Joe Duffy’s Educate Together spat is pure Liveline panto

Review: Duffy is getting his practice in for his role in the upcoming Snow White panto

On the face of it, the news that Joe Duffy is to appear in a pantomime is in danger of causing reality to collapse in on itself under the weight of too many exquisite ironies. Never mind that Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) can make even the most crazily chaotic Christmas show look like Ibsen in comparison, Duffy's forthcoming role as the Magic Mirror in Snow White prompts a flurry of lines about his programme reflecting Irish life. Still, it's probably the best part he could hope for – the dramatic sighing, groaning and wailing of his on-air performances rule out playing the panto dame on the grounds of lacking believability.

Then again, rare is the Liveline that doesn't stretch the listener's credulity. Tuesday's edition runs the gamut of human problems, from the carnage and suffering being inflicted on the people of Yemen to the stringency of school dress codes. Almost inevitably, the latter subject generates the greater emotional response.

If Alex Dunne of Médicins Sans Frontières is grimly calm as he recounts his recent experiences on the ground in Yemen, Majella sounds particularly vexed by the “fingertip rule” on clothing at her child’s Educate Together secondary school. The ominous-sounding rule relates to the length of tops worn over leggings or tight jeans: in order to cover pupils’ backsides, the top has to reach the end of their hands at the side.

Majella tells Duffy that strict implementation of this regulation is having a disruptive effect at the school, with pupils taken out of class if their tops are deemed too short. This might appear the epitome of a first world problem, though Majella’s concerns have a wider context. “Basically, they’re making an issue of the children’s bodies,” she says, “It shames the girls and it sends the wrong message to the boys.”


Majella feels that the school is infringing Educate Together’s ethos that “what you wear is an expression of who you are”. Perhaps wisely, Duffy resists the temptation to suggest this is why most schools have uniforms. But the longer the discussion goes on, the more the broader point gets lost. By the end, Majella recounts how she and others resigned from the board of the parents’ association in protest at the school’s actions.

Her annoyance as a parent is understandable, but for an internal school spat to end up on national radio seems excessive. It’s no problem for Duffy, however, who spins the conversation out for 15 minutes, with the help of some lame quips: “The rules are getting tighter and tighter, pardon the pun.” He’ll need better lines than that if his mirror isn’t to be belted with rotten tomatoes come Christmas.

Things are wittier over on The Ray D'Arcy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), when Graham Norton joins the host for an enjoyable chat. The BBC star is promoting his new novel, but thankfully doesn't shed his impish broadcasting talents for a more earnest literary persona. Instead, the encounter is dotted with teasing asides, as Norton parries his host's questions with knowing wit.

D'Arcy turns what could be a fairly generic discussion about the celebrity scientist into something more thoughtful

When D’Arcy says that he has actually read Norton’s novel, he responds, “Well done you!”, adding that he rarely reads books by guests on his own show. Norton’s tone is so light as to preclude any snarkiness, but the gently competitive nature of the exchange is unmistakable. It’s very entertaining, but also deflects any overly intrusive questioning. Norton the interviewee is as effortlessly professional as Norton the interviewer.

A less-jostling atmosphere pervades D'Arcy's interview with Lucy Hawking, daughter of the late physicist Stephen Hawking. Allowed more time on the ball, as it were, the presenter turns what could be a fairly generic discussion about the celebrity scientist's work and impact into something more thoughtful. Hawking indulges her host when he clunkily asks if she only knew her father "in a wheelchair". She recounts that he said he felt quite lonely, because his intellect, fame and trademark speech machine made people feel awkward. "Isn't that sad?" D'Arcy muses.

Amid such platitudes, the exchange toggles between the literally universal – “There’s no point in asking what happened before the big bang, as time didn’t exist,” Hawking says – and the almost unbearably personal, with D’Arcy gently inquiring about Lucy’s last conversation with her father. D’Arcy’s phrasing can jar – “Was he a bit of a lunatic in the wheelchair?” he asks – but overall, it’s a stimulating interview, by turns informative, philosophical and revealing, as much about the late scientist as his appealingly open and articulate daughter. D’Arcy’s repartee may not be as sharp as some of his guests, but it doesn’t matter at times like this.

On Wednesday, The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays) carries an item with a bit too much bite for comfort as Henry McKean reports on rat infestations in some Dublin City Council apartment complexes. Prefacing the report with a burst of Rat Trap by The Boomtown Rats, Kenny bafflingly recounts the song's chart history before getting to the subject at hand – and quite the skin-crawling subject it is too.

McKean hears south inner city Dublin resident Courtney tell of rats gnawing their way through pipes to emerge in her neighbours' flats, while pest controller John recounts seeing a rodent make off with – sorry about this – a kitten. But it's not an exercise in gratuitous shock. McKean explores the factors behind the surge in the rat population, from increased construction work to more prosaic causes like apartment block bins lacking covers. Still, the lasting impression is one of repulsion. By the time McKean is heard braving a rat-infested garage, seasonal horror movies like Halloween seem like sweet relief.

Roll on the Christmas panto season.

Radio Moment of the Week: Van’s astral year

The Documentary on One: The Summer of Astral Weeks (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday) reunites those involved in the recording of Van Morrison's classic album from 1968, with one notable absence: Morrison himself. Far from hampering Alan Torney and Tim Desmond's documentary, this allows the other parties to reminisce freely, unhindered by Van's presence. Over narration from actor Richard Dormer, musicians, friends and Morrison's ex-wife Janet tell the twisty story of how a penniless Van dealt with Boston students, New York mobsters and bemused jazz players to produce his visionary work. It's an absorbing listen, even for non-fans. Still, when Janet describes the gloweringly mercurial – grumpy, if you prefer – Morrison as a "gorgeous man", one has to pinch oneself.