Duffy's 3 ring circus


WAY back at Christmas time, this column named Joe Duffy as its Man of the Year for 1996, for the way he came out of the Montrose desert to present a stirring Saturday morning show.

To keep a watch on the way his career has proceeded since then, you'd want (as they say around Joe's place) three pairs of eyes. For some reason nobody tells me the RTE gossip, so I have no idea who is trying to prove what; the effect, however, has been to establish Duffy as Radio 1's jack of all trades, a renaissance man in more ways than one. (Yvonne Judge is vying for the title, it seems: on succeeding days last week she did the early morning What It Says In The Papers and her more usual late night sports news.)

In the past few weeks you could hear Joe Duffy fronting the drive time Daily Record and the late night Tonight with... - two programmes for which he has also been a reporter - as well as Liveline. Unlike his ill fated spell hosting the Gay Byrne Show, he did each of these programmes in his own style, rather than trying to mimic Myles Dungan, Vincent Browne or Marian Finucane.

The effect on Liveline was particularly amusing. Duffy was all business, often not encouraging callers to expand on their opinions and certainly not oozing sympathy. Nonetheless, "moving right along" proved a reasonable formula for an interesting programme.

He hopped into the Tonight slot for just two nights last week, between Olivia O'Leary and the returning Browne, and was certainly not dwarfed by the heavyweights flanking him. Happily, one of these programmes was the Dublin Central constituency bunfight, so Joe Duffy of Ballyfermot was on home territory.

Rough and tumble as this discussion got, Duffy didn't need to flash the iron fist; there were other men more than able to do so. If the radio dynamics among the candidates are anything to go by, Bertie Ahern will top the poll - he easily dominated the conversation during a spell via telephone - but Tony Gregory won't be far behind. When Duffy had the temerity to tell Sinn Fein's Christy Burke that he doesn't stand a chance of a Dail seat, Gregory turned on poor Joe with chilling authority.

It was just a momentary setback. The indefatigable Duffy has combined all these duties with a still lively Joe Duffy Show on Saturdays. It's only for his own sake that I hope he settles down soon.

Throughout of range of an FM cable, I carefully positioned myself on Sunday morning to hear I'm Still Standing (BBC Radio 4), which promised to be a humorous exploration of notable Dublin pubs. I wondered what could possibly be said to British listeners on the subject that they don't already know; perhaps there is only limited overlap between the two groups "Go to Dublin for Stag Parties" and "Listen to Radio 4 on a Sunday Morning".

Lamentably, the available medium and long wave versions of the station were devoted to cricket - not even the usual culprit, Test Match Special, but a one day match between England and Australia; and the Beeb was less shy than I about naming the game's corporate sponsor.

My lament for our lost public houses didn't last long. That evening, In Business (BBC Radio 4) visited Dublin to profile the Celtic Tiger and of course ended up in a city centre pub. Reporter Peter Day even managed to find a woman there, who spoke briefly; otherwise, the voices of the new Ireland were all baritones: Fergal Quinn, Martin Naughton, John Fitzgerald, Jimmy Somers, Liam Cahill of Intel, Mary Robinson, etc.

The President, ever polite, didn't refer Day to a breakdown of our balance of payments when he asked her how she felt about the "vanishing" of "the old, agricultural Ireland". Our food industry didn't fit Day's thesis about the crucial role of inward investment, so it was absent from a half hour discussion of the Irish economy.

Interestingly, Day's idea was that Ireland has done well by defying international thinking and giving the State an active role in the economy. (He might have noted that the original Asian "tiger" economies did the same.)

His praise for the State's carefully thought-out education strategy, creator of a trained and willing workforce, will have brought blushes to Marlborough Street and a certain confusion to most Irish listeners. Part of the strategy, he said, was to give us some of the best paid teachers in Europe. Bet you didn't know that.