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Sunday 26 February 2017

Who'll play Gay in 'Late Late' drama?

Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

TO whom it concerns, Gay Byrne will be back on our screens again next year but this time with an actor playing the veteran broadcaster.

The former host of The Late Late Show will be one of the main protagonists in a new RTE drama to mark the upcoming 50th anniversary of the world's longest-running chat show.

And while Gay Byrne insists the plot won't revolve around his own remarkable life, he will certainly be at the heart of the drama as the host who shaped the Late Late into the controversial chat show it became.

"It's not about my life. It's about the early days of The Late Late Show," said Gay Byrne this weekend. "It's the beginnings of the show, how it came about -- that story."

The big question, of course, is who will play Gay Byrne? "Well, the obvious choice would be George Clooney -- and you're not supposed to laugh," he said, before quickly adding: "No, I don't think we've got that far yet."

The brainchild of independent production company, Screenworks, RTE confirmed that the drama is "at development stage". It is understood that RTE hopes to screen the drama next year.

Scriptwriters mining the archives will not be short of material and the broadcaster's legendary clashes with the Catholic Church are expected to loom large.

The iconic chat show was first aired on July 2, 1962 at 11.20pm on the fledgling broadcaster Telefis Eireann. It was intended as a Saturday night summer "filler" modelled on America's The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Under Byrne's guidance, it quickly captured the mood of social change in the 1960s.

Byrne first incurred the wrath of the Catholic hierarchy in 1966 with the infamous 'bishop and the nightie' affair.

He quizzed married couples about how well they knew each other and asked one woman if she remembered what she wore on her wedding night.

She joked that she mightn't have worn any at all, before adding that she wore white.

Byrne was denounced from the pulpit by the then Bishop of Galway for promoting "filth" while the then Bishop of Clonfert sought -- and received -- an apology from the station.

With abortion, contraception and homosexuality among the taboo subjects broached on the show, other clashes followed.

Byrne caused consternation when he interrogated Annie Murphy, the American divorcee who had a son with Bishop Eamon Casey. He refused to shake hands with Gerry Adams when the Sinn Fein leader made his debut appearance on the Late Late.

Byrne presided over the show for 37 years until he retired in 1999.

However, he has been regularly back on the airwaves as the presenter of The Meaning of Life and his Sunday music show on Lyric fm.

Sunday Independent

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