How Irish broadcasters found their true voices on the Beeb
WHEN ink touched paper on the Good Friday agreement in 1998 the lives of millions were irreversibly enhanced. Peace benefited all and the breakthrough enabled those on these islands to live in safer communities.
Amongst the unlikely indirect beneficiaries were Irish broadcasters who wanted to ply their trade on British soil.
Where once Irish accents in London were regarded as disconcerting, they've now became commonplace on the airwaves.
There were of course some who succeeded during the troubles, most notably Eamonn Andrews and more recently Terry Wogan.
Mr Andrews, the amateur boxer turned housewives' favourite, will be best remembered for his antics with the 'This Is Your Life' red book in a glittering career which spanned four decades; while Limerick man Terry Wogan has become a national treasure in his adopted country being appointed Knight Commander of the British Empire in 2005.
But this week Mr Wogan admitted life as an Irish broadcaster in England during the troubles was at times difficult. Speaking on Radio 4's 'Desert Island Discs', the 73-year-old revealed he was once sent a parcel bomb at the BBC.
While stating he "never apologised" for his nationality he admitted: "It was very difficult, I was very conscious, for instance, you'd come up with a cheery morning (Irish) voice after some horrific bomb incident."
But peace brought opportunities and today Irish accents are almost unavoidable when you switch on any British television or radio station.
The latest Irish name to make a name for himself on 'the Beeb' is 'Late Late Show' host Ryan Tubridy. Admired from a distance by those in the BBC hierarchy, the Dubliner filled in for Graham Norton on BBC Radio 2 on Saturday mornings for eight weeks during the summer and was back again over Christmas replacing Ken Bruce.
Mr Tubridy believes broadcasters such as Mr Wogan were crucial to showing Ireland in a positive light in darker days.
"The likes of Terry blazed a trail for people like me. In difficult times he, Eamonn Andrews, and for a brief period Gay Byrne, were the acceptable face of Irishmen abroad. They humanised the Irish character and in years to come we'll probably look back on them as unintentional cultural ambassadors," he said.
Mr Tubridy had special praise for comedian Dara O Briain, saying the Bray broadcaster has managed to maintain his culture while building a career in the UK. "Dara seems to have managed the inter-cultural see-saw exquisitely," he observed.
THE presenter and author said Irish broadcasters were successful in the UK because occasionally they brought a slightly different perspective to everyday British life. "I think we might look at things from a fresh angle and see something new in something commonplace. It's great for me to be able to dip in and dip out, but obviously I have enormous commitments in Ireland but have learned a lot from the experience of presenting with the BBC," he said.
Other Irish names to have risen to the top of their industry in British media circles include the BBC's special correspondent Fergal Keane, their Middle East Correspondent Orla Guerin and the corporation's business correspondent Joe Lynam. In the sporting sphere the likes of presenter Craig Doyle and Radio 5 live football commentator Conor McNamara have also established themselves as pillars of the media world in the UK.
Mr Lynam admits the Irish accent can be an asset: "Successive studies have shown that people have preordained ideas when they hear an accent. Brummies are prejudiciously perceived as stupid, Liverpudlians as untrustworthy and people from Edinburgh as serious and prudent. The Irish accent is usually perceived as warm and friendly with an unthreatening demeanour."
But he admits the actions of a Republican splinter group in February 2001 made him worry about his professional future.
He said: "I remember a week after I was offered a job in the BBC, the Real IRA thought it a good idea to detonate a bomb right outside the front door of TV Centre where I was set to start work a month later. I was almost convinced my job offer would be revoked!"