George Hook: Brash controversialist who will not be happy with final chapter

Presenters came and went at Newstalk, but Hook has remained ever-present

George Hook photographed in Newstalk’s studios in 2003. Photograph: Marc O’Sullivan

George Hook photographed in Newstalk’s studios in 2003. Photograph: Marc O’Sullivan

 

George Hook came to broadcasting unusually late in life, achieving fame and a little notoriety in his late fifties – first as an opinionated rugby pundit on RTÉ, before the fledgling commercial radio station Newstalk 106 took a punt on him to present its drivetime programme when it launched in April 2002.

In the 15 years that followed, presenters such as David McWilliams and Eamon Dunphy came and went from the perennially struggling station, but Hook has remained ever-present.

The “Hooky” persona – a brash saloon bar controversialist with a distaste for political correctness and a lifetime’s worth of opinions to share – won more listeners than any other programme in the Newstalk schedules.

Before all that, though, there were other careers – none particularly successful: travelling salesman; running a catering company for film productions; and coaching rugby teams, including London Irish, Connacht and the US national team.

In an article for The Irish Times in 2011, in defence of fee-paying schools, he recalled that his Austrian wife, Ingrid (who features prominently in his box of anecdotes), “reprised the role of my mother in scrimping and saving to send our children to Blackrock College and Mount Anville when her husband had failed miserably as the breadwinner”.

In the same article, he recalled his own days at PBC Cork. “I was certainly the poorest boy in my class, as my classmates were invariably sons of doctors, dentists and lawyers,” he wrote. “I have never forgotten the embarrassment of being unable to bring flowers for the altar. The houses on Albert Road did not have gardens.

“Never once, however, was I made feel inferior by the brothers or lay teachers at the school, and I was given an extraordinary education that ultimately saved my life and gave me, albeit belatedly, a career in the media.”

His 2005 autobiography, Time Added On, described his years of business failure. But with belated success came wealth – not just the substantial six-figure annual sum for presenting his Newstalk show, but a number of sponsorship deals and lucrative speaking gigs. The Right Hook’s ratings gradually rose.

Hook is now 76 years old. In January 2014, he announced that he would retire from Newstalk in 2016. However, it didn’t happen. Since moving to the lunchtime slot last year, he has continued to cause controversy, giving space among other things to those arguing that the HPV vaccine is dangerous to the health of teenage girls, against scientific evidence.

Well-known to be pugnaciously protective of his contractual rights and his own public reputation, he will be far from happy that what is most probably the last chapter of his broadcasting career should conclude so ignominiously.