Monday 17 June 2019

The Log

A VIEW FROM THE HOWTH HEAD. GAY BYRNE 'Leno oohed and ahhhed and swore that he would die a happy man if only he had a Triumph Bonneville in his collection'

MONDAY

Today in Dublin I saw three huge poster ads for a Triumph Bonneville motorcycle. I cannot recall ever seeing a poster ad for a motorbike in Ireland before. This particular bike is a recreation of a model from the 1960s. Actually, by today's standards, it was a pretty lousy bike: it crunched and banged, made a lot of unnecessary noise, and it leaked oil like the Exxon Valdez. But at the time it was class, and I and my pals would have sold our souls to own one.

But seeing the ads reminded me of Jay Leno of The Tonight Show. He is a veteran and vintage car collector and an antique motorbike nut. I am told he has a shed the size of a 747 hangar filled with the things, and is never happier than in his overalls, lying under them with a torque-wrench and a spanner. That kind of nut. Anyway, when Jay was a front-runner to take over from Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show for NBC, the chaps over at CBS wondered if they might get in first and lure him over to their camp. They realised that the news of such a thing would be so amazing, the money involved so dizzying and the repercussions on the American television world so stunning, that any even tentative approach would have to be extremely discreet in order to outfox the rumour machine and NBC.

A CBS vice-president (there's a dozen of them) saw for sale in a motorbike shop in Burbank a restored Triumph Bonneville for $15,000. He bought it and rode it, himself, to Jay's house (we're all obviously bikers together in this story). He showed it to Jay, who oohed and ahhhed and swore that he would die a happy man if only he had such a bike in his collection I mean, a real, original, British-made Triumph Bonneville, circa 1965. What could any man want in life more than this? Hell, Steve McQueen owned and rode one of these things in 1960! The VP presented the bike to Jay, showing him the discreet brass plate under the saddle which said simply: "From your friends at CBS". Jay fell to his knees in gratitude and was seen to weep like a tiny baby. (Actually, that last bit is not true I just made it up for dramatic effect. But Jay was awfully impressed.) Now, the purpose of this entire stunt was to ensure that the following week, when the president of CBS called Jay to invite him to lunch, to perhaps mention the possibility of a move, Jay would deign to take the call "from his friends at CBS" Jaze, how could he not? and talk to the man. The call was made and the talk started. It was a long, kick-down, drag-out courtship which eventually didn't work; the marriage never happened. Jay stayed with NBC and The Tonight Show, for so much money it makes JP McManus look destitute. And he kept the bike as well. And CBS got David Letterman, for so much money its make Jay Leno look destitute. If anyone wants to open negotiations with me, forget about the motorbike, I already have one. Just make the call my door is always open. Why can't RTE ever do business like CBS?

TUESDAY

Glenn Meade's book The Resurrection Day was in the final six of the Sunday Indo Irish Novel of the Year competition in December, for which I was a judge. He didn't win John McGahern did but he deserves a medal for his prophetic powers. Bearing in mind the ricin poisonous gas find in London, consider the plot of Glenn Meade's book: our dear friend Osama, represented by one of his murderous sub-gangs, has parked a van in a lock-up garage in a Washington DC back street. The van contains a huge tank of poisonous gas, so toxic it makes ricin look like a jar of Vaseline. One droplet, no bigger than a tenth the size of a pinhead, of this stuff, if inhaled, will kill in five seconds. The van is wired to explode by remote control and kill every man, woman and child in Washington. The president is given five days to comply with a list of impossible demands, or else. The yarn and it's 750 pages long is about the race to trace the van and the gas before the five days run out.

It's a plot which a year ago might have sounded fanciful in the extreme; as I said at the prize-giving, now it's not only not fanciful, it's only a matter of time before it becomes a reality.

Glenn Meade lives in Dublin and his day job used to be training pilots on a 737 simulator at Dublin Airport: he gave me a jaunt on one a couple of years ago for a gag on The Late Late Show. I crashed. This is not a book of deathless prose gems: it's written rather more like a journalist fighting a deadline. Think of Freddie Forsyth and sorry about this Jeffrey Archer. What is important is that it's a rattling good yarn. Three-quarters way through writing the book, September 11 happened and instantly, all those nice people in America who'd been helping Glenn with details of guns and explosives and timing devices and other little tricky bits went silent on him and refused to talk further or even take his calls. I guess you could say that's understandable. If it's a good long holiday read you're after, this is the one.

WEDNESDAY

About two years ago, Kathleen met a man from the area in the one way you would not choose to meet a neighbour: she was in her car turning on to the harbour front and he rammed her up her rear end. It was one of those amicable bangs and she agreed to have the damage repaired and send him the bill. She did nothing about it first, because the damage was slight, and second, because she was trading the car in for another one shortly after. The man must have realised this Christmas that nothing was going to happen, and he sent her a beautiful Christmas blessing, in his own fair hand and in impeccable Irish. She was talking about it today, and said it was one of the nicest things to arrive in the house this Christmas. She reminded me that the last time such a blessing came to us, again in the writer's own fair hand and in impeccable Irish, it was from Master Brian McMahon of Listowel some years back when I was sick.

It does all help to oil the little wheels, doesn't it?

THURSDAY

We were not invited to the Irish premiere of Gangs of New York. Everybody else in the world was. When I was a major star of stage, screen and radio-cabs, we were invited to every such bunfest under the sun. For the most part, I regarded them as rather irksome additions to an already overcrowded schedule. Now I have all the time in the world, and we get invited nowhere. How quickly they forget. Anyway, herself and meself took ourselves to the Santry Omniplex to see the movie for ourselves. On the way out, we heard a woman behind us say to her partner: "What a terribly violent and depressing movie what on earth was it all about?" A bit harsh, I thought, although I suspect it echoes the thought of my own dear wife. It's when she says little or nothing you get the message.

It is a magnificent movie in so many respects; and if, as they all say, Daniel Day-Lewis deserves an Oscar for it, then so, in my book, does DiCaprio. He's a smashing little actor. But, all in all, I would have to say I have seen a good number of far more satisfying movies. Mind you, I wouldn't say that if I'd been invited to the premiere. Talking of overheard-at-shows: Moya Doherty, at Riverdance in New York, heard a woman behind her say to her partner: "Say, honey all those kids up there on stage dancing are they all Irish?" The man said: "I dunno I heard the English killed all the Irish."

Again, a bit harsh, perhaps.

FRIDAY

To Belfast with Kathleen and Crona, to receive my Lifetime Achievement Award from the Irish Film and Television Academy, in the superbly magnificent surroundings of the Waterfront. There were 20 other awards given by our peers in the business, in all the usual best actor, actress, documentary, sound, animation and so on, with four or five nominations in each category, underlining the ferocious competition there is out there for quality TV programmes, as well as the astonishing array of talent which has blossomed over the years. Modesty forbids me to tell you what nice things they said about me in the citation, and depression forbids me to tell you of the ineptness of my acceptance reply; but since they made it clear that this particular award had never been made before, would not be an annual occurrence, and would be made again only if and when the academy members deemed it appropriate, it is a very special and unique award indeed. And I tried to tell them how grateful I was for the recognition. All in all, a beautiful and very special day, full of laughter and good fun, and a chance to meet many old mates and colleagues whom I haven't seen in an age.

That was the happy and satisfying end to my happy week how was yours?

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