George Hook, bumptious and off-colour, returns to Newstalk

Radio: The retired presenter divides opinion, as always, but his appearance brings a palpable lift to Newstalk Breakfast

Considering they ostensibly work as news presenters, Shane Coleman and Ciara Kelly seem to spend a disproportionate amount of time dealing in grim nostalgia. True, as hosts of Newstalk Breakfast (weekdays), the duo’s brief extends beyond arid coverage of current affairs, with the programme’s format mixing cold hard facts with on-air fizz. Even still, Wednesday’s show is unduly crammed with throwbacks to matters that many of us would prefer to forget, from the impact of Covid and Ireland’s unhappy history with Britain to — trigger alert! — the ruminations of George Hook.

For sure, the pandemic hasn’t lost its ability to exercise emotions, judging by Kelly’s passion on the matter. Discussing the initial results of a review into Ireland’s handling of the Covid crisis, she is adamant that the Government’s lockdown strategy caused much harm even as it saved lives, citing adverse effects such as increased domestic violence and drug abuse. “We threw a lot of a people under the bus to save some people,” she says starkly.

George Hook especially enjoys talking about himself, sometimes in cartoonishly off-colour terms: he recalls ordering an 007-inspired martini while ‘trying to impress a bird’

This is too much for Coleman, assuming his customary role as the show’s Captain Sensible. “That’s the wrong language,” he tut-tuts, cautioning against such retrospective assessments: “Hindsight is 20/20.” But some of Kelly’s concerns (which she voiced at the time) are shared by Prof Sam McConkey, one of the pandemic’s most ubiquitous public-health celebrities. McConkey’s voice has a darkly foreboding Proustian effect. “We could have had more nuanced restrictions,” he now thinks. As the hosts’ strong opinions attest, it’s not exactly a joyful jaunt down memory lane, though it is probably a necessary one.

Kelly’s conversation with the teacher and columnist Jennifer Horgan about Britain’s collective ignorance of Irish affairs is less fraught, though arguably less useful, too. Horgan is doubtless correct that the lack of education about Irish history in British schools translates into a wider blind spot, though Kelly’s thought that Brexit might have happened either way seems equally valid.


George Hook’s Bond credentials are pretty impressive, as he played golf with Sean Connery in the 1970s and fell out with Pierce Brosnan — as always, the retired host divides opinion

Charged as all these topics are, they are as nothing compared to the febrile atmosphere during the show’s discussion of the 60th anniversary of the first James Bond film, Dr No, as the merits of 007 iterations are dissected in exuberantly bumptious fashion by the former Newstalk presenter George Hook. Never lacking in self-confidence, the retired host begins in typically immodest fashion: “You couldn’t have got a better guy.” As it happens, his Bond credentials are pretty impressive, as he played golf with Sean Connery in the 1970s — “I used to be in the catering business for movies” — while also falling out with Pierce Brosnan. (As always, Hook divides opinion.)

He talks about Bond in brashly giddy fashion. But as was the case when hosting his own shows, Hook especially enjoys talking about himself, sometimes in cartoonishly off-colour terms: he recalls ordering an 007-inspired martini while “trying to impress a bird”.

Still, his appearance gives a palpable lift to proceedings. If Coleman and Kelly occasionally sound like they’re indulging a dottily unreconstructed uncle, they also clearly enjoy their guest’s return to the airwaves. For all his foibles, Hook reminds listeners of the outsized persona, sweeping opinions and broad humour that made him an unlikely broadcasting star in the first place. Moreover, the short slot afforded by Coleman and Kelly is the perfect platform for Hook’s style: a full show would surely be too taxing for all involved. There’s only so much nostalgia you can take.

A bygone Ireland of pious Catholicism is evoked on Monday’s Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), with a full show devoted — in every sense — to the miraculous qualities of Padre Pio. As Joe Duffy notes, the late Italian priest and stigmatist is venerated by many Irish Catholics. One caller, Jim, describes how prayers to the saint helped him recover from a near-fatal heart condition. “It’s all about belief,” says Jim, who was in hospital at the time. Similarly, Kay tells Duffy how she clutched a Pio relic while undergoing breast cancer surgery: “He took me through.”

When Kay says she can see a likeness of Padre Pio in her bannister, Joe Duffy gently remarks, ‘It’s unbelievable’

Sceptics may point to the miracles of modern medicine, but Duffy is respectfully attentive throughout. When Kay says she can see a likeness of Padre Pio in her banister, the host gently remarks, “It’s unbelievable.” Similarly, he is sympathetic when 92-year-old Nelly vividly describes seeing a photo of the saint become a blazing image during a prayer meeting in Limerick.

Whatever else, the show underlines the strong undercurrent of faith that exists amid the much-vaunted secularism of the new Ireland. But while religious belief is a powerful personal force and, of course, a fundamental human right, taking such miraculous tales at face value is jarring, particularly when set beside Liveline’s hard-hitting testimony on more tangible experiences, such as institutional abuse. Duffy presides over a broad church.

There’s a wide spectrum to The Irish Soundtrack (RTÉ Radio 1, Sunday), Fiachna Ó Braonáin’s highly enjoyable series on the history of film music in Ireland. Over the four-part series — the final instalment is this weekend — Ó Braonáin covers a gamut of styles, from re-creations of silent-movie accompaniments through rousing Hollywood scores such as The Quiet Man to the evocative musical backdrops of Irish directors such as Neil Jordan and Jim Sheridan.

Though necessarily scattershot at times, the series is carried by strong contributors — the singer Gavin Friday and the actor Aidan Gillen are particularly entertaining — as well as by Ó Braonáin’s reliably engaging presence, musical chops and wry observations. Of Alan Parker’s Dublin soul movie The Commitments, the presenter and Hothouse Flowers guitarist says the film “may or may not have reflected what was going on in Ireland musically at the time — it kind of depended on the band you were in — but it conveyed the passion and talent that exists here”. As does Ó Braonáin’s programme. Sometimes it pays to revisit the past.