From soft soap to hard knocks
RADIO REVIEW:HE HAS BEEN chided for his soft-soap approach, but Ryan Tubridy seemed to reveal a harder side to his on-air persona last week. While presenting Wednesday’s show (Tubridy, 2FM, weekdays) from Clonakility, in Co Cork, he apparently set about teaching the pupils in his audience lessons from the school of hard knocks.
Never meet your heroes, for one: when he asked students in fancy dress who they were supposed to be, one girl replied that she had come as the presenter, because he was her “idol”. His reply was enough to break the heart of any hero-worshipping youngster: “And do I look as geeky as you?”
A few minutes later he was at it again, this time apparently taunting a little girl. “Do you know what we’re doing for the [Late Late] Toy Show?” he asked sweetly, only to dash her hopes with a curt “I can’t tell you.” Of course, Tubridy wasn’t really being horrid to his fans, merely joshing around, his mock cruelty and backchat indicating his ease with them.
But it was about as sharp as proceedings got in a show that seems consistently drawn to the good-naturedly bland. There were upbeat items about local attractions such as Michael Collins-themed historical tours and the town’s famed black pudding, but while the presenter and his roadshow audience sounded as if they were having a jolly old time of it, the magic of the occasion was lost over the airwaves. The show’s costume theme, which is part of 2FM’s Dress Up for Barnardos campaign, was similarly redundant, the wireless not being renowned as a visual medium.
Tubridy’s manner may be too pally at times, but a bigger problem is that his items lack colour and span the spectrum from grey to beige, if one will excuse the visual reference. The closest Wednesday’s show got to a big name was Jessica Lawlor, the girlfriend of the Irish soccer player Stephen Ireland, who, for all her likeability, also lent an air of D-list pointlessness to proceedings.
In the face of such tepid fare, it is hardly surprising that even the habitually chipper Tubridy, whose natural affability should be an asset, showed signs of despair. Having persuaded a local principal to excuse some pupils from homework for the night, he initially sounded an elated note. “See what I did there? Sometimes it’s cool being an adult,” he said. “But not always. It can sometimes be depressing.”
Across the band, Ray D’Arcy commanded his mid-morning berth (The Ray D’Arcy Show, Today FM, weekdays) with a confidence that bordered on cocksure, striking up a relaxed chemistry with contrasting guests throughout the week. He swapped saucy banter with Paul O’Grady, drawing out raucous anecdotes from the British entertainer’s past as a drag queen, Lily Savage, while covering sombre topics such as the appalling legacy of Jimmy Savile, whom O’Grady had encountered. It helped that O’Grady had a gift for the striking turn of phrase. “I’ve legs like two Woodbines hanging out of the packet,” he said of his host’s observation that he had “a good set of pins”.
More notable was D’Arcy’s interview with the actor Stephen Rea, who bucked his downbeat public image by displaying a bone-dry wit not always evident from his rather earnest public image. On being told that Derry was named one of the best cities in the world to visit, he mischievously drawled that “it’s probably the second best to get out of”. Rea’s wry humour was especially welcome after his distressing account of his recent visit to a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan.
D’Arcy struck a deft balance between entertaining conversation and human-interest stories while talking to his rounded guests, but he lost his footing with less absorbing figures. An item with the comedian Andrew Maxwell was peppered with tedious single entendres. “I’m touched in a place that I’m not normally touched by other men,” said Maxwell of his fondness for Jason Mraz’s music. The conversation soon sounded like a self-congratulatory boys’ club.
It might have been coincidental, but the most captivating item of the week appeared on The Last Word (Today FM, weekdays), hosted by Matt Cooper, a presenter who so assiduously avoids blowing hot or cold that he resembles Derek Smalls, Spinal Tap’s “lukewarm water” bassist. Having spoken to the writer Colm Tóibín about his new novel, Cooper asked a final, unexpected question about why the writer, known as a scourge of low standards in high places, had defended the former Irish Nationwide boss Michael Fingleton.
Tóibín’s response was eloquent and counterintuitive. Aside from the fact that the banker had given the author his first mortgage – though at a higher-than-normal rate, apparently – he believed the personal opprobrium aimed at Fingleton and at Seán FitzPatrick, formerly of Anglo Irish Bank, smacked of bullying, particularly while the banking system that facilitated their cataclysmically greedy actions remained unchanged. He was suspicious when anyone was so universally “victimised”, saying it was “the last vestige” of his Catholic upbringing. Tóibín’s stance wasn’t entirely convincing – Cooper justifiably mused whether accountability didn’t matter more – but it was sincere and challenging. You don’t need to be nasty to be provocative.
Radio moment of the week
In the wake of Lance Armstrong’s downfall, Pat McQuaid, the Irish president of the world cycling body UCI, appeared on Today With Pat Kenny (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) to absolve himself and his organisation of culpability in failing to catch the drug cheat, delivering a masterclass in institutional evasiveness. The clincher came when Kenny wondered whether it had been right of the UCI to accept money from Armstrong, long suspected of doping. “If Robbie Keane offered the FAI €1 million to set up a footballing school,” McQuaid asked, “would the FAI be wrong to accept that?” As a spurious, self-justifying comparison, it was hard to beat.