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The Showman

By Mahons On November 5th, 2019

Gay Byrne triumph was turning a nation of talkers into a nation of listeners with his talk show from 1962 to 1999. Of course the talk the morning after would be of his show. His stature in a small nation with mostly one channel and no competition for years made his impact tremendous. He would be good and bad, thoughtful and giddy, pompous and down to earth. What could not be denied was his ability as a showman. Im not so certain that he transformed Ireland, but Ireland was transformed during his run and he was there pointing it out. As a television broadcaster no one will see his like again.

59 Responses to “The Showman”

  1. His importance there can’t be overstated.

    You could say to an American that he was as important as Johnny Carson ( the undisputed king of national late night TV from the black and white era to 1994 ) and Walter Cronkite ( dominant newsreader in similar years ) combined.

    His Late show began in 1962, just as Ireland first began to have national television, and in some cases electricity. Folks won’t always realize just how rural Ireland was into the sixties.

    He was a master of his craft, and maybe as important as most political leaders in his time.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVc2A4Cul6c

  2. I could never see the supposed brilliance TBH.

  3. He knew how to talk to his guests, to get them to talk.

    When speaking to his radio audience, he would speak to ” one person”. In every farm house, people felt that he was speaking to them personally.

    Not every broadcaster has that ability.

    https://duckduckgo.com/?ratb=c&q=gay+byrne+ian+paisley&t=ffab&iax=videos&ia=videos&iai=tHPfob-vn0Q

  4. I don’t know about radio but I certainly didn’t get that from his Late Late Show.

  5. I could never see the supposed brilliance TBH.

    Same here, but he was obviously hugely popular in the south.

  6. He was I think more popular there than any US radio or TV personality has ever been.

    More than Carson, more than Ed Sullivan…and that is saying something.

  7. For our less Irish focused readers to say he didn’t hide his dislike of the Martin McGuiness or Gerry Adams would be an understatement.

  8. that explains the comments

  9. This reminds me briefly of the Yogi Berra quote

    “ No one goes to that restaurant anymore because it’s too crowded “

    Gay Byrne was a very big deal

  10. For our less Irish focused readers to say he didn’t hide his dislike of the Martin McGuiness or Gerry Adams would be an understatement.

    that explains the comments

    No, actually. It doesn’t explain the comments, certainly not from me. I was never a great fan of the Late Late Show, or Byrne himself, but it had absolutely nothing to do with his like or dislike of the leaders of SF. Also, as much as he disliked Adams, he brought him on his show, introducing him as ‘the most controversial man in Ireland.’ He may not have liked him, but he knew what would help his ratings.
    I always found Michael Parkinson to be a better interviewer than Gay Byrne. He had a much friendlier, more open style. Byrne’s style was a bit to ‘twee’ for me.

  11. Gay Byrne was a very big deal

    I know. That’s why my first comment was

    …but he was obviously hugely popular in the south.

  12. That explains the comments

    *Sigh

    Ryan Trubidy is IMO a much better presenter. I don’t know what his opinions on Adams or McGuinness are.

  13. I can’t stand Tubridy! 🙂

  14. I suspect that the honorable gentleman have allowed Mrs. Thatcher to build a stone wall inside their own brains that remains there rent free for all time If they don’t recognize this guy’s gifts as a broadcaster

    I think that other broadcasters will universally recognize the Mans talent

  15. And I strongly suspect that the honourable gentleman is either purposely not reading the comments, or doesn’t understand plain English.

    Rather than copy and paste the comments, just re-read what I have written. I’m sorry I called you out on the other thread about your getting worked up about Greta Thurberg, but please don’t bring your hissy fit on to this thread.

    This comes down to a matter of opinion. I didn’t like Byrne, you think he’s the greatest presenter of all time. I like Greta Thurberg and what she’s doing, you’re scared and angry at her.

  16. mahons

    Would you agree that on that smaller stage that he was as big or bigger than Johnny Carson, Ed Sullivan or Walter Cronkite, etc

    Totally OK if you do not agree!!

