YOU MAY HAVE missed last night’s celebration of the Late Late Show’s 50th birthday – and if so, you may have been pleasantly surprised to hear that the show was a little bit like the days of old.
Running slightly over its allotted schedule, it was back to the good old days: where nobody knew what guests would be on, or what they’d be talking about.
So lest you be caught out in the pub tonight – and if you don’t have the 135 minutes to watch it on the RTÉ Player – here is your cheater’s guide to what happened:
- The show opens with an opening montage of the title sequences used throughout the 50 years, as the RTÉ Concert Orchestra (conducted by Brian Byrne) joins the house band to play the theme tune. The opening musical act is Horslips, who perform ‘Dearg Doom’ in a special arrangement which also includes brass and strings from the orchestra, again arranged by Byrne.
- After a quick video montage of some of the show’s most memorable moments in its opening 37 years (Pee Flynn, Terry Keane, Annie Murphy, Bono handing over the Harley, etc), Gay Byrne arrives to the pre-1999 arrangement of the theme tune, and to an automatic standing ovation – which he says was an honour previously only ever enjoyed by Mo Mowlam. He discusses particularly memorable moments – specifically the Pee Flynn encounter, the Terry Keane interview (which many viewers simply didn’t believe), and the night where the winner of a postal quiz had been mourning the previous day’s death of her 33-year-old daughter.
- Gaybo’s interview is interspersed with cuts to the audience: there’s a quick pop up to the audience and to Brendan Balfe, who discusses how he ended up in the audience for the very first show. He and Gay recall the panel of the night: model Verona Mullen, comedian Danny Cummins, and Prof Liam Ó Briaín. Music on the night was from the Noel Kelehan trio, Balfe reckons.
- The show’s former musical director Frank McNamara (and wife, Theresa ‘Where In The World’ Lowe) is also present, recalling a night he worked with Boney M on the show, who on their first visit demanded that white limousines be imported to bring them to Montrose. The second time, they shared a Toyota Hi-ace van.
- Keith Duffy is also present, recalling simply the notoriety that followed that original Boyzone appearance.
- There’s then a video montage of the Pat Kenny era (Nell McCafferty’s nude portrait, Eoghan Harris’s pro-Bertie rant, Joe O’Reilly, the destruction of those Toy Show tickets) before the man himself emerges. “It’s a strange, strange feeling,” he says, being on the guest’s side of the desk and not the presenter’s. Speaking about his own memorable moments, he discusses meeting Joe O’Reilly – whose wife Rachel had been murdered only weeks earlier. O’Reilly left very quickly afterwards, he says, and had been “ostentatiously taking some pills” in advance of the show. There’s also a quick recall of Gerry Ryan’s single night in the hot seat – what Kenny thinks of as the silver lining to his mother’s passing, which kept him from the presenter’s chair for the only time in his ten-year tenure.
- Up in the audience, there’s Eddie Hobbs, who pays tribute to the people behind the scenes and relax guests – like the rest of Rachel O’Reilly’s family – at such ease that it doesn’t matter that they’re addressing so many people.
- Sharon Corr, asked about her Late Late memories, recalls a “very powerful” tribute show to the Omagh victims in 1998, which was a “a lovely way to unite the whole country”. Gaybo recalls that night particularly well, and the anger shown by Bob Geldof that night when he dissented from the room and said he had no reason to look to forgive the perpetrators.
- Barry McGuigan – whose father was also on the show, as Ireland’s Eurovision entrant in the 1960s – says the show is “part of all of our lives”; Stephen Roche says the Late Late was great for him, particularly because it allowed him to put to rest the suspicion that Charlie Haughey had won the Tour de France.
- In a piece focussing on the Late Late’s best comedy moments (John Cleese and D’Unbelievables among them), the second panel features Pat Shortt, Adele ‘Twink’ King and Patrick Kielty discussing their memories of the show and its role in their careers. Kielty recalls having to dig out ‘the RTÉ aerial’ to pick up the signal in Down, which regularly cut across the British Army radio signal. King mentions her history on the show before her solo career – appearing in its very first series, with the Young Dublin Singers – while Shortt ably summates the show’s unique ability to create instant fame for comics (even if they have to follow a nun talking about the plight of African famine victims).
- King interrupts and, to be charitable, goes off on one – referring to old audiences as a “stiff shower of hoors” who are notoriously difficult to crack. At great – perhaps excessive – length she recalls one panto sketch which worked brilliantly on stage, but only prompted a laugh on the Late Late when the floor manager fell over. She later mentions her former husband David Agnew, who’s playing with the concert orchestra – a “magnificent musician”, she says, but “a little bollix of a husband”.
- The panel discussion is interrupted by a moment which may rank with the single clinical moments of supreme Irishness in TV history: Dustin the Turkey pops up to abuse Twink and “the BBC’s Ryan Tubridy”, while perched between Mary and Dervla from Crystal Swing.
- Liam Neeson is introduced by wind of a long-winded jigsaw puzzle; he talks about ironing in his sister’s laundrette, and a “snivelling” letter from Enda Kenny asking him to be an ambassador for The Gathering next year. “I’ve been an ambassador for Ireland since I moved,” Neeson grumps, saying Ireland’s current malaises are “a bit embarrassing”. He’s plugging his new War of the Worlds show, but generally seems a bit off form.
