Radio: Mad as hell George Hook has his ‘Network’ moment

Review: ‘The Right Hook’, ‘The Pat Kenny Show’

George Hook: “I’ve calmed down, but inside I’m burning up”

George Hook: “I’ve calmed down, but inside I’m burning up”

 

As a fan of classic movies George Hook is surely familiar with the 1976 film Network. To recap: a veteran broadcaster, respected as an authority in his field, decides to see out his career with a bang. Eschewing nuanced analysis and impartial coverage, he takes to delivering jeremiads on the ills of modern life. His alarmingly righteous rage culminates in a memorable rallying cry, delivered on air with trembling fury: “I’m mad, mad as hell.” But enough about Hook . . .

Joking aside, if you’re familiar with the film you could be forgiven for experiencing a frisson of deja vu when listening to Hook’s performance on Wednesday’s edition of The Right Hook (Newstalk, weekdays): the presenter’s reaction to the Cabinet appointment of the Independent TD Finian McGrath bears an unnerving resemblance to Howard Beale’s signature line in Network.

After Hook declares his ire over the elevation of a deputy who openly admits to not paying water charges, he is so overcome that he can barely speak. After going to an ad break Hook seems only marginally less incensed. “I’ve calmed down, but inside I’m burning up,” he mutters.

There’s no doubting the sincerity of Hook’s feelings about the prospect of a Minister who flouts the law. “It honestly strikes at the heart of what I believe in,” he says, sighing. The trouble is that this state of agitation has become the presenter’s default setting on most issues: he is so habitually outraged that his spleen must require regular refills. Whether calling the Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy a member of the Against Everything Party or claiming that “Europe is telling us that we must have abortion”, Hook regularly ramps up topics to a pitch even Beale might deem shrill.

This approach has diminishing returns, even when Hook turns his tirades up to 11. By contrast Shane Coleman, Newstalk’s political correspondent, clearly shares his host’s views about McGrath’s appointment but articulates his objections clearly, calmly and more effectively.

Hook’s career has never rested on a gift for understatement, of course. And his contrarian tendencies still yield interesting items, such as Tuesday’s interview with John, a 35-year-old singleton who worries that his Catholicism is a social and romantic handicap. As John thoughtfully discusses his beliefs, and how few of his peers share them, Hook asks provocative yet legitimate questions, such as whether there is “an element of bullying to people who express more traditional Catholic views”.

Hook also displays his iconoclastic side in his constant criticisms of the rugby world, the realm where he made his name. On Wednesday he sounds dubious about the safety of the schools game in Ireland. But such moments are overshadowed by his thunderous theatrics, which he might consider rationing out more sparingly.

Pat Kenny, in contrast, shows that he possesses a Rudyard Kipling-approved ability to keep his head while all around him are losing theirs when he hosts a predictably fiery debate about abortion on Wednesday’s The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays). Joining Kenny to discuss the possible repeal of the eighth amendment are Maria Steen of the Iona Institute and Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty International. Their implacably opposed positions call to mind another Kipling line: “Never the twain shall meet.”

The difference is one of tone as well as intent. While O’Gorman argues for the legalisation of abortion in terms of human rights for mothers, Steen frames her stance as being against “the killing of the innocent, defenceless beings”. She adds for good measure that “Colm never talks about the baby”. When he complains about the use of “highly emotive language” Steen’s riposte is to ask whether O’Gorman thinks that “the being in the womb is a human being”.

He says he believes that conception is the beginning of life but doesn’t share her view that unborn life has exactly the same rights as someone who has been born. “What we don’t want is to kill babies,” he adds, his exasperation evident.

And so it continues, neither party giving ground, although O’Gorman at least says he respects why Steen has such strong views, a sentiment that isn’t reciprocated.

Throughout it all Kenny shows off his years of current-affairs experience. He keeps a light but steady hand on the tiller, intervening with pertinent queries and observations.

Kenny asks Steen whether people have the right to limit the suffering of a baby who will be born severely ill. Of the trips taken to England by thousands of pregnant women each year he says that “we do have abortion, just not in Ireland”. And he presses O’Gorman on the kind of terminations he wants legalised.

By the end, however, even Kenny is worn out. “This is a foretaste of things to come,” he says, not sounding particularly enthused by the prospect. But with the issue likely to dominate public life in the next few years, Kenny’s skill at navigating these choppy waters is to be applauded.

On such topics it’s wiser not to get mad but to stay even-handed.

Moment of the Week: Chris Donoghue lays down the law

Ivan Yates may be set to leave as a host of Breakfast (Newstalk, weekdays), but Chris Donoghue, his on-air sparring partner, is showing no signs of going easy on him. During a discussion of juries Donoghue asks how jurors balance work obligations with legal duties. Yates, dyspeptic as ever, claims that the system “suits skivers”. Donoghue shoots back instantly. “I know none of your cases have come to a jury trial yet,” he says, referring to the court judgment for debts against Yates’s wife, “but I think if you were the accused you’d appreciate the fact that people take it seriously.” Yates guffaws. “I can normally give a summary verdict on all the stuff we deal with,” he says. The jury is out on how the show will do after this sparky partnership ends.

radioreview@irishtimes.com

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