    He was the founding father of TV there, in a way that I don’t think that any US personality was.

  17. No one cares who likes him or not, we’re talking about recognizing his talent ( in a way that I believe that every major peer and media critic in Irish or UK would recognize it. )

    He would not have been well known in the US sad to say.

    I recognize Trump’s talent as a communicator even though I don’t like him, etc.

  18. I think his longevity, the small and total market, his lack of serious competition, his general sense of the pulse of his viewers, and the extraordinary transformation of Ireland during his tenure on the show made him a larger than life figure with a far greater impact on his audience than other broadcasters. If Carson was also Ed Sullivan and Walter Cronkite was a good analogy.

  19. I personally don’t think he was the greatest interviewer or presenter, but his impact in his market was the biggest, and it went on for decades.

  20. I’ll take the NI contributors at their word and accept that Byrne’s withering comments about Martin and Gerry have not influenced their opinion of him whatsoever.

  21. I don’t get the repeated comments from the Squad about critics of Greta being angry or all worked up.

    She’s a public figure and is a kind of leader of a movement that seeks really big change in our economies. She should be subject to the same sharp criticism that Trump, Johnson or Merkel get.

    She should get no quarter by virtue of being a teenage girl.

    As Harry Truman said, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

  22. Mahons

    I’ve probably made more withering comments about them both than Byrne ever did, but both of you please feel free to ignore all my previous comments regarding it being simply a matter of opinion and especially my very first comment, where I recognised that he was huge in southern Ireland.
    Perhaps one of the reasons he didn’t appeal as much was that RTÉ wasn’t as generally available in the north, and that for the most part the shows would have been Republic-focused.
    He is reported as once saying that the two sure fire ways to chase away radio listeners were the Six County question and the Irish language.

  23. the Squad

    ffs get over it, Phantom.

  24. He is reported as once saying that the two sure fire ways to chase away radio listeners were the Six County question and the Irish language.

    And that reinforces mahons’ comment, that your assessment of him seems influenced by your politics

    A comment that you seem to take as a condemnation of you, when it’s not that at all.

  25. //he was as important as Johnny Carson ( the undisputed king of national late night TV from the black and white era to 1994 ) and Walter Cronkite ( dominant newsreader in similar years) combined.//

    With respect, that doesn’t at all do justice to Gay Byrne. He wasn’t only an entertainer or a public information source or a discloser of dirty secrets (and he was all of these par excellence) – he was actually an active force in forming society and his nation.

    You have to realise how inhibited people and public expression were in Ireland until the late 60s – not only were things like contraceptives and divorce and homosexuality and abortion and pornography etc. forbidden by law, people actually never even spoke of such immoral matters. There were huge embarrassing silences, huge elephants in the room.

    They Gaybo came along and in his jovial and suave way he put all of these taboos at the forefront of debate, with the results being beamed across the country to the most remote cottages in the hills of Donegal and Kerry, where until then people had been reared on goats milk and the sayings of John Charles McQuaid.

    GB got the debates going and people forgave him because he was so gracious and charming. Irish people generally forgive anything as long as it’s presented in an entertaining way. Gay confronted Republicans with West Brits, people from Opus Dei with urban bohemians. Once people start talking about things, they lose their fear of them, and once they lose their fear, they learn that they can control them and ultimately not accept the status quo, but make society the way they want it to be.

    I never actually liked Gay, his manner was a bit too smooth and lacking in passion for my taste. He was always a superb entertainer, and putting on a show and keeping people entertained were paramount. People like that can’t afford to have principles or passion on stage. In the few times he did get involved, such as in the interviews with Annie Murphy (who had just revealed her affair with the Bishop of Galway) and with Gerry Adams, who on GB’s show got the better of a panel of half a dozen educated and prominent men who had come to villify him, Gay came out badly.

    Whether good or bad, the new Ireland that he helped (however much or little) create is with us to stay.
    Before we used to have young girls dying by the roadside while giving birth, or endless horror of sexual abuse in schools or the Magdalen Laundries. Now, just a few hours ago, a judge sentenced two guys from good homes who as 13-year olds raped and brutally murdered a young girl. Yesterday, another 15 yr old got a similar sentence for a similar crime.

