At a similar point in Irish life to the one we’re at now — the peaceful transfer of power from one Late Late Show presenter to another — I was interviewed at home by a young RTÉ radio reporter who had literally got on his bike and gone around asking various media types about the departure of Gay Byrne. His name was Ryan Tubridy.
I think it was a Drivetime programme that he was working for then, I didn’t know much about him at the time, and it certainly never crossed my mind that this Tubridy himself would be a future successor to Gaybo.
I did not realise this was no ordinary young reporter, that he’d been sort of embedded in the RTÉ way of life as a youth, a kind of “intern” perhaps in the style of a Kennedy in Washington.
Any brief encounter I’ve had with him since has confirmed my impression of him on that day — a most affable fellow, and diligent enough at least to cycle from Donnybrook to Rathfarnham and back for what turned out to be quite a poor interview, as I remember it.
I blame myself of course, in retrospect, for failing to give him some era-defining line. And I blame him a bit too which seems harsh, but then the interviewer does have a responsibility to cajole or coerce on such slow days.
Tubs was probably too well-rounded for that, and in the years that followed, in far more important interviews, he would display a similar reluctance to beat a confession, as it were, out of his guests.
Indeed if there was one fundamental difference between Tubs and Gay Byrne, it was Gaybo’s habit of making his guests uncomfortable by asking them questions which could be hard or even quite horrible whether they liked it or not or whether at the end of it they liked him or not.
You felt that Tubs was instinctively protective of the talent, rather than the viewer, a trait he revealed most clearly when he defended Bertie Ahern for walking out on an excruciating interview on German television by Tim Sebastian, in which Bertie was asked some questions about the Mahon Tribunal that he hadn’t been expecting.
Tubs is the sort who sticks to agreements with celebrities, whereas Gaybo tended to view any explicitly forbidden topic as a contender for the first question on the show.
Indeed on his morning radio show, which he will continue to present, Tubs can be so reasonable during his monologues he can end up disagreeing with himself — just to ensure both sides have been represented. Which is an attractive trait in a human being but perhaps not so much in a man at the crucible of show business.
It could hardly be any other way; he is both a beneficiary of his family membership of Ireland’s ruling class, and a victim of it. His grandfather Todd Andrews was one of our “nation builders” — a chairman of the RTÉ Authority — so it is easy to imagine young Ryan as the sort of fellow who did not lack awareness of the range of possibilities open to him.
Indeed there have been times when it seemed that RTÉ’s one overarching project has been to preserve, protect and defend the career of Ryan Tubridy, their anointed one.
And he has fulfilled that destiny to a large extent, fortified by the kind of patrician sensibility that could easily have made him a senior counsel or the general secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, if he had taken a different turn.
You need a tremendous level of self-esteem and a belief in your talent, to present any live television programme — not least the most demanding one in the country.
Tubs has all that, yet he also has this paternalistic streak bred into the bone. He is, as they say, an institutionalist. It is no accident that his finest performance every year is on the institution that is the Toy Show, where it’s a literal requirement of the job to be paternalistic.
In a cruder sense, he is a beneficiary of his absolutely ridiculous salary, and a victim of it. I doubt if there are three people in the country who think that half-a-million a year is right for any RTÉ presenter; it damages him in the eyes of decent people.
Give him a mere 200 grand, and there might have been more grief at his leaving the TV building.
But I am still struck by how definitive that first sighting of him was, with the bicycle so reminiscent of the civil servants of a different era. In the mind’s eye he has now cleared his TV diary, signing off with a brisk tap on the desk, moving all those items he did on The Late Late Show from his proverbial in-tray to his out-tray. He can pass the “department” on to his successor in one piece.
Maybe that’s all he ever really wanted.
At what point is it appropriate to make comparisons with Germany in the 1930s? Do you need to hear the jackboots marching down main street and speeches in German at some vast arena emblazoned with swastikas? Would it not be too late then anyway?
These are questions which remain outstanding after the victory of Gary Lineker over a BBC executive culture which turned out to be indistinguishable from that of the Tory Party. Indeed it is a hallmark of a weakening democracy in Germany or any other country, that the government controls the state broadcaster to ensure that its propaganda is delivered.
But then you’ll have those voices insisting that it is “inflammatory” to make such analogies, the same voices which were so disappointed with Lineker’s line about “language not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 1930s”.
At one level I envy those people their supremely relaxed attitude to life, given that some of us seem to be cursed with an abundance of caution on these issues. We see Russia, an authoritarian regime, invading another country in a manner not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 1930s.
And being the nervous type, we can’t help hearing a distant echo from that time. We see aggressive nationalism in many countries, leading the UK for example into the irrational exuberance of a self-destructive Brexit. And because we’re always fretting about stuff, we can’t help but recall that aggressive nationalism was quite a thing in the 1930s too — but sure, maybe we need to be more grown-up about these things.
Like Lineker, we saw another box being ticked with the widespread demonisation of minorities — be it the refugees or the Jews, there has always been someone else to blame for a regime’s failures. But hell, maybe it’s all just a coincidence, and we should get a grip.
Some of us were seeing hints of olde worlde fascism in the rise of Trumpism, and naturally there was a lot of “come, come, old boy” from the lads in the leather armchairs in the smoking rooms. Which lasted until, and in some cases beyond, the trashing of the US Capitol by a mob directed by the outgoing president — and the ongoing situation whereby the dominant force in one of the main political parties is no longer accepting the results of elections.
Then again, maybe we’re just being a bit excitable here. We’ll take a chill pill, baby!
Vinyl albums are outselling CDs, even though some buyers don’t own a record player — the beauty of the object is enough.
Likewise, a friend who had lost the habit of buying a newspaper picked one up recently in a waiting room and found it so satisfying on various levels she described it as “a work of art”.
Somewhere out on the digital wasteland in future times, some genius is going to publish all this “content” in tactile form. And people who don’t even read, will want one of these “papers”. These things will cost you 50 quid some day.