Wednesday 17 July 2019

Gay Byrne: 'For years I dreamt I would be the next Pete Murray'

Gay Byrne regrets the loss of small words, celebrates punctuality and his grandson's first big match, and salutes a radio legend and the great Stan Laurel

Gay Byrne. Photo: Kip Carroll
Gay Byrne. Photo: Kip Carroll

Have you noticed what's happened to "start"? No one in radio or TV uses the word any more, or any part of it. Nowadays it's all "commence". And it's the same with "big" - now, everything so described is "large". Now, it seems to me that start, started and starter, and big, bigger and biggest are all easier to say on air than any part of their counterparts. But somebody somewhere got the notion that the big words were posher than the other old reliables and everyone is travelling with the pack.

This is the sort of thing that keeps me awake at night and damn the bit of sympathy do I get from anyone for my trouble. Why do I have to worry about everything on behalf of everyone?

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some weeks ago, Kathleen was travelling to Killaloe to attend the confirmation of our grandchild Katie. She was travelling alone and insisted she go by train. So I dropped her off at Heuston at 10.15am to catch the noon train. Yes, I repeat - 10.15am for the noon train.

Well, you see, it's the broadcasting that did it to her and she cannot be cured now - in fact, I don't think there is a cure. Fifty years of always arriving at a broadcast venue an hour - at least - before start time in case of anything going wrong.

And you would be just amazed at how often things went wrong and took an hour to get right just in time. For myself and my wife, punctuality is in our genomes, or wherever these things lurk. And it's a scourge: to ourselves and our friends and acquaintances, all of whom seem to reckon that if you get to your appointment within, say, half-an-hour, you're on time. And everyone will wait for you.

When Kathleen is bound for the airport, she likes to get there not only the hour before the flight, but the hour before the hour, and, if possible, the hour before that, too. If she had her way, I think she'd rather be at the airport at midnight for a 9am flight.

Anyway, back to Kathleen at the station. 10.15am. And she realised that there was an 11am train, so she got on that. Lovely comfy seat, quiet carriage, read the paper in peace and took notes, was served a cup of tea and a biccie by the caring staff, and even enjoyed the change-over at Limerick Junction. A thoroughly enjoyable experience from start to finish as she hurtled through the sunny Irish countryside.

Yes, yes, I know that most of what one reads about Irish Rail consists of carping criticism about the service and punctuality and negligence and lack of care and I'm sure much of that is deserved and fairly accurate. But maybe she just got lucky; I can only report Kathleen's experience as told to me and that's all I have to say about that. You'll be glad to hear.

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From time to time people send me photos of themselves with me at some function or other from 150 years ago, and they are a nice reminder of times gone by long ago. In most cases I have no remembrance whatsoever of the occasion in question or the people involved. Last week Dan Kiely, from Ballybunion, sent me a snap of him with me and Kathleen (in, I think, the early stages of our gadding about) and his parents.

I must have been mc'ing something big because I'm all dickie-bowed and dinner-jacketed and looking officious. And boy, could I look officious when I was doing a job. It was probably the last time I was in Ballybunion and whenever I hear of it, I think of Seve Ballesteros.

I was once interviewing him in the National Concert Hall and somewhere during the chat I understood him to say that he loved playing Ballybunion even though the rough there was the roughest probably in the known world and that he'd lost four balls in there last time he played.

I said: "Did you say you lost four balls in the rough in Ballybunion"?

And Seve said: "I lost four caddies in the rough in Ballybunion."

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My 14-year-old grandson Cian - from the Howth side of the dynasty - has just qualified as a GAA referee.

He's been playing since he was eight or so. Took the test, did the exam, played the demo game and was presented with his whistle, wallet and cards, yellow and red.

He had his first official match recently: the neighbours turned out to march him to the pitch, with banners and flags flying, the brass band led the parade and when we got to the pitch he was welcomed on to the hallowed ground with a fanfare of trumpets. (All of that last bit is a lie: I just made it up on the spur of the moment. Just to get you worked up. There were no neighbours, no banners, no band and no march. He just refereed the match. And don't get yourself worked up about that, either.)

They were the Under 10s. Gotta start somewhere.

It was an impeccable performance of refereeing according to the harsh critics I spoke to - totally unbiased people - ie, his parents and his Nana Kit. No one was sent off, no one got a card, no one thumped anyone else and no blood was shed on the GAA fields of Howth.

That's my boy.

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We met a woman last week who told us that all her life, she's been mistaken for Kathleen Watkins, and right enough, there is a resemblance.

And she said that one day many years ago, she was at the tail-end of a queue for the renewal of driving licences/birth certificates/ tv licences/ passports - whatever, she couldn't remember - and the man in charge of the queue came all the way down to her and said: "You shouldn't be queueing here, come with me". And he led her all the way to the top of the queue, to where she was just number three or four.

And then he took another look at her and said: "Jay- zuss, I thought you were Kathleen Watkins and you're not - you'll have to go back to the end of the queue". And he sent her all the way back to where she'd been.

Life can be rough like that.

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Maxi is one of the many people who have been faithfully sending me little notes of comfort and hope during my illness, and she never fails to be cheerful and encouraging.

But in the course of a brief exchange recently, she could have knocked me to the ground with the slap of a wet mackerel: she casually mentioned that she'd just been talking on the phone to Pete Murray.

They first met at the Eurovision in nineteen-hundred-and-frozen-to-death and he strongly recommended that she get herself into straight broadcasting because she had such a nice microphone voice. So not only did she take his tip, she acted on it (the two don't naturally go together) and she ended up having the lovely career for so many years.

So you're sitting there still saying "did he say Pete Murray?" That's Radio Luxembourg Pete Murray? 208 on the Medium Wave, with Barry Alldis and Kid Jensen; and you could have sworn that Pete died at least 40 years ago but he didn't.

Unless Maxi is raving. Pete is 93 - that's 93! Living in London and hale and hearty enough to have phone conversations with Maxi and many other people.

And that's your scoop for today and I asked Maxi to mention us all to him when next they speak.

I remember only too well the hours and months and years I spent wishing and dreaming that I would be the next Pete Murray.

Me and 90,000 others.

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Talking of fabulous old colleagues. One of the best people on my Late Late team ever, Colman Hutchinson, is coming back to Dublin. Colman - who moved to London and produced Cilla's Blind Date and Surprise Surprise, and Chris Tarrant's Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? - tells me that he loved producing last night's Twink special and wants to do more Irish TV projects here. So snap him up now.

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LAST thought: Stan Laurel was in hospital for quite a while before his death. And one day he beckoned to a nurse and called her over.

Stan said to her: " I'd rather be skiing than doing this. "

The nurse said: "Oh, you ski do you, Mr Laurel?" And Stan said: "No, but I'd rather be doing that than doing this."

Then he turned his head and died.

(Leave them on a laugh, huh?)

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