Vincent Browne is retiring from TV3: we will never see his like again
Vincent Browne's panels became a sort of provisional government and each episode a purge
Vincent Browne, the delightfully erratic news fraggle who secretly runs Ireland, is retiring from his show on TV3. This makes us sad. It is the end of an era.
It’s probably hard for youngsters who have only known life in the current glorious housing bubble (what a time to be alive!) to understand what he meant to us in the olden days, the primordial times before the bubbling, when things were crap.
Let me take you back: It was 2007, everyone was listening to the sweet sounds of Bubba Sparxxx and Chamillionaire and Ireland was descending into a catastrophic recession.
Browne had formerly run a sort of paper-website called Village and worked for an outfit known as RTÉ (ask your parents) which produced news reels and talkies and pension plans. There was a wild look in his eye and he oft wore a sideways smirk on his downcast face, as if to acknowledge the absurd nature of existence like a sad clown.
With each appearance, the state of the country seemed to be reflected in the state of his hair (flattened and subdued or wild and in flux or “Oh God, that’s upsetting, what’s going on there?”). He had the look of someone who’d taken over the broadcast at the last minute when the real anchors had fled the capital.
But cometh the hour, cometh the delightfully erratic news fraggle, and from that scarlet TV3 set (presumably so coloured to disguise the frequent blood-lettings) he started to impose order on what was an absolute donkey-show of a nation. He did so by knowing lots of stuff and being an absolute news bastard.
For overleveraged owners of real estate in Cape Verde, his panels became a sort of provisional government and each episode a purge. It was deeply cathartic for the nation. We would tune in every evening for a ritualistic hour of hate during which Vin B would torture a junior minister with facts or sacrifice a wayward TD to the God of social democracy, or simply grab a minor spokeswonk by his teeth and give him a shake. “Raar!” he would shout. Or, in moments of reflective calm, “Raaar?”
As an angry mob, we were happy enough. He was Lord Summerisle to our animal-mask wearing pagan cult. “Sumer Is Icumen In!” we’d sing (well my wife and I would sing) and then watch in delight as he waterboarded a blueshirt or made a socialist do a sum or confused a Fianna Fáiler by having a belief system or sighed an independent to death.
He harangued Klaus Masuch from the ECB with questions about the bailout when Masuch first came here to look through our stuff. He stormed the barricaded eviction-resisting mansion Gorse Hill. “Vincent Browne has not been invited in here,” cried the lads from the New Land League, apparently under the reasonable impression that Browne was a vampire. “Come on in lads, this is bank property,” said Browne to the other journalists as he advanced. “Wimps! Wimps!”
He would pester guests with efficiency. “What are you talking about?” “What does that mean?” “Who do you think you are?” “Wheeeeerre is love?” (Wait, is that a song from Oliver!?) After a while the cattle-prod-wielding TV3 handlers gave up trying to control him and we watched him batter dynastic politicians until they could take it no more. “I only did this job to please my da,” they’d cry as Browne sunk his teeth of political knowledge into their fleshy flank of partisan ignorance.
It was really only a matter of time before we tuned in to find Vin B wearing a skull mask, a cloak woven from the skins of his enemies and a staff topped off with a bit of Newgrange. Sadly, this happened just the once.
He wasn’t nasty to everyone. Occasionally, TV3 did mad things like make him interview Jedward. Those plucky troll dolls charmed the beastly Browne with their hijinks and by taking a thorn from his paw, and Vin B chuckled contentedly.
Browne also smiled fondly at those other blessed children, the social-media enabled younger journalists, who came on to channel the messages of what he called the “tweet machine”, a smoky steampunk contraption that spat out tweets on punched tape. Vin B was always ready to indulge the high-falutin’ notions that often come from that well-known eejit, “the common man”.
Browne likes the common man, and in the run-up to the last election, he hosted Daniel O’Connell-style monster meetings (The People’s Debate) around the countryside (or “The Outlands” as we in the Dublin media call it) and it was genuinely great. Tonight with Vincent Browne gave a voice to activists and working-class people and feminists who didn’t usually get on such panels.
I knew it couldn’t last forever, that this majestic beast was not born for captivity and yearned for something beyond his crimson lair of pain. I didn’t know what the specific trigger would be, but I knew that if Vin B, for example, achieved a socialist paradise/found the Jade Monkey/experienced a moment of perfect happiness, it would all come to an end.
Last week, he announced that he will retire at the end of July. Until then, his show sees him dealing with the issues of the day while waxing nostalgic. This is a bit like watching a savage puma attack in which the savage puma sporadically gets a faraway look in his eye and puts his arm around his stunned and bloody prey (last night: Conor Lenihan) to recall savage puma attacks of yore. It’s quite endearing.
At the end of the month, he will retreat to his home beneath the desk in the TV3 studio or to Valhalla (Dún Laoghaire) or to Jedward’s cave deep in the forest (these are just guesses; I have no idea where he lives) to allow public life to go to the dogs without him.
Unfortunately, like all benign autocrats, Vin B never sorted out the issue of succession. Who could replace him? They’d need to be a passionate curmudgeon with real values, not a cynical contrarian, which is the current fashion for broadcast journalists. They’d need to be properly left wing and feminist to balance the wider biases in Irish media. They’d need to be fearless and not just loud-mouthed. And they would have to be called Vincent Browne, because the show is called Tonight with Vincent Browne and the stationary has been paid for.
One way or another, TV3, and probably the nation, will collapse into anarchy when he’s gone, which is perhaps no more than we deserve. We’ll miss you, Vin B.