    Take yer pick.

  26. And I hate to say it…his comment on the language is correct.

    What type of national ratings does the RTE Irish language radio and TV get?

  27. With respect, that doesn’t at all do justice to Gay Byrne. He wasn’t only an entertainer or a public information source or a discloser of dirty secrets (and he was all of these par excellence) – he was actually an active force in forming society and his nation.

    Yes.

    As important or more than most political leaders there.

  28. And even if he was not friendly to Mr. Adams, he did give him a platform on national TV, after the long ban on Adams speaking on Irish broadcasts was lifted.

  29. And that reinforces mahons’ comment, that your assessment of him seems influenced by your politics

    How? Did I say it had coloured my opinion of him? No, I didn’t, but please continue to make inaccurate assertions. I merely commented that it had been reported.

    And I hate to say it…his comment on the language is correct.

    How is it correct?

    What type of national ratings does the RTE Irish language radio and TV get?

    I don’t have the figures in front of me right now, but the ratings would be representative of the Irish speaking population, north and south. I don’t get the point you’re trying to make. People who don’t want to listen to Irish language content or stations don’t have to.

  30. I never actually liked Gay, his manner was a bit too smooth and lacking in passion for my taste.

    No, Noel. You didn’t like him because he was mean to Gerry Adams. Phantom told me so.

  31. I think that Irish language radio has incredibly low ratings, and that you know it, as does everyone in the nation.

  32. Another interesting thing was that the atmosphere was so relaxed at LLS evenings that the audience often felt free to applaud the guy who was arguing against the host, the person we weren’t supposed to like. This happened, for example, on both the Annie Murphy and Gerry Adams discussions, when the entertainer completely lost his audience.

    I don’t know if on similar US TV shows the audience feels so free, or whether they feel obliged to support and applaud the host through the evening. I can’t at any rate imagine that happening on any of the few Fox shows I was unfortunate enough to see.

  33. I think that Irish language radio has incredibly low ratings, and that you know it, as does everyone in the nation.

    I don’t know why you’re getting so aggressive about this. I can give you one stat though. I actually work in an Irish language community radio station here in Belfast, and our listenership is around 40,000. For a small station, would you say that’s low?

  34. It’s not ” aggression ” to point out that Byrne’s comment that you quoted this hour was in facdt accurate.

    If we’re not supposed to speak uncomfortable truths, just say that we need a safe space, and we’ll set one up.

  35. I think you’re imagining things here. I commented that he is reported to have said this, I didn’t quote him, as I don’t have a source for the quote. I didn’t give my thoughts, feelings or opinions on it at all. You have now made several attempts at saying the ratings are low, and I have tried to answer you.

    Do you think a listenership of 40,000 is low for a Belfast-based Irish language community radio station?

  36. Phantom once said that he didn’t like punk – obviously because of the nasty anti- Thatcher stuff. He also said that he liked Springsteen, a raving SJW.
    So there you have it: a raving SJW Thatcherite.
    An absolutely spot on analysis.
    FFS catch a grip man.

  37. I want the Irish language efforts to succeed, much more than they have succeeded to date.

    I only comment that RTE Irish language radio and TV would have exceptionally few viewers/listeners as compared with all their other channels.

    Which would indicate that Mr. Byrne (if he said that) knew the national audience well. It doesn’t make him a bad guy.

  38. Who said anything about him being a bad guy?

  39. Seimi – I wrote above I was taking you at your word.

  40. I say that he was a very talented broadcaster, who was very influential, and who knew his audience well.

    And that’s that.

  41. Tend to agree with Noel. He was enormously entertaining and influential. My conservative, northern nationalist parents wouldn’t miss him on a Friday night. He was able to easily mix hard-hitting items with light-hearted guests, music etc.

