Beyond the neon runes


Come in Mr Tubridy, your time is up

ryan-tubridyI rarely watch live television these days; all those adverts and schedules, no thanks. Instead, like so many others of my generation, I choose to stream, download or record, watching my favourite shows on my own terms.

Occasionally though, I will take a step back in time and partake in what was once a communal pleasure. I’ll take to the couch at a pre-ordained time, wait patiently for the show to begin and experience it in sync with the rest of the nation.

And in this country there is nothing quite as communal as watching The Late Late Show of a Friday evening. RTÉ’s flagship chat-show may not be the draw it once was but it remains an institution, a bedrock of Irish television.

My own relationship with The Late Late has dwindled to yearly dalliances with the Toy Show and the odd toe-dip when someone especially famous is on the bill. It doesn’t really register with me these days, and hasn’t done for some time.

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Katie Hopkins isn’t especially famous, but when I heard that she was to appear on the first Late Late since Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential campaign, I cleared my diary, cancelled any plans, and booked myself in for an evening with Tubs.

I might not agree with everything she says and often take issue with the way she conducts herself in the media, but there’s one thing I can’t deny: the woman is television gold. Hopkins is an interviewer’s dream and, far from being a misstep by our national broadcaster, booking her was, in my eyes, a stroke of genius.

Many didn’t share my enthusiasm, indeed some took to voicing their concerns directly to RTÉ. This merely heightened expectations, hyped up the Hopkins hyperbole. By the time Friday arrived, I anticipated fistfights, bloodshed, live executions, all over an election that happened in a country hundreds of miles away.

But what I got was the dampest of squibs. Hopkins did her bit, railing and raging, shouting over her adversaries, airing views designed to enrage and inflame. The audience, in turn, played its part, booing and hissing at the appropriate moments in this carefully constructed pantomime.

Even the other guest, the yin to Hopkins’ yang, did everything that was asked of her; querulously maintaining the moral high ground, standing firm under extreme duress, a trooper till the end.

It should have been brilliant, it should have been one of those rare occasions when those who missed the Late Late actually missed it. It wasn’t though, and that was because of the limitations, nay incompetence, of its host.

As the ‘interview’ progressed, I found myself taking refuge beneath a cushion, burrowing for safety as a car-crash unfolded just feet away. By its completion, by the time Tubridy called a halt to proceedings, I had moved behind the couch, reduced to covering my ears and humming loudly as this excruciating discourse staggered towards its awkward finale.

Ryan Tubridy has a wealth of interviewing experience, far more than I. He has worked at RTÉ for years, both on radio and television, and landed the most coveted job of them all at the age of 36. But to watch him in action last Friday night, to watch him fumble and stumble his way through one painful exchange after another, you could have been forgiven for thinking he was a raw intern, jettisoned in at the last moment by a panicked producer.

hopkins-late-lateRather than grill the ever-truculent Hopkins, engage her in a passionate, but in-depth, discussion, Tubridy chose to bombard her with rhetoric, aping the very man he was there to discuss and, it appeared, condemn.

In shedding the cloak of impartiality, the host may have curried favour with the audience but he immediately set Hopkins on the back-foot, not to mention those of us hoping to witness a balanced, measured debate.

He had one question. It went a little something like this: ‘Donald Trump said a bad thing, how could you possibly like him?’ This took several different forms, but the essence didn’t change. What did change however was Tubridy’s manner.

Far from chairing the debate, being the voice of reason, the presenter of Ireland’s premier talk show became irate, then riled, then a little haughty, before finishing his strop with a stomp of his feet and a few huffs to accompany his puffs.

It was a spectacular embarrassment for the man who would be king, and called into question his ability to deal with guests requiring anything more than a gentle plumping up of their softened egos.

Having benefited from not being Pat Kenny for the past seven years, Tubridy has had something of a free ride for the majority of his tenure. He’s brought some pizzazz to the show, glammed it up a bit, modernised the staid format.

But lovely jumpers aside, what does he really do? He’s not particularly funny, or charming, or abrasive, or anything really. He’s just there. Non-offensive, middle-of-the-road, that’s our Ryan. A fine steward during peacetime, but not the kind of man you need when the flak is flying.

And, right now, in this brave new world, the flak is most certainly flying.

A better broadcaster would sense the changing winds and delicately replace Tubridy with someone more suited to these chaotic times. That’s not RTÉ, though.

Continually one step behind, it’s too busy trying to mimic its American counterparts, foolishly believing it can steer viewers away from Graham Norton’s elaborately assembled couch with an in-house band and some audience interaction.

In the meantime, guests like Hopkins will come and go, opportunities will be offered, spurned and missed, and, bit by bit, this once great pillar of Irish society will lose what little relevance it still possesses.


The Lord’s name in vain

lord-mayorEver wondered how the average city councillor spends their day? What they get up to when they’re not attending meetings or roaring insults at one another across a crowded room? Well, wonder no more.

Offering a rare insight into the daily minutiae of an elected councilman, Dublin city councillor, Mannix Flynn, has announced that he plans to table a motion to remove the word ‘Lord’ from the title of the Lord Mayor of Dublin.

Taking sudden umbrage with a title that has existed for almost 800 years, Cllr Flynn said: “The days of lords go back to a time when Ireland was under foreign rule, and, in many respects, it is an alien, colonialist term.”

In other words, it’s a bit British.

Infused with the spirit of 1916, Cllr Flynn is on a one-man mission to rid the nation of the last vestige of Queen and country.

But why stop there? If we’re to rubber-stamp our Irishness, it should be done properly. Once all the Lords have been flogged and renamed, steps should be taken to deport anyone called Elizabeth, or anyone called George – we can’t be too careful.

The British invented the television, the phone, and the lightbulb, so all that will have to go too I’m afraid. It should give us plenty of time to sit glumly by the fire, cursing them Brits for being such bastards though.

Still, we can always go online, power up the oul laptop, watch a bit of Youtube, Netflix. Nope, the worldwide web came from the mind of yet another cursed Englishman, so that’s going to have be switched off as well.

In the end, once Cllr Flynn is through, we’ll essentially be living in the nineteen-twenties again, with nothing but our spuds and our hurleys to keep us entertained. But bejaysus we’ll be Irish, and there won’t be but a trace of our former overlords.