drug

This time the team went to Thailand to have a look at the new drug craze locally called yaba. A drug I unfortunately cannot remember the "real" name for. Anyway, it turned out that it is manufactured in large quantites in Burma, which was shown in the program shortly before Donal and the team got caught in a gun battle between the Burmese army and rebel troops two days foot walk into Burma's jungles. Scary stuff!

What The Critics Say

A person with as much dedication, good looks and do-good attitude can't go through life without getting a fair amount of criticism. Among other things he has been criticized as a pompous, arrogant headline grabber who only goes after the easy targets. It's easy to see that if you say that he proved that football hooligans commit violent acts, the fashion industry is rampant with sex and drugs, Nigerian con-men are good at conning people and that poor black people in Brixton occasionally commits crime.

While all of that certainly sounds right, I personally think that he is worth more praise than criticism. His complete dedication to bring issues to the surface and his willingness to sacrifice his own personal life to bring us compelling and thought provoking television is commendable.


MacIntyre Home:
MacIntyre Uncovered:,3858,4117126,00.html
BBC on MacIntyre Investigates:,7521,671798,00.html
BBC on Elite Model bosses:
Guardian on Elite settlement:,4678,0-505435,00.html
Some personal email exchanges
and of course little snippets from Google:

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