Remembering Gay Byrne

Probably the best-known face of Ireland’s RTÉ has died aged 85.

“Gay was an exceptional broadcaster whose unique and ground-breaking style contributed so much to the development of radio and television in this country” – RTÉ Director-General Dee Forbes

Irish broadcaster Gay Byrne who also worked in the UK for ITV’s Granada Television, TVS and also the BBC passed away earlier today RTÉ News announced. The television and radio personality was 85.

Gay was best known to Irish audiences for his many years hosting chat show The Late Late Show for RTÉ One, the show later also screened on Channel 4 in the UK. Originally conceived as a short filler programme for the summer schedule in 1962 on the then-fledgeling Irish broadcaster Telefís Éireann, The Late Late Show has gone on to become an Irish institution and today is still one of the most popular programmes on television in Ireland.

Byrne was the programme’s first presenter in 1962, and apart from one season when Frank Hall presented the show while Gay worked with the BBC, it was a continuous run of almost 37 years.

Gay Byrne was born on August 5th, 1934 in Dublin, Ireland as Gabriel Mary Byrne. He began his broadcasting career on the radio, however, was interested in television thanks to broadcaster Eamonn Andrews. He began his on-screen broadcasting career notably with Granada Television in Manchester,  on news programming including Scene at 6:30. Other presenters included Michael Parkinson. He also co-hosted factual series People and Places alongside Bill Grundy interviewing a host of stars of the day including The Beatles. Commuting between Manchester and Dublin Gay hosted Granada News three days a week, hosting RTÉ Weekend News on his days back in Ireland.

Returning to Ireland full-time he hosted a number of programmes for RTÉ television including game show Jackpot and the Eurovision Song Contest. After two years of hosting The Late Late Show, he was lured back to the UK, this time working for the BBC.

With the BBC he presented game show Pick The Winner and chat series Open House on TV, while on radio music show Swing into Summer, The Beat Show, North Stars and Midday Spin. After a year with the Beeb it was back to, a much more appreciative of his talents, RTÉ and The Late Late Show. He would remain its host until 1999.

A glance at the past guest list reads like a who’s who of contemporary history: Twiggy, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Oliver Reid, Frank Carson, Elton John, U2, President Mary Robinson, Colin Farrell, Bishop Eamon Casey, Terry Keane, Peter Sellers, Bob Geldof, Brendan O’Carrol, Paul Newman, Jack Charlton, President Mary McAleese, Jerry Springer, Graham Norton, Take That, Cliff Richard, Sonia O’Sullivan, Rod Stewart, Michael Parkinson, Basil Brush, Dustin the Turkey… the list goes on and on.

Gay is possibly best remembered in the UK for the clip seen many times of Boyzone’s television debut. The notorious 1993 edition of The Late Late Show saw the newly formed pop band, managed by Louis Walsh, appear on the show to perform a bizarre dance routine unleashed on an unsuspecting audience, with no singing involved. Such was this televisual disaster Gay was bold enough to suggest it was also Boyzone’s last-ever appearance on TV.

Across his years with RTÉ he also hosted their coverage of the Royal Wedding in 1981 of Charles and Diana, The Irish Film and Television Awards and RTÉ New Year Specials. Semi-retiring from television just before the millennium Gay continued to host on radio.

He also made several guest appearances including on The Late Late Show’s 50th anniversary in 2012 alongside other hosts Pat Kelly and Ryan Tubridy. He also went on to host Ireland’s Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, one to one chat show with a religious slant The Meaning of Life and a 20th anniversary special of For One Night Only celebrating Boyzone’s two decades of music and an edition marking the return of Westlife to name two.

There were also a few acting roles, including making an appearance as a delivery driver in the original Irish version of Mrs Brown’s Boys.

Related Article: 50 Years of The Late Late Show

In 2016 Gay announced to his radio audience live on his Time Warp radio broadcast on RTÉ Lyric FM that he was to begin treatment for prostate cancer, and that it may have also spread to his lower back. Despite his intention to return to the airwaves, this would be the last radio programme he would host.

The cancer treatment came after a series of previous health issues. In 2015 he suffered a heart attack and in 2011 he was admitted to hospital following serious breathing problems. He had also noted his hearing had begun to fail.

RTÉ News announced with a special 20-minute long tribute programme on RTÉ One that Byrne had died on November 4th 2019 at his home, after the long treatment for cancer. The network announced there would also be a special edition of The Late Late Show airing on Tuesday, November 5th with a tribute to Gay.

“Gay was a close and cherished friend for many years.” – Chair of RTÉ Moya Doherty

Gay Byrne, 1934 – 2019

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