Ryan Tubridy is transitioning from young fogey to old codger

Radio review: He scorns political correctness like a grumpy old man, but in one respect he is still young at heart


In many ways, Ryan Tubridy is well on his way to making the transition from young fogey to old codger. He regularly complains about the supposed absurdities of political correctness in public discourse while pouring scorn on pretentious notions that deviate from the milieu of having a few pints and praising the Beatles. But in one respect Tubridy remains young at heart. When it comes to children’s literature, he’s still a fan.

It’s not just that the presenter has written a book for kids, about JFK, another lodestar of his. During an enjoyable interview on Wednesday’s programme (The Ryan Tubridy Show, RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), he displays his knowledge and affection for the works of veteran children’s author Judith Kerr. It’s a revealing conversation, not least about the host.

He flags the item by informing listeners that his guest’s name is not spoken as it is written, but rather is pronounced “car”. Naturally, he invokes the Beatles to illustrate the point: “As in ‘Baby, you can drive my car’,” he says. Tubridy then introduces the writer, rhyming Kerr with “her”. After such an opening, the encounter could be a Kerr crash, but host and guest hit it off well. Moving between questions on Kerr’s long life – she’s 94 years old – and her books, Tubridy draws out a fascinating tale, most of which you can read in this earlier interview with The Irish Times

Impeccable politeness

With impeccable politeness, the writer tells how, as the young daughter of a Jewish theatre critic and his composer wife, she and her family dramatically fled Germany when Hitler came to power: her father was on a Nazi “death list”. She remembers her subsequent upbringing in France and Britain as enjoyably cosmopolitan rather than uncertain or rootless. And she outlines the inspiration for her books, be it her childhood for When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit or her fascination with cats for Mog.

Tubridy’s manner switches between curiosity and delight, but perhaps inevitably, there is a sideswipe at those eggheads with ideas of fancy learning. When Kerr confirms that her classic The Tiger Who Came To Tea is not, as some suggest, a metaphor for Hitler’s rise but merely a story she told her daughter, the presenter cannot hide his glee: “Does it give you a laugh when you hear people getting so highfalutin?” Ever respectful, Kerr merely responds that it’s “charming”.

The irony is that Tubridy airs a tale with powerful resonances for our time, be it the catastrophic consequences of populist-fuelled intolerance towards minorities or the increasingly-derided idea that exposure to different cultures can be enriching. Like any good children’s book, the interview spins a great story while quietly imparting wider truths. Whether he knows it or not, Tubridy is in danger of being highfalutin himself.

The makers of Surviving Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1, Friday) may well have lofty aspirations to skewer the mores of contemporary society, but for the most part this St Patrick’s Day mockumentary is more concerned with generating laughs. At any rate, it’s only partially successful in either regard. 

The show’s premise has real-life comedian and writer Colm Tobin visiting a digital detox retreat on the island of Carnananaunachán in the company of Declan (Aidan O’Donovan, who co-writes the script) and Holly (Stefanie Preissner). There, the slippery Brother Ponzi (Barry Murphy) and the homely Bean Ní Shuilleabháin (Deirdre O’Kane) attempt to wean the trio off their mobile devices, with fitfully funny results.

Hipster culture

Given the target-rich environment that is hipster culture, the jokes about the millennial couple are disappointingly predictable. He’s a “trainee beardologist” while she’s a “social influencer” who grows increasingly hysterical the longer she’s deprived of her phone: she ends up in the “mucky hole”, which gives a flavour of the subtle wit on show. Murphy and O’Kane’s characters are similarly played to stereotype but yield more chuckles by delivering benignly meaningless sermons or reminiscing on prodigious birth rates. 

With his deadpan persona and wry understatement, Tobin is the programme’s most effective figure, down to the knowing gag that he nearly shares a name with a more famous author. But Tobin somehow seems underused amid the flimsy material, notwithstanding the fact that he co-wrote it. On this showing, Surviving Ireland counts as a missed opportunity, albeit one with potential.

The prize for the week’s most uncomfortable item goes to The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays), as the host talks to Icelandic author Thordis Elva, and Tom Stranger, the Australian man who raped her.

Elva recounts to Kenny how she dated Stranger when they were teenagers and how he took her home one night after she had drunk too much rum and raped her. That she talks about her ordeal in a starkly matter-of-fact manner is down to years of self-examination and subsequent conversations with her attacker, who she confronted by email many years later. 

By turns thought-provoking and troubling, the exchange aims to make those who commit rape to face up to their actions. Stranger, who was never charged, says he was in denial of his offence until Elva contacted him again: he says it’s still “not fitting” to call them friends. Elva, meanwhile, knows she walks a fine line, supporting punishment for rape while seeking to “de-monstrify” rapists. 

The item throws up all sorts of ambivalent questions, which Kenny handles with sensitivity, at least until he asks whether the couple recognised some of their old spark when they met again years later. When he compares their initial relationship to Romeo and Juliet, you can practically hear Elva’s sharp intake of breath. It’s a misstep, but it shows how Kenny is still willing to tackle new ground. Being an old hand doesn’t mean closing your mind.

Radio Moment of the Week: Barack a goner?

On Wednesday, George Hook, host of High Noon (Newstalk, weekdays), talks to Prof Gwythian Prins about anti-EU populism. Prins takes a cheerfully pro-Brexit position – not an unusual view on Hook’s show – but his factual slips are more notable.

He confuses DUP leader Arlene Foster with choreographer Arlene Phillips, perhaps understandable for anyone who remembers dance troupe Hot Gossip. More perplexing is his description of the previous US president as “the late, lamented Barack Obama”. Surely fake news hasn’t come to this?

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