Sunday 8 December 2019

Magnolia 'messiah' pledges to do better

As anticipated, Ryan Tubridy exploded on to British airwaves with a whimper Eilis O'Hanlon

Ireland has always exported its problems to England. Sadly, nothing much seems to have changed in that respect. If anything, it's got worse -- for the Brits, at least -- with the arrival on their airwaves of one Ryan Tubridy.

That's Tubridy as in Tub (to rhyme with "pub")-riddy, by the way, not "Tube-riddy", as he patronisingly pointed out to his new listeners on the first instalment of his summer guest slot on BBC Radio Two. You'd think the British ear was totally unable to comprehend any name more mysterious than Smith or Jones. If his name was Micheal O Muircheartaigh, you could understand a gentle pointer in the direction of correct enunciation. But Tubridy? That's as plainly phonetic a name as you'll ever come across, and hardly problematic for a country of 60 million people, not all of whom are as Anglo-Saxon as woad in this multicultural age; but Ryan still felt the need to read out an email from the BBC's in-house pronunciation linguist making everything clear.

"They have this same problem in Ireland," he even reassured listeners.

Really? There are Irish people still ignorant of the correct way to say the boy Ryan's name, despite the fact RTE has been pushing him on to us like a drug dealer peddling a particularly inoffensive brand of crack since he was practically out of his stroller? Where have these people been living -- under a rock?

Of course, to call Ryan Tubridy a "problem" is being a little unkind. He's mainly a problem to RTE which, for all its faith in him as the Messiah of Irish broadcasting, still hasn't quite settled what to do with him. One moment he was supposed to be the next Pat Kenny; then the next Gerry Ryan; meanwhile, we were all supposed to fall for the myth that he was channelling Gay Byrne's mojo, even as he made such a hash of the Late, Late Show that some viewers started to think of the Kenny years as a veritable Golden Age by comparison. The latest Joint National Listenership Research figures showing that he has lost a third of Gerry Ryan's listeners since taking over the late 2FM legend's morning slot last September, the biggest drop of any show on Irish radio, is startling proof of that. Far from being annoyed at Tubridy for trying out the BBC's lifeboat for eight weeks whilst on sabbatical from Donnybrook, RTE might well be considering it an opportunity for someone else to take him in hand and lick him into shape, like a young man on national service, before coming home leaner and fitter.

If so, it may be disappointed. Tubridy himself admitted in interviews before heading to London that he doesn't really have a distinctive broadcasting personality to stamp on his many vehicles, unless "unthreatening and affable" counts as a distinguishing trait. His first show last weekend proved that practically from the off. It was very much a Tubridy show; the drawback is that true Tubridy doesn't have much flavour.

That's what all the great Irish broadcasters who made it big across the water had going for them. They were entirely themselves, but what they were was distinctive enough to be immediately graspable. From Eamonn Andrews to Terry Wogan to Graham Norton (into whose shoes Tubridy is temporarily stepping) to the great Gaybo himself, to hear them once was to know them -- or at least the audience thought they did, which was an achievement in itself.

Interestingly, the Irish personalities who do best overseas are those who, though Irish to the core, don't appear to be that hung up on their own Irishness -- and who, not unconnectedly, often exasperate a certain sort of uptight uber-Irish person for not being "Irish enough". Wogan was effortlessly urbane in a way that connected immediately with people at home and in the Home Counties alike; Byrne would have fitted in seamlessly anywhere he went, from London to LA; Graham Norton is, well, Graham Norton. If he ever gives the fact that he is Irish a second thought, he certainly wouldn't give it a third. He is what he is. Gerry Ryan would have been huge had he ever made the switch to the UK because, though Dublin to the core, his too was an open, down-to- earth personality type which transcends differences.

Ryan Tubridy, by contrast, is very self-consciously Irish. He's also a very particular sort of Irish person with whom British audiences are much less familiar. Tubridy is an Irish Times Irishman, a Dublin 4 Irishman, patrician from the top of his carefully snipped haircut to the bottom of his shiny shoes. Tubridy would never just wing it and see what happens. He'll research it first like a civil servant and then provide whatever it is he thinks the audience is expecting. With footnotes, if necessary. Cross-referenced. In alphabetical order.

His first show was such textbook BBC Radio Two that it might have been a parody. It's not so much that there was nothing here to frighten the horses, but that there was nothing to raise an eyebrow on a sleepy donkey. That was the Beatles, and now here's the weather, and join me after the break when I'll be asking Andrea Corr about her new album. Oh, and did I mention the time I met President Obama and the Queen? Tubridy actually promised to play a James Bond theme each week. There's a man who's not afraid to embrace his inner Alan Partridge . . .

Ryan Tubridy has never portrayed himself as the future of broadcasting. It's other people who've done that. Indeed, his own assessment of his first show was that he "must do better and will do better". Bragging is so not Radio Two, after all. But it's hard to know exactly what he intends to do differently, since he's not exactly what you'd call versatile. He comes in only one colour -- and that's magnolia. It's never going to offend anyone's sensibilities, but they're not going to get excited about it either.

Ironically, in the same week that Tubridy was exploding on to the British airwaves with a whimper rather than a bang, Terry Wogan was trending on Twitter following his brilliantly self-deflating appearance as guest host on TV rock quiz Never Mind The Buzzcocks. Sir Terry is 72, proving yet again that youth is neither here nor there. You either have it or you don't, and Wogan has so much of it that he could set up a distribution company leasing it out and still have enough left over for personal use to easily shame all the young poseurs coming up behind. Gay Byrne's cut from the same cloth. It's called class.

As for the final word on the BBC's latest seasonal acquisition, we'll leave that to the Irish blogger who declared: "I really hope they like him so much that they keep him."

Ouch.

Sunday Independent

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