Something for every star in the audience

Sat, Jun 2, 2012, 01:00

RTÉ SHOWED its best face to the world last night and celebrated 50 years of the Late Late Show.

Given the national broadcaster’s well documented financial and reputational problems at present, a little self-congratulation for the “longest running chat show in the world” was in order.

It was a star-studded night by Irish standards with a long list of celebrities from the entertainment world.

Bono, Liam Neeson, Shane MacGowan, Daniel O’Donnell, Sharon Corr, Sinéad O’Connor, Brenda Fricker, Tommy Tiernan, the Nualas and Horslips were among those in the audience, but the night belonged to one man – the show’s original and best host Gay Byrne.

“He’s still the boss,” said his successor Pat Kenny as Byrne positioned the other Late Late Show presenters to goof around for the photographers before the show.

RTÉ staged a red carpet entrance for last night’s show. Nothing else would do for its most venerated programme.

The Late Late Show remains as important as ever to RTÉ in good times and bad and these are not the best of times.

In a week when the director general Noel Curran announced that the financial situation facing RTÉ was “serious”, it was an occasion to pack up their troubles for two hours of celebratory television.

For Ryan Tubridy, who described the show as the most important he has done since his debut three years ago, it was like being the “teacher and the cigire has come to watch your performance”.

He added: “It shows RTÉ at its best. It comes down to the thing that when people want to go somewhere at the end of the week, they go to the Late Late Show. There are dark days and there are bright days for RTÉ and this is a bright day.”

For his part, Byrne summed up the indelible draw of the Late Late Show succinctly: “People have been giving out about it for 50 years, but they still watch it”. It is not only unique in Ireland, but also unique in the world both in terms of the longevity of the live show and its duration on the airwaves, he pointed out.

On last night’s show Byrne, a Eurosceptic to his fingertips – “I hate the whole thing” – recalled the infamous interview with then EU commissioner Padraig Flynn which has become a classic of self-immolation live on air.

“I believe it is a madness that gets into them in Brussels and I think he was suffering from that,” he said on a night when Ireland embraced Brussels again for good or ill.

Pat Kenny recalled that his first reaction on taking over from Byrne was “total fear”.

Many thought nobody was good enough to replace the man who presided over the programme like a colossus for 37 years. “In truth, I wasn’t and I am not,” Kenny candidly admitted and he has no desire to go back to the Late Late Show. “I’m having too much fun on the Frontline,” he quipped.

A few of the guests were old enough to remember the first show including Twink who was a 12-year-old singer in a girl’s choir when she appeared in the first series. “I have no problem saying it – it will always be Gay’s show,” she said.

O’Donnell reminded people that he was as old as the Late Late Show having turned 50 this year. He remains the only guest to have been interviewed by four Late Late Show presenters, having appeared for the late Gerry Ryan’s only time as host.

Sharon Corr was the only guest who struck a slight note of disharmony. The Late Late Show needed to “show less fluff and more really constructive, positive TV for the Irish people” for the times we live in.