Monday 15 October 2018

'So off you go young Tubs... be light-hearted and rejoice, and when all is said and done, remember: it's just a goddam television show'

YOU'D think it was nuclear fission everyone is talking about, or a cure for cancer, but it's not: it's just a TV talk show, and there's dozens of them about the place, so I wish people would cop themselves on. None the less, for a (nearly) 47-year-old television show which is supposed to be dead on its feet, amazing how it captures the public imagination, isn't it? And there's young Tubridy (at my age, I'm entitled to refer to anyone as young) about to embark on a new, exciting, exhilarating adventure which will make him the talk of the town for weeks, until it all settles down.

I said several times last week that he generates vague memories of myself at that age, although he's a damn sight faster, sharper and on the ball than I ever was. But it's not going to be easy: the competition is ferocious and getting worse, and it's harder now than ever before to capture your audience and hold on to it. But all this labelling and categorisation of what sort of show it will be under his hand is depressing. Will it be a Parkinson show or a Jonathan Ross, a Jay Leno or a Marian Finucane, a jolly-jolly or a serious discussion? May I make a simple point? The Late Late Show is just a title, right? It comes up on screen at the start of the show and at the end. What's important is the two hours in between. And that was always what I and my team deemed it to be in any one week. And the same for Pat. You start with a blank canvas and you paint what the hell you like, which often comes down to what the hell is available. And the test question has always been: will this grab them and hold them, and for how long, d'you think?

And always -- always -- there is room for the occasional self-indulgence of doing a show which you know is going to lose them, but which is none the less sufficiently important and of such significance that you cannot bear not to do it. In the early years, we had the youthful arrogance of doing a special each year which we called The State of the Nation. Can you imagine? But we also did two-hour specials on a whole range of topics which, on paper, were heroic losers of shows, but you know what? So often, they turned out to be outstanding winners with our viewers and we were happy we'd done them. Not too many, mind you, and you had to be sharpish about bouncing back the following week, but dammit, it was worthwhile when it worked. And that comes down to nothing more than instinct and feel. You either got it or you ain't. I think he has it.

So, off you go, young Tubs: get yourself a good producer who's a grafter and a forager, and who is trustworthy. After that, it's research and ideas. And then more research and ideas. And enjoy and be happy: this is what you wanted to do and this is what all the early hard work was in aid of; be light-hearted and rejoice, and when all is said and done, remember: it's just a goddamn television show -- there'll be another one around tomorrow. Break a leg.

* * *

According to Marie, overheard from Seamus Heaney's postman, struggling to the door with yet another mighty pile of greetings and parcels from all over the world: "These oul' birthday celebrations are draggin' on a bit, aren't they?"

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HADN'T been to Rome for 30 years, so we made a run for it. If you're thinking of going, here's a few useless pointers: anyone who's ever been to Egypt will tell you that you must take pains to avoid suffering from the NAFT Syndrome -- Not Another F****ng Temple. You've got a similar problem in Rome. Egyptians do temples, Romans do basilicas. Romans have basilicas like other people have dandruff, they're down every street and round every corner, and each one is more awesome and astonishing than the next. Just when you're getting over the jaw-dropping wonder of St Peter's, you encounter St John Lateran; you cross a piazza and pass a door which looks like the entrance to a lock-up garage until you get inside and realise it's an Augustinian Church with two Caravaggios which are so stunningly beautiful you want to spend the rest of the day in there. That's Rome. Pretty quickly, you get basilica-ed out.

The traffic in Rome makes O'Connell Street look like a kindergarten: on average, in Dublin, you hear the sound of an ambulance about every two hours: in Rome, it's every 10 minutes, and my guess is that they're going somewhere to pick up someone off a road. The Smart car is everywhere: it's tiny, neat, and parkable almost anywhere, and in a city of monumental congestion, it seems like it's taking over the world.

Rome is expensive -- almost as pricey as Dublin, if you could imagine such a thing. The closer you get to a favourite tourist attraction -- the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Colosseum -- the more the prices soar, and if you want a cup of coffee anywhere within an acre of St Peter's Square, you better check the state of your mortgage with the Irish Permanent before you go into the place: €18 for a pot of tea -- and nothing else -- is kinda steep, in my book. No matter how close to the Pope you think you are.

The place is overrun by Japanese, Chinese, Asians in general, and untold numbers of school outings from every part of the world. Everywhere you turn, there are people. Lots and lots of people. And here's the thing: at all of those favourite tourist spots throughout Rome, congested to the point of bursting, I saw nothing of bad behaviour. I saw youthful exuberance and happy spirits, but nothing even approaching disorderly conduct. And the reason? A police presence. Just that. Always, everywhere, there were at least two cops, and either a car or a motorbike; and they were just standing, chatting, loitering, keeping an eye. And it was sufficient to keep everything nice and easy.

At the Trevi Fountain you're not allowed to clamber on the actual rocks, mainly because idiots who do so have a tricky habit of falling off and drowning themselves, which spoils the look of the thing. The day we were there, three people tried said climb to get a photo. Instantly, there was the sound of a police whistle. Funny thing about a police whistle -- the second you hear it, you turn in its direction, and the clamouring mass of visitors did so. The cop was up at the back of the square, but all he had to do was point at the culprits and indicate to them to vacate the spot. It was no more than a disdainful flick of his wrist but they got the message and were gone. No argument. But nice and quiet and friendly, and nobody got too upset.

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Back from the glories of Rome, there I am walking on the quays abeam of O2. And a guy in a car shouts at me to know the way to the zoo. I cannot tell from his accent whether he's from Kerry or Latvia, and I try to help him. But I spent the rest of the week trying to figure out how a guy on his way to the zoo in the Phoenix Park ends up outside the O2 heading east. Must be something to do with our glorious system of signposting, based on The Corpo's motto: tell them nothing, and if possible, try to confuse them.

* * *

Coming away from Karl Mullen's funeral, precisely one year to the day after that of his beloved Doreen, the thought is that so many people leave a legacy of negativity, regret, bad feeling or downright rancour, whereas whenever I, and countless others, think of Karl and Doreen our thoughts will be of laughter, gaiety, music, song, fun and daft good humour. Karl delivered our Crona and Suzy into the world -- as his daughter Mary said, he delivered enough babies to fill Lansdowne Road -- and that is where our friendship started. We had some great parties in their house, as they had in ours, and not a word about rugby. That we should all leave such memories behind us.

* * *

A Traveller from afar told me there is a huge notice in Beijing Airport which says: "Anything which is not permitted is prohibited". Go figure.

* * *

I heard this one only yesterday: a couple were having marriage trouble because their sex life was almost non- existent. They just had to do something about it.

She volunteered to go to the library to read up about the entire subject. She came back to report that she'd found the solution -- the Missionary position. "What does that mean?" asked the excited hubby. "That means," said his missus, "that I lie flat on my back and you f**** off to Africa!"

Now that's funny.

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