Ryan Tubridy and Graham Norton have both paid tribute to the late Gay Byrne, a man described by the former as “the master”.
Byrne, who passed away at the age of 85 on Monday, hosted the iconic Late Late Show on RTE from 1962 to 1999, the first of just three presenters including Pat Kenny and Tubridy, who took the helm in 2008.
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Speaking on his RTE Radio 1 show this morning, Tubridy paid tribute, describing him as “fascinating, intriguing, complicated, a great father, a wonderful husband, a great friend, magnificent mentor and a national icon”.
Tubridy recalled watching Byrne on TV as a child “with awe, as so many people did”.
As an adult, he approached the legendary Byrne for advice on hosting the Rose of Tralee for the first time, and on working at RTE, and they met over a drink at a pub on Leeson Street.
“We talked about the Rose of Tralee and we talked about the gig and then we got into the good stuff; What’s RTE really like? What are the people there really like? What do I need to know to equip myself before I get into this jungle?” he recalled.
“He told me everything; ‘You need that machete, you need that glove, you need that torch, you need this sickle and you need this scythe and if you just make your way through like Indiana Jones you’ll make it to the other side and you’ll survive’.”
They formed a friendship that endured and in more recent times they would meet at a hotel close to Gay’s home.
“We would talk about everything and everyone,” said Tubridy.
“He was dying to know; who’s doing that? How’s that person doing? How’s that person getting on? He loved it. He loved the juice, loved the gossip, loved the intrigue of this Wolf Hall with microphones. He was dying to know who’s up and who’s down, who’s in and who’s out and we’d go bam, bam, bam with all the info.”
Tubridy also spoke to fellow Irish presenter Graham Norton during the show. Norton, who hosts his own, hugely successful chat show for the BBC, recalled watching Gay Byrne on the Late Late when he was growing up in Cork.
“Isn’t it extraordinary that even then when we’d nothing to compare him to, we seemed to understand how good he was,” he said.
“His quality shone through even though as an audience we were clueless because he was the only thing there was and yet somehow we all knew he was very good.
“It’s only now when I’m home and I look at things on the RTE archives and you see clips of him from back then and the audience look like they’re from a different planet, these women with hats and gloves and farmers with shirts too big for them and stuff in the audience, but he is so modern.
“He could be doing it now, his presenting style was so ahead of its time.”
Norton described him as like “Johnny Carson” but also so much more as he was adept at shifting seamlessly from one tone to another during interviews.
“He was uniquely just as comfortable doing one of them as the other and not in a terrible kind of daytime TV gear shift from something sad to something…. it was always him. You never felt like he was putting on his telephone voice to talk to a politician.”
Norton also recalled appearing on the Late Late Show for the first time and described it as “very, very important” in his life.
“It’s one of those things that, there aren’t many moments in your life where you feel, ‘This is it, I’ve made it’ but to be on the Late Late, and also it meant so much to my dad. He wasn’t very well at the time but he made it up to Dublin to be in the audience and it was very special.”
He also appeared on the show with Terry Wogan.
“I’d been doing my show for two years but they spoke to me as if we all did the same job. There was no talking down, they weren’t patronising in any way,” he said.
Norton also remembered going into the green room after the show and watching the master at work behind the scenes.
“Gay was still being the host, after hosting that endless show, he was still in the green room, he was making sure everyone had a drink. Louis Copeland was there – it felt like the place to be,” he said.
Read more: Gay Byrne: His top 10 most memorable moments on air
“I remember thinking to myself, ‘I must stay like this, I mustn’t get jaded, I mustn’t get tired, I must stay interested in the way that this man is’. Now I don’t go near the green room so I didn’t learn my lesson, but I noticed and I thought, ‘I must stay like that’ and I haven’t!” he laughed.
The presenter said that we are “lucky that Gay found” television, “that he found television so early and had this weird instinct.
“He just understood the medium completely. Those people are so rare. There was no sense of him being a presenter. He just was. He was just Gay Byrne on the television.”
You can listen to the full show on the RTE Radio One website.
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