Tuesday 12 November 2019

Pat Kenny: 'He taught me if you're not getting into trouble, you're not doing it right'


Passing the torch: Pat Kenny (left) took over from Gay Byrne on ‘The Late Late Show’, which is now presented by Ryan Tubridy (right). Photo: Barry McCall
Passing the torch: Pat Kenny (left) took over from Gay Byrne on ‘The Late Late Show’, which is now presented by Ryan Tubridy (right). Photo: Barry McCall

Pat Kenny

Gay Byrne was the inventor of modern Irish radio and broadcasting.

He had a voice that my generation of teenagers could identify with. I thought, "yeah, that's the radio I want to listen to". He had this modern, young voice that seemed to be the voice of my generation.

At that time, Raidió Éireann as it was then before it became RTÉ, was very stuffy and very proper and Gay brought an informality to radio that shocked some people and surprised others, but certainly it marked the beginning of a new era.

And then, of course, I got to know him later on as a friend and mentor and one of the greatest honours of my broadcasting life was when I took over from him in 1999.

I had been doing 'Kenny Live' for the previous 11 years when he retired from 'The Late Late Show'.

Taking over from Gay was at once the most exciting and intimidating thing.

I realised that I wouldn't find a place quickly in the affection of 'The Late Late Show' audience.

It took a year or two before they said: "Your man's OK, he can do it."

But there are people who will never have accepted Gay in the same way that there are people who would never accept Ryan (Tubridy).

The thing that saddens me most is that he didn't have more years to enjoy his retirement. The fact that he became ill felt like a betrayal.

He always took great care of himself. He was a great cyclist and a great walker. It just feels so unfair that he has been taken from us.

As a broadcaster, he broke all the taboos.

He was not afraid to tackle issues that were seen to be unpopular, untouchable.

He went against what was perceived to be the establishment consensus on a lot of things, whether he was on the radio talking about birth control or divorce.

He gave a voice to people long before we had 'Liveline' - a voice to people whose views would never be heard ordinarily.

It's a different landscape now. People may sometimes find it hard to grasp that what he did was so courageous, so outspoken.

He kicked constantly against the goad in RTÉ.

He pushed and pushed and pushed to get stuff on air when the more conservative instinct of the management and board would have been against it.

If I had learned anything from Gay it was this - the motto that I had inherited from him is that "if you're not getting into trouble then you're not doing your job right".

The powers-that-be in RTÉ by nature tended to be conservative and would rather not have fuss and bother and politicians on the phone and solicitors' letters being sent in so that was his most important piece of advice to me.

I saw him yesterday at his home in Howth before he passed away. I knew the end was near but not perhaps as imminent as it turned out to be.

He was at home with the girls, with Kay of course and Suzy and Crona and all the children.

He was looking out on Dublin Bay and the Baily Lighthouse and he was very calm.

I was privileged to be allowed by the family to see him and say my goodbyes and I can assure you, he was very much at peace.

I think all of us who knew Gay and worked with Gay and occasionally played with Gay over the years, we all feel quite diminished by his passing.

Irish Independent

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