On RTE’s Brendan O’Connor Sunday Show on RTE radio yesterday – he’s the replacement for the late Marian Finucane who died back in January – they did a sequence of ‘most memorable television moments’ and were clearly delighted with the massive response. As only to be expected, the iconic Late Late Show featured at the top of most people’s lists.
And without question one moment on the show stood out.
This was back in 1997 when just as he was about to wrap up the show host Gay Byrne rang a woman who was the winning contestant in that night’s competition; the prizes were not to be sneezed at, new cars and the like often featuring. People are usually jumping around and screaming with delight when old Gaybo comes on the line. Not this time.
Gay rings and the lady answers, he informs her who he is and it’s clear she’s seriously underwhelmed. Obviously somewhat chagrined at her lack of enthusiasm he tries to cajole her into a better mood and nothing’s happening. Cue an awkward silence and then she stops him dead in his tracks with the comment: ‘My daughter was killed last night’.
It was one of those God awful moments where you would hope the ground would open up and swallow you. But, in fairness to Byrne, he handled it brilliantly. I’ll never forget it.
If that was the then host of the Late Late Show at his best many northern folk will remember him at his worst – the infamous Gerry Adams interview. I watched that interview live that night and to say it was cringeworthy is downplaying usage of the English language facility to describe goddam awful. It was Dublin 4 politics at its finest.
For some odd reason this programme didn’t make the cut on Sunday last. Wonder why?
That night way back in the winter of 1994 The Late Late was tense from the off. Contrary to usual norms Byrne made a point of not shaking the Sinn Fein president’s hand. He then left him sitting on his own while he went and stood near the audience, clearly indicating he did not wish to be contaminated by sharing a stage with him. And he had lined up an ambush panel which included the famously right-wing playwright, Hugh Leonard, and the former SDLP member and then Fine Gael stalwart, Austin Currie. It was supposed to be a simple tap in for the panel – they being the goodies, the thug from Belfast the baddie.
And it all backfired spectacularly.
Adams, the audience soon discovered, didn’t have two heads. He wasn’t the mindless moron some of the Dublin media liked to portray. And he could explain in a very logical way exactly why he had gone down the road he had.
Before the night was out the audience had turned full circle; it was clear they disliked the unfairness of it all and, like most decent Irish people, didn’t agree with what they regarded as a set-up. By the end they were warmly applauding Adams.
In his column the following week in the notably pro-republican Sunday Independent ( that’s irony folks!) Leonard admitted he had ‘tried my best’ to land a few haymakers on the then west Belfast MP but had failed miserably.
Something tells me too that Byrne had his own regrets about his role on the night. By all accounts it seems he wasn’t proud of it, allegedly claiming some years later he was ‘acting under orders’ from senior management at RTE.
That was one I didn’t forget either….