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Ireland Joe Brolly: 'For all the sugary words from RTE's top brass, Gay Byrne wouldn't last two minutes there nowadays'

13:25  10 november  2019
13:25  10 november  2019 Source:   independent.ie

Legendary broadcaster Gay Byrne has died, aged 85

  Legendary broadcaster Gay Byrne has died, aged 85 LEGENDARY Irish broadcaster Gay Byrne has died, aged 85. The former Late Late Show presenter had been undergoing treatment for prostate cancer for more than two years.

Gay Byrne holding a camera: Gay Byrne in the radio studio in 1982 Gay Byrne in the radio studio in 1982 Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

Some years ago, I was driving past Donegal airport early on a winter’s morning. I pulled up, jogged to the beach and took a quick look around. 

No one was about. I stripped naked, left my clothes and glasses in a pile on the sand, and jumped in the freezing ocean.

After about 20 minutes I was coming out, when I heard that unmistakeable voice.

"Young Joseph. What a sight for sore eyes." It was Gay Byrne, out for his morning walk on the strand. "I see you are making trouble again," he said, as he strolled on, "Do make sure to keep it up."

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Gay Byrne, Gerry Adams sitting at a table: Gay Byrne refused to shake Gerry Adams’s hand. Photo: Getty Images Gay Byrne refused to shake Gerry Adams’s hand. Photo: Getty Images

George Bernard Shaw said: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

George would have approved of Gay. He was the daddy of them all. Ground breaking, fearless, independent and completely unreasonable, he made The Late Late Show a national event.

From unrolling the first condom live on air (to gasps, laughter and some anger from the audience), to championing gay rights, and to bringing the south’s bête noir Gerry Adams onto the show, he turned what was billed as a light entertainment show into a cultural and political juggernaut.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Divisive at times: Gay Byrne with Mother Teresa on ‘The Late Late Show’ Divisive at times: Gay Byrne with Mother Teresa on ‘The Late Late Show’

He famously said: "If I am not getting into trouble with the powers that be in RTE, I am not doing my job."

'Gay changed our country in so many positive ways' - Tributes flood in after the icon of Irish television and radio dies at home aged 85

  'Gay changed our country in so many positive ways' - Tributes flood in after the icon of Irish television and radio dies at home aged 85 The icon of Irish radio and television Gay Byrne, who has died at the age of 85, has been remembered as "eternally curious and fearless".The icon of Irish radio and television Gay Byrne, who has died at the age of 85, has been remembered as "eternally curious and fearless".

While enthralling the nation with his pushing of the boundaries, the complaints mounted up. Every week, they arrived at RTE, all about Gaybo.

Every week, the top brass met to work their way through them. Gay would be summoned, but was entirely lacking in contrition.

"My job is to entertain the nation and that is what I intend to do."

And besides, as Gay’s resident pianist from those glory days, Frank McNamara, said (with a certain relish) to Ryan Tubridy during last Tuesday night’s tribute programme: "We used to have over a million people watching in those days."

I felt myself blushing a few moments later when Joe Duffy began reading out Auden’s 'Funeral Blues' with a straight face.

Maybe Joe doesn’t realise that Auden wrote the poem as a p***-take on how the establishment goes way over the top in eulogising an individual's death for its own ends: Stop all the clocks/cut off the telephone/prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone/let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead/put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves/let traffic police wear black cotton gloves . . . etc etc.

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a person sitting on a chair: Early days: Gaybo in the 1960s © Image � RT� Stills Library. Single-use only. Any further use of this image must be re-negotiated sep... Early days: Gaybo in the 1960s

When Joe finished with: "He was my north, my South, my East and West/ My working week and my Sunday rest/ My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song, I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong", I could imagine Gay’s eyebrows hitting the ceiling.

Joe went on to boast that it took him seven years to get through Trinity. That quickly?

Gay worked on the basis of instinct. Neutrality or balance were not part of his make-up.

Related: Gay Byrne's life in pictures [Photo Services]

He understood that these qualities may be okay in the diplomatic service, but would only lead to boring television.

Gay Byrne 'didn't fear death' but had just 'two dying wishes' according to daughter Suzy

  Gay Byrne 'didn't fear death' but had just 'two dying wishes' according to daughter Suzy Gay Byrne 'didn't fear death' but had just 'two dying wishes' according to daughter SuzyIn a fitting tribute to her dad, Suzy thanked family, friends and the staff of the Mater Hospital who looked after Gaybo over the three years.

So, we could roar in frustration at him (as we regularly did in the North when he was berating a republican) or clap our hands in delight and agreement, but whatever our background or bias, we couldn’t ignore him.

On Sunday morning, whatever spontaneous events had erupted the previous night on his show, these were the main topic of conversation outside mass, or in the newsagents, or in the pubs, or living rooms.

a man and a woman taking a selfie: Gay with model Patricia and milkman Pat Kelly, from Swords, Dublin, at the launch of the Milkman of the Year contest in 1995 Gay with model Patricia and milkman Pat Kelly, from Swords, Dublin, at the launch of the Milkman of the Year contest in 1995

His programmes gave rise to blasphemy investigations, defamation allegations, condemnation from governments, political parties, and senior Church figures, including then Bishop of Clonfert Thomas Ryan.