    And yet, I don’t know anyone that particularly liked him

  42. There’s absolutely no doubt he was influential, he had a massive appeal to a particular demographic but he was certainly no Jeremy Paxman nor Micheal Parkinson.

  43. Not to beat this to death, but he had extremely high percentages of radio and TV followers over time, which does not indicate that he only had an old folks audience.

    Even when the media opened up to many more radio and TV stations than in say 1965, he was still the king of that mountain for his entire career.

  44. which does not indicate that he only had an old folks audience

    I’m not saying that his demographic was only the older generation. His demographic was rural, conservative Ireland as Reg states above.

    I don’t believe that mass appeal is nessecarily a gauge of quality either. I mean, just look at Hugo Duncan, Graham Norton, The Kardishans etc.

  45. But half the population of the republic is in the massive city of Dublin!

    He had to have had many followers in it and Cork and the other big places.

    His numbers show it.

  46. But half the population of the republic is in the massive city of Dublin!

    He had to have had many followers in it and Cork and the other big places

    That’s whay I used the adjectives ‘conservative’ and ‘rural’

  47. I remember him being an icon, a cuddly version of michael parkinson
    Those were the times that was in it
    Lived with my gran in Dublin in 1975, i grew up listening to Gay Byrne .
    can’t compare with the present, its a diff ball game – interviewing like most things has evolved

  48. Noel

    “He wasn’t only an entertainer or a public information source or a discloser of dirty secrets (and he was all of these par excellence) – he was actually an active force in forming society and his nation.” I think that is quite true. He got people talking about issues in a sort of national conversation. He knew his audience well and they tuned in. The history of the era would be very incomplete without including him. Very few, if any, politicians had as much influence as him.

  49. Yes, and he did retire 20 years ago.

    Which is an long time back, esp in Ireland where there was a century’s worth of social change in 40 years’ time

  50. //I used the adjectives ‘conservative’ and ‘rural’//

    I don’t know, Paul. Remember, almost all of Ireland was very “conservative” back then by today’s standards.

    (Remember in the early Troubles the Chief of Staff of the IRA telling volunteers not to use condoms as parts of fuses in bombs, aas they – the condoms – were “immoral objects”.)

    Drumcondra in the 70s was a pretty normal part of Dublin, and I remember as a kid people after Sunday mass meeting in groups and discussing what was said on the Late Late the previous night (it used to be on Saturdays then, I think).
    The LLS seemed to have universal appeal back then. It was sensational and entertaining and everyone seemed to feel that the times they were a-changin’.

  51. I saw a clip last night of him opening a condom on live TV, to show people what it was, at a time when US TV hosts simply would not have done that.

    To an extent, he drove the change and was not only impacted by it.

  52. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KdTCJY9wT3c

    This may be it.

    Johnny Carson never did this on US TV.

    If he wanted to do it, the network would never have allowed it.

  53. Just heard the very sad news that Fr. Des Wilson has passed away, Paul & Noel (we were talking about him just last week).

  54. I don’t know, Paul. Remember, almost all of Ireland was very “conservative” back then by today’s standards

    I agree, hence my 3.28 about him being influential.

    Just heard the very sad news that Fr. Des Wilson has passed away

    Aye, got the sad news earlier :/

    A champion of the Springhill community where he lived. A vocal critic of the Catholic Church heirarchy, a tireless campaigner for community politics, a pioneer of the community education project for disadvantaged and excluded youth, instrumental in the creation of the Conway Mill community portal, an absolutely indefatigable and steadfast campaigner for justice for the Ballymurphy Massacre murdered and a million other things.

    We’ll never see your likes again Des.

  55. Rather than take up lines in Mahons’post on Gay Byrne, how about you write a separate post on Des?

  56. I’m busy with work at the moment and haven’t the time for anything more than a few sentences.

    f I get a few spare hours later I’ll maybe give it a go.

  57. Me too.

  58. They’re doing a special Late Late tribute to Gaybo tonight with the great and the good paying homage. The President was on rambling but it’s been a fitting tribute other than that.

  59. One of the special nights, in its entirety

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Zp-bNzEYgNw