The last star of Yugoslav journalism, a master wordsmith, a TV star with a speech impediment, Belgradian by trade, author of the books “Ogledi o Paja Patku” (The Experiments Concerning Donald Duck) and “Beograd za pocetnike” (Belgrade for Dummies), winner of two Duda Timotijevic awards for best television programme review, a unique film critic, sworn supporter of Red Star, unsurpassed pub samurai… and you can fill in the rest of the blanks. Probably the most productive journalist-writer, Bogdan Tirnanic, used to say:
“Four decades, writing nearly every day. No holidays, no weekends. You go to Pula, you see the films, you drink, you chase after skirts and then you have to write about the film of Tonci Vrdoljak, for example. There’s no cure for scribomania. It’s like AIDS, only it tortures you for longer and doesn’t kill you as fast.”
He published his first piece in “Susret”, the journal of the Youth Association of Belgrade, which he had actually founded. It was a review of the film Hamlet with Innokenti Smoktunovsky in the title role. He later said that this had been a pretentious, long and boring text. However, he also remembered that he had written an article on the painter Milena Pavlovic Barili in the same issue, which he had seen as a muse and had his fun speculating which of the handsome men of Belgrade at the time would have been her lover, had she survived her fall from a horse.
Tirke grew up between two stadiums – those of Red Star and Partizan; he went to high school at Topcider together with Tito’s son Misa, the son of Aleksandar Rankovic, Mica, with many other sons of politicians and generals who had their residences in Dedinje. He never graduated, so his example is good evidence that the best journalists didn’t have formal education. If you doubt this, just look at the texts by Miro Radojicic or Aleksandar Tijanic.
The only healthy lifestyle he adhered to for many years was comprised of writing, writing, writing and… sitting in pubs. With a whiskey, of course. When he was forbidden from drinking, Novica procured alcohol-free beer for him at the Atelje 212 Theatre, continuing the illusion of a pleasure he was forced to give up.
He would say that everything in his life began at the Literary Club (Klub Knjizevnika), where he first saw Dara Dzokic, the actress that would soon become his wife and the mother to their daughter Jovana.
Aside from film, which was his first love, football was Tirke’s true passion. He would often write: “The name of Tirnanic is famous in the football history of this country. Sadly, that Tirnanic is not me. It was my uncle Aleksandar, although my father claimed that he played football too, of which there is no evidence. Manic support for a club called Crvena Zvezda (Red Star) is in my genes. However, I cannot even kick a ball properly and have never played a football game. As a little boy, I had the family pair of football boots in our home, and even today, my greatest fear is that kids in the street would call out to me to pass them a stray ball… How do I kick it, without it going in the opposite direction? The most celebrated date in our family was the one when my uncle lead the Yugoslav football national team at the Olympics in Tampere, Finland in 1952. We played Russians in the semifinals and 20 minutes before the end of the game, we had a 5:0 lead.
There were loudspeakers on Belgrade streets, broadcasting the game and when the Russians succeeded in reaching a draw of 5:5 by the end of the game, people wept and Rankovic called for my uncle to be jailed at Goli Otok (infamous prison-island for political dissidents, trans. note)…
I started writing about football relatively late. When I left film and other media reviews to write about politics, football was a way for me to try to preserve some joy in my life, as I see no pleasure in writing about politics. It is ridiculous. At the end, it so happened that I became a member of the board in my favourite club, which won three trophies, with probably the only member of the board in history that could not kick a ball to save his life.”
When some tried to tell him that Belgrade was a small town compared to Chicago, he would retort: “When did Real Madrid ever play in Chicago? When did Manchester United get killed in Chicago returning from a game? I saw all the great films in this town, all the great theatre shows, all the great concerts, all the great games and all the great pubs were in this town, too…”
I interviewed him several times; once, and it was not the only time this happened, when he was sacked from his paper and was working as a creative director in the company of his friend, the father of Serbian marketing, Dragan Sakan.
When you start your career and get famous for getting sacked, things just sort of pick up from there – he would joke about it later. It is hard to list the things he wrote about and even harder to list those he didn’t.
Even with everything he had done in life, he would say that his greatest success was to have seen a naked Mila Vujanovic (in the film “Rani radovi” (The Early Works) of Zeljko Zilnik, where Tirke had also played) and a living Che Guevara. During his stay in America, he met a journalist in Nashville called Al Gore, who would become the vice-president of the USA a decade later. He asked Tirke if he knew what Jack Daniels was. Yes, replied Tirke in a bad English, he’s your national hero. Al Gore replied: Get this gentlemen a carton of liquor to his hotel room!
There were rumours that this master of storytelling was actually one of the young men Momo Kapor wrote about in Foliranti (The Pretenders) and Provincijalac (The Provincial), who look through the remnants of their lives, a handful of ashes of a glorious past, for what they loved, destroyed, lost; for that joy of living. He later wrote all of it up nicely in a story which also featured his inevitable protagonist, Humphrey Bogart.
Tirke made even those who would never read papers stop in front of the newspaper stands, he made all of those endowed with spirit feel like Belgradians, he made all those who – like him – could not kick a ball to save their life devour his football reports. Belgrade really could repay him for what he’s done with a monument. He’s earned that much.
autor: Aleksandar Đuričić