There was nobody like Gay, nobody on a par with him, nobody in his league. He operated in a league of his own.
I liked what John Bowman said this week as the tributes poured in for the voice of our nation. Bowman said the first half of the 20th century was Eamonn de Valera’s Ireland, while those born after 1950 had grown up in Gay Byrne’s Ireland.
He was wonderful, box office. It was some feat to present a unique two-hour entertainment show live every weekend…for 37 years. Throughout those decades, he also hosted a hugely influential morning radio show. The breadth of his broadcasting talent was extraordinary, this maestro effortlessly switching from serious to light-hearted…a unique, gifted combination of broadcaster, journalist and showman. His greatest qualities as a broadcaster were his ability to listen…and his genius for the disarming question, a technique which helped lift the lid on many dark secrets in a nation that had perhaps more than its share of them.
Over the years I often wondered what it would be like when this day came. The day when Gaybo died. He was such an enormous influence in our lives, such a link between generations. He utterly dominated our cultural and social landscape. Everyone has a view to what extent he led, shaped or facilitated change in a conservative Ireland…but everyone will agree that he had a major influence on that journey. Even if you disagreed with him, you bowed to his brilliance. He was courageous too, taking on all the institutions of the State, including his own employer!
He held politicians, the Church and spoofers to account. He had a brilliant instinct for gauging the mood of the nation…and ended up playing that very significant role as, over time, we became a sophisticated, open, tolerant and enlightened nation. He infuriated some people along the way, but so be it. This wasn’t Gay’s agenda that was re-shaping Ireland. Essentially he was the gifted medium through which a long and sometimes difficult but necessary national conversation took place.
It’s hard to put it better than the Irish Times editorial of Tuesday: “He was the nation’s arch provocateur and favourite son, shocking transgressor and father confessor”.
The highlights of his career were numerous, and I will return to this subject in the future. For me, the outstanding Late Late Show moment was possibly the Padraig Flynn interview. Watching it again on Youtube, I appreciated the brilliance of Gay’s role. True, Flynn made an eejit of himself, but this television gold – which led to the Flood (later Mahon) Tribunal – was really mined by Gay’s genius.
Where another broadcaster might have probed with long, meandering questions that a politician is used to rebuffing, Gay used his lethal, disarming technique.
Gay: “Running three houses…do you need three houses?”
Gay: “You know Tom Gilmartin?”
The trap was set.
The day when Gaybo died came this week. The response has been as I would have expected; an emotional, nostalgic outpouring of memories and tributes on an enormous scale. A nation rewinding the clock. It’s been moving to hear of Irish people abroad saying they’d like to be at home at a time like this. We grew up with Gay. We often gave out about Gay, but mostly we were mesmerised by him, especially at his stunning peak, when he ruled our screens and airwaves and held the hand of a changing nation. The day of his death finally came, and it is sad. But it is also time to celebrate and remember a uniquely gifted broadcaster and showman.
* It’s a busy news week in Roscommon, with the Cuisle closure dominating. Therefore, it was late when I got home from the office on Tuesday night. I watched a recording of the Late Late Tribute Show…along with our 21-year-old daughter. It was fascinating watching her reaction to the various archive clips…of Gay in his prime, his guests, the debates and rows, the fashion(!)…maybe most of all, of the audience members (from the ‘70s and ‘80s). I wondered what she really thought of it all! Together we sat watching two Irelands…the one in the studio (the one we live in)…and the Ireland of Gaybo’s Late Late Show.
I read with interest where a racehorse which was seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) was hauled before the High Court. Apparently ‘Labaik’ was once owned by a drug dealer. The High Court ruled that the horse had been purchased with the proceeds of crime.
A clear case of putting the horse before the court…
There is only a bounce of a ball between us all, Dublin manager Jim Gavin told the media at the recent All Stars banquet.
Hopefully Jim’s career as a stand-up comedian will go as well as his managerial one!
It was once my favourite TV programme…but I have to agree with the popular wisdom that Have I Got News For You is not remotely as good now as it was at its peak.
Presumably what they need to do is invite the funniest possible panellists to join team captains Ian Hislop and Paul Merton.
Imagine my reaction then when I saw our own Fintan O’Toole – yes, Fintan O’Toole – grinning back at me on last week’s episode! (In fairness, Fintan did well).