Monday 18 February 2019

God, a comic, a convert, the bishop, the nightie and brainwashed Gaybo

Whats it all about then? Gay Byrne and Stephen Fry
Whats it all about then? Gay Byrne and Stephen Fry

John Waters

George Hook went into hospital with kneehilism and came out a reborn member of the Roman Church. Stephen Fry went on 'The Meaning of Life' an atheist and got into an argument with the non-existent God. Gay Byrne, Fry's interlocutor on the programme soon to be relaunched as 'The Meaninglessness of Everything', started out a Catholic lad brainwashed in Synge Street and seemed to end up wanting to be more like Mr Fry.

Although he has refused to discuss his own spiritual outlook, he would afterwards tell one of his week's innumerable interviewers: "You don't come through 10 years of the Christian Brothers without that making an impression on you. It requires a very strong will to say 'I am finished with all that, I am casting it aside and I'll have nothing further to do with it'. I haven't got to that stage yet." (This, I think, means that Gaybo thinks the brothers sold him a pup, but nobbled him so good that, even in his 81st year, he refuses to reopen the box.)

George Hook told the world about his conversion. Fry put the God clip on Twitter and YouTube, provoking five million hits. Atheists around the globe celebrated this stunningly courageous attack on the old codger in the sky. They congratulated the curvaceous comic for his bravery and praised his 'considerable mind'. David Attenborough was briefly said to be harumphing a certain familiarity with the story of the eye-insect, but nobody else seemed to notice.

I understand some people calling themselves Christians got their knickers in knots defending God's honour and accusing the jaded jester of not realising that he had attacked someone he claimed didn't exist. Who says theology is dead? Respect, Brethern. (Note to Twitter Christians: when Jesus beseeched people to 'follow' Him, he actually meant follow Him.)

Nobody noticed that the Fry/God row occurred on the 49th anniversary of one of Gaybo's earliest viral triumphs - 'The Bishop and the Nightie'. Entire libraries have been filled with analyses of this, one of the modern Irish nation's most celebrated ados. More PhDs have been submitted on this topic - which arose from an incident on 'The Late Late Show' of February 1, 1966 - than any other. In fact, if we are to believe even a footnote or two of that voluminous body of learning, the Ireland you are in at this minute owes its existence, freedoms and cultural iridescence to the Bishop and the Nightie.

But, just as the argument between God and Stephen Fry was distinguished mostly by the absence of God, the episode of the Bishop and the Nightie was marked on the night by the absence of either a bishop or a nightie. What happened is that a woman called Fox (seriously), participating with her husband in a parlour game borrowed from a foreign television station, was asked the colour of the nightie she'd worn on her honeymoon and she saucily replied that she hadn't worn any. Noting Gaybo's nervousness, she immediately changed her answer to 'white'.

The number of 'hits' was somewhat fewer than for Stephen Fry.

Four hits, in fact. The Bishop of Clonfert got his secretary to dispatch a telegram of complaint. Two viewers contacted Teilifís Éireann to protest about the 'Late Late' ripping off ideas from British television channels. One viewer complained on grounds of 'moral decency'. But nothing of this underwhelming show of moral fervour prevented the myth of the Bishop and the Nightie going down in history as a turning point in Irish mores.

The following Sunday, the Bishop of Clonfert preached a sermon in Loughrea, denouncing Gaybo and all his works and pomps. "It's utterly, utterly evil," he reputedly declaimed. "Why should we respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid television personality who creates an Ireland which is so full of sinfulness? The man is clearly an utter maniac. We have to spend our lives on our knees thanking him for making Ireland modern? It's perfectly apparent that he is monstrous and deserves no respect whatsoever. The moment you banish him, life becomes simpler, purer, cleaner, more worth living in my opinion."

The Bishop and the Nightie was the making of Gaybo.

Some tweeters suggested that Gaybo had been offended by Fry's remarks, presumably because of the faces he made during the tirade. Regular viewers of 'The Meanness of Montrose' were aware that, every time the camera cuts to Gay, it's his wont to look like a man on a different planet to his interviewee. Whenever his guest says something serious, Gaybo grins and jumps up and down, like that long-ago Kit-Kat ad when the waiting bear-watchers turned to have their tea break and the pandas came out to dance and prance as if the universe had no creator.

'Hooky' must have been deeply outraged at this attack on his recently reconciled creator. Just George's luck: he tries converting and in his absence his old side starts converting tries.

George, by the way, said on 'The Saturday Night Show' that he'd opted to patch things up with the Man Above because he wasn't convinced by a version of the origin of the universe involving 'meteorites and green slime'. At this point, God, briefly buoyed up by all the publicity following Stephen Fry's harangue, buried his old grey head in his once all-powerful hands and wept a Great Flood.

Irish Independent

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