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Poignant portrait of the real Ryan

It feels strange reviewing a programme featuring Gerry Ryan exactly two weeks after his death. It's even stranger, given that the man's television work down the years was erratic and tended to draw more negative write-ups than positive ones, to be giving it a firm thumbs-up.

And that, by the way, is not motivated by any sense of sentimentality; this was a very good piece of TV. In October, 2008, Ryan's colleague and close friend, Ryan Tubridy, turned the tables and interviewed him for Ryan Confidential.

Last night's programme, going under the slightly altered title of Gerry Ryan Confidential, was a fuller version of that show, re-edited to include previously unseen material.

The picture that emerged (even more so in this revised edit) was of a man who was, behind all the showbusiness bluster and colourful, larger than life image, thoughtful, introspective and sensitive -- especially about criticism of his 1980s TV projects, which drew what now look like ridiculously vicious and over-the-top reviews.


"I was trying very hard to deliver to RTE what Noel Edmonds was delivering to the BBC," he recalled.

He was prouder, though, of Ryan Confidential and sent off an angry letter to the editor of The Irish Times after its then TV critic wrote a piece in which he likened Ryan to a fly you wished you could swat.

The editor replied with a condescending letter. Had it been wise to react, wondered Tubridy. "Ah, f*** 'em!" said Ryan. Proper order, too. We're only critics.

"I've always felt that in order for me to find out about people, I've got to give a little bit of myself," he said. "It was a version of me." There were some things about him, he said, that people didn't have a right to know about.

The interview was recorded shortly after he and his wife Morah split. Tubridy quizzed him, as only a close friend would be allowed to, about the break-up. "It's only our business," said Ryan, quietly. "I just will not talk about it." And to both his and his wife's credit, neither of them ever did.

Did he miss being married? There was a long pause, and then: "I can't answer that, because I don't have an answer for it." The non-answer seemed to provide the answer.

Did he ever feel lonely? "I didn't have to wait till this time in my life to feel lonely," he said.

Inevitably, given the circumstances, there were moments here that achieved a new, deeper poignancy than they'd had before, such as when he recalled the sight of his parents holding hands as they strolled along the beach in their seventies.

Tubridy raised a chapter in Ryan's autobiography in which he'd admitted he drank too much. Cardiologist Risteard Mulcahy, Ryan said, told him during an edition of his radio show that his nightly intake of three self-poured whiskies would lead him to an early grave. Ryan joked that he wouldn't be having him on the show again.

The most touching moment of all occurred at the end, when Tubridy asked him what he thought the two of them might be talking to one another about on a chatshow 15 years in the future.

"Hairlines!" quipped Ryan, before saying he hoped they'd be talking about the things that were important to him: the love and loyalty of his family and close friends. Don't we wish.


Gerry Ryan Confidential ****