Roll it there, Róisín: A look back at the life of Gay Byrne after his death at 85

Roll it there, Róisín: A look back at the life of Gay Byrne after his death at 85

Gabriel Mary 'Gay' Byrne, the man who would later dominate Irish media and smash open the country's most controversial taboos, was born on August 5, 1934, in Dublin's northside.

Willing to defy authority from a young age, Byrne bought a "licentious" jazz record at the age of 14 which was banned at the time by Radio Éireann.

It was with that station that Byrne would soon realise his dream of working in broadcasting, when in 1958 he started playing jazz, reading the news and working in continuity.

He became the first broadcaster to introduce The Beatles on TV after moving to Manchester to work with Granada Television.

He later worked with the BBC before returning to Ireland in 1969 to work full-time for newly-formed Irish broadcaster, RTÉ.

At RTÉ he presented and produced ground-breaking TV with The Late Late Show between 1962 and 1999, breaking many of the country's most important news stories, challenging the previously all-powerful Catholic church, and opening up discussions on taboos such as contraception, homosexuality, AIDs, abortion and divorce.

It became the world’s longest-running chat show.

Some of the most famous Late Late Show interviews include a journalist revealing her longstanding affair with then-Taoiseach Charles Haughey, and when Byrne interviewed an American woman, Annie Murphy, who had a son with Bishop Eamon Casey.

In what became known as the Bishop and The Nightie scandal, in 1966 Byrne asked a married man what colour nightie his wife wore on their honeymoon.

The woman replied that she may not have worn any at all, which led to widespread outrage and a protest from The Bishop of Clonfert.

The man affectionately known as 'Uncle Gaybo' has been widely credited as a catalyst in opening up an often closed and repressive Irish society.

A household name, Byrne's catch-phrases like 'roll it there, Róisín' and 'there's one for everyone in the audience' became stalwarts of the Irish vernacular.

Byrne "had more influence on changing life in this country than any of the political leaders," this paper has previously reported.

Thousands of loyal listeners called in to his long-running and award-winning radio show first known as The Gay Byrne Hour and then The Gay Byrne Show which aired on RTÉ Radio 1.

Over his long and illustrious career, he also presented the Rose of Tralee, which he said "tooraloo" to in 1994 after presenting it for 17 years.

Housewife of the Year, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, Gaybo's Grumpy Men and The Meaning Of Life are other TV shows which feature on his lengthy showreel.

Despite topping the polls, he turned down a request to run for President of Ireland in 2011.

He was appointed as chairman of the Road Safety Authority and was a qualified pilot.

In his Sunday music show on Lyric FM, Byrne indulged his long-standing love of jazz in his later years.

Byrne suffered a heart attack in 2015 and was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2016.

He died on 4 November, 2019 at his home in Dublin.

He is survived by wife Kathleen, a harpist and author, and their daughters Crona and Suzy and their families.

The tunes that topped and tailed a legendary TV show

One lasting part of Gay Byrne's musical legacy is the pair of powerful earworms he bequeathed to a generation of Irish viewers — the distinctive tunes that topped and tailed The Late Late Show for three decades.

By 1971, the show had adopted a version of a 1965 hit single to run over its opening credits. Each week for close to 30 years, the show was heralded by 15 seconds of thunderous drumming, leading to an instrumental version of 'To Whom It Concerns', a top-ten hit for Chris Andrews.

The Late Late Show intro

British-born of German parentage, the singer-songwriter — not to be confused with the Irish politician of the same name — is better known for his hit 'Yesterday Man'.

The 77-year-old made headlines earlier this year when he was quoted by 'Bild' as saying "England was yesterday, man" when he revealed that Brexit had prompted him to surrender his British passport.

And over the bouncing blue-beat ska intro, the voice of Ray Byrne, Gay Byrne's brother, boomed out with the triplet that launched the show each week:

Ladies and gentlemen... To whom it concerns... It's The Late Late Show

To Whom It Concerns by Chris Andrews

The exit music for The Late Late Show was a much shorter — but no less distinctive — snippet, albeit featuring the voice of an even bigger international musical star than Andrews.

'The Late, Late Show' is one of the songs Nat King Cole included on his 1959 album, 'Welcome To The Club'.

The Late, Late Show by Nat King Cole

In it, Cole describes to his sweetheart that, with music provided by songbirds and lighting by the moon and fireflies, their date will be as grand as any late night show.

The final few seconds of the song, with Cole singing, “it started on the Late Late Show”, served as the final musical flourish over the RTÉ logo, bringing the show to a close.

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Mourners gather to lay Gay Byrne to restMourners gather to lay Gay Byrne to rest

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