Ireland Joe Brolly: 'For all the sugary words from RTE's top brass, Gay Byrne wouldn't last two minutes there nowadays'
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.
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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 considered himself lucky despite being diagnosed with cancer late in life. In one of his last interviews before he died, the broadcaster said he was taking the diagnosis in his stride. Gay Byrne considered himself lucky despite being diagnosed with cancer late in life.
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.
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
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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Not viable for RTÉ to pay presenters more than the Taoiseach - senior ministerBusiness Minister Heather Humphreys made the comments in the wake of RTÉ’s announcement that it is to cut 200 jobs and reduce the pay of top presenters by 15pc in the coming years as part of a substantial cost-cutting plan.
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]
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He understood that these qualities may be okay in the diplomatic service, but would only lead to boring television.
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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.
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.
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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The Communications Minister said RTE will still be around in five years but only if it reforms.RTE confirmed it is seeking to cut its workforce by 200 as one of a series of measures to tackle its financial crisis and reduce costs by 60 million euro over the next three years.
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.
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.
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.
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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Some of RTÉ's best-known broadcasters and senior staff are said to be fuming at having to take a pay cut or wage freeze in a bid to ease the company's cash crisis.While its 10 highest earners are in line for a 15pc reduction in salary, there will also be a raft of hard-hitting initiatives for those on more modest salaries, including pay freezes and tiered wage reductions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
MORE IN DEPTH:
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.