- Tommy Tiernan – one of the few guests who tends to ignite the public, irrespective of the host – brings out four glasses of whiskey from the Cooley Peninsula (apparently unplanned), including ones for Ryan and the returning Pat and Gay. Pat admits to being “terrified” every time Tommy came on the show; while Tommy himself can only barely recall one of his first appearances which brought out protestors so quickly that he couldn’t leave the studios. In the midst of his mania, he comes up with a great point: comedians often fall into the trap, he says, of using their stage material (which people choose to watch) on the Late Late, where they don’t choose the guest.
- Out comes Sinead O’Connor as a musical guest, who delivers a jaw-dropping performance of ‘Nothing Compares To You’ with orchestral backing. Joining the panel afterwards – needing Gay to hold her hand, such is the sense of occasion – she talks about the days when the switchboard would be “jammed” as soon as anyone made a controversial remark. Such is Sinead’s ability to silence a crowd, Pat remarks, that even in her recent appearance on The Frontline – singing a lament to emigration – she didn’t feel out of place.
- Back to the audience: Terry Prone recalls not feeling impressed at her first appearance as a panellist (her house didn’t have a TV so she missed the gravitas) – only then to learn that she was being quoted from pulpits in churches around Ireland the following morning.
- Then follows the best moment of the night: Nell McCafferty is asked about the role the Late Late had in the women’s movement. She stops silently for a few seconds, before: “May I say, I’m sitting here, two arms the one length; the four of you sitting down there, drinking whiskey – none of you asking if I have a mouth on me.” Gaybo and Pat, immediately, race up to hand over their own drinks. Later she talks about Tubs’ remarks about potentially shortening the show, saying it would be a disservice: the Irish public are well prepared to continue talking to amuse themselves, she correctly points out.
- Fr Brian D’Arcy says the show started the same year that he joined the Passionist order, and it was one of the few influences from the outside world that he and his student colleagues were desperate to fit into their sacred lives. Pat says the night that D’Arcy publicly dissented with a cardinal on the show was one of the greatest televised acts of courage he can recall. D’Arcy later reveals that he’s not taking his recent censure too seriously, and won’t be bowed by people vetting his Sunday World columns.
- Mary Kenny says appearing on the Late Late to contribute to the national conversation was often a “terrible ordeal”, like going to the dentist – a necessary but terrible ordeal. Gaybo remarks that it was often unsettling for women themselves to see women discussing women’s issues on the show; Kenny believes it may also have been as much to do with the clash of ages that the show provided. Nell remarks that the Late Late was a forum that brought such prominence to some matters that over 2,000 people showed up to the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement’s first meeting in Dublin.
- John Waters, who was alongside Eoghan Harris during his Bertie remarks, points out that he was also wearing wellies in the background of Boyzone’s first appearance. He says one night, 25 years ago, he was doing a soapbox piece about writing off the national debt…
- Daniel O’Donnell – the only man to have been interviewed by four hosts, including Gerry Ryan – says the show is a wonderful platform for breaking new young musical talent. “You can be sure that if the piece that’s on now isn’t to your liking, the next piece probably will be,” he nearly summarises. Nell wonders if she’s the only person in the audience to have seen Daniel O’Donnell in his underwear; Daniel quips that she appeared not to have been too impressed.
- The inspirational Joanne O’Riordan also talks about how her life changed within weeks of her appearance on the show last December – culminating in her recent appearance before the UN.
- One ‘civilian’ guest in the audience is also celebrating her 50th birthday, and is gifted a flatscreen TV for her troubles. Gaybo wonders if there’s one for everybody in the audience, leading Ryan to console the audience at least with a Newbridge Silver pen each.
- Westlife and Bob Geldof have done quick video pieces; the former discussing Mark’s nervous nosebleed before his first appearance, the latter saying it was regularly the only forum for social dialogue. Brendan O’Carroll (in character as Mrs Brown) is also there, brought to tears by Gaybo (who is still alive), while Michael Parkinson reckons Gaybo will be hosting the show in 50 years’ time.
- Another musical performance from (a heavily pregnant) Imelda May, singing ‘Inside Out’ (again with Brian Byrne and the orchestra). She mentions her nerves at her first Late Late appearance with Pat Kenny, and how it became a Communion-like occasion with the family sharing in the occasion and taking photos.
- It’s two hours in, and it’s time for Bono, who brings out some flowers for a seriously starstruck Imelda – “part Billie Holliday, part Buddy Holly”, he says. Gaybo honestly couldn’t remember how he felt about U2’s debut performance, though he is in agreement with Bono that the four were “only children” when they started. Bono says although he’s been on the show plenty of times, he’s erased them from his mind “because of the mullet”.
- Pat Kenny hits the nail on the head in the wrap-up conversation: the show has always been about producing ‘water-cooler moments’ that people talk about afterward. “If you want to find out what’s going to happen in Coronation Street next week, you can Google it. News, sport and the Late Late Show are the only things that are live.” Quoth Gaybo: “There is nothing like it anywhere in the world,” telling Ryan: “Long may you reign, and long may it continue.”
- The night ends with Dickie Rock performing ‘To Whom It Concerns’ with the orchestra as the confetti falls.
All screen grabs above from the RTÉ Player.