The cleric denounced the show after Gay held a 'Mr & Mrs' type quiz where he asked a blushing Catholic husband what colour of nightie his wife wore on their wedding night. Gay didn’t mind.

He was a colossus in our living rooms, giving the country a break from the tedium of daily life, thrilling and surprising us and making us laugh or cry.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Television peak: Gay Byrne on The Late Late Show in the 1980s. Photo by John Carlos Television peak: Gay Byrne on The Late Late Show in the 1980s. Photo by John Carlos

One of the guests on Tuesday night said that he told her before coming on the show, 'Do not wait to be asked to come in. If you want to contribute to the discussion just break in and say it."

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Because of this, because he was unafraid, he allowed the chat to develop, whether it became angry or funny or sad, even if the direction it was taking didn’t accord with his own views.

Which meant that these discussions invariably took on a life of their own, and often had us on the edge of our seats. This way, he created something mysterious and unexpected and real.

Gay Byrne et al. posing for a photo: Absolution: Gay with Fr Bryan D'Arcy Absolution: Gay with Fr Bryan D'Arcy

Another effect of this fearlessness was that a naturally conservative man ended up making a massive contribution to liberalising a society which up until then had been soviet in its attitude to dissent.

Readers under 40 will not appreciate just how thrilling, shocking and transformative Gaybo was. In truth, they should have retired the show along with him.

Gay Byrne wearing a suit and tie sitting at a table: Gay Byrne presents his last 'Late Late Show' in 1999 © Image � RT� Stills Library. Single-use only. Any further use of this image must be re-negotiated sep... Gay Byrne presents his last 'Late Late Show' in 1999

Sadly, they didn’t, and that fearlessness has been replaced by a culture of control and blandness.

The Late Late Show nowadays is as gritty as the Tellytubbies.

Questions are scripted, the answer is irrelevant and the trick is to quickly move to the next question. Superficiality is key.

Everyone is great and everything is nice and the thing is to get them on and off the set on time, in contrast to Gay, who would let a guest run on, even if it sometimes meant another guest didn’t get on at all.

Gay Byrne standing in front of a mirror posing for the camera: Gay Byrne on the 15th anniversary of his radio show in 1988 (Part of the Independent Newspapers Ireland/NLI Collection) Gay Byrne on the 15th anniversary of his radio show in 1988 (Part of the Independent Newspapers Ireland/NLI Collection)

In common with most live output by the public broadcaster, this safety first, avoid complaints at all costs culture has created television that is as dramatic as a plate of scones. 

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The presenter must be bland and uninteresting. Niceness is crucial. The script is everything. Criticism must be avoided and the tyranny of balance holds sway.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Gay Byrne on 'The Late Late Show' set in 1966. Gay Byrne on 'The Late Late Show' set in 1966.

This disrespects the audience, insulting our intelligence and leaving us entirely dissatisfied. It works well for the commercial interests and the bureaucracies, but that is about it.

a group of people that are standing in the rain holding an umbrella: Gay Byrne during his last radio show in 1998 on Grafton Street. Photograph by David Conachy Gay Byrne during his last radio show in 1998 on Grafton Street. Photograph by David Conachy

Gay understood that his guests were part of the wider world and that the wider world is a stormy and dark and hilarious and corrupt and unpredictable place.

Gay Byrne sitting in front of a mirror posing for the camera: Gay Byrne on the 15th anniversary of his radio show in 1988 (Part of the Independent Newspapers Ireland/NLI Collection) Gay Byrne on the 15th anniversary of his radio show in 1988 (Part of the Independent Newspapers Ireland/NLI Collection)

He didn’t insult our intelligence. He didn’t avoid difficult subjects to please an advertiser or a sponsor or his bosses in Montrose. He didn’t stick to the safety of a script.

The central theme of his great creation was that human beings should be allowed to talk about important things, and joke about ridiculous things, not because he provided them with a public platform, but because that is what human beings do.

Gay Byrne wearing a bow tie: The late Gay Byrne. Photo: RollingNews.ie The late Gay Byrne. Photo: RollingNews.ie

For all the sugary words from RTE’s top brass on Tuesday night, Gay wouldn’t last two minutes there nowadays.

It is an oppressive culture where anyone who thinks independently is quickly branded as controversial. In order to get and then stay in a job, the budding broadcaster must learn to fit in, to arse lick and to keep the head down.

Neutrality neuters, and Gay was a colossus who could never have settled for a life in captivity.

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Gay Byrne made one last massive charity donation before his death .
It has emerged that the late broadcasting legend Gay Byrne donated over €80,000 to Crumlin Children’s Hospital before his death. The 85-year-old inaugural Late Late Show host died on November 4 following a lengthy battle with cancer, marking the end of an era for many in Ireland for whom Byrne was a foundational cultural influence. […]The 85-year-old inaugural Late Late Show host died on November 4 following a lengthy battle with cancer, marking the end of an era for many in Ireland for whom Byrne was a foundational cultural influence.

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