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Sex, condoms and Boyzone: 20 memorable moments from Gay Byrne's career

From sex therapists to U2, Gay Byrne has interviewed a lot of people during his career.

Gay Byrne in 1999.
Gay Byrne in 1999.
Image: RollingNews.ie

MUCH OF THE nation is in mourning today following the death of 85-year-old broadcasting legend Gay Byrne. 

Byrne presented RTÉ’s The Late Late Show from 1962 to 1999, a 37-year run often regarded as modernising the views of Irish people through its discussion of topics like sex, contraception and different sexualities. 

Here are 20 of Gaybo’s top moments from The Late Late Show and other times in his career fondly remembered by viewers.

Condom demonstration, 1987

On an episode of the Late Late discussing the AIDS crisis, Byrne described the safe use of condoms, accompanied by an instructional video. 

“People falling in a swoon all over Ireland looking at that,” he said taking a condom from its packet, following heavy laughter from the audience.  

Contraception was legalised in Ireland in 1980. 

The video demonstration lasted for a few minutes and was followed by discussion from the audience, some of whom described their shock and surprise.  

Source: dequinirishstudies/YouTube

Annie Murphy, 1993

One of Byrne’s most famous interviews on the show, and not entirely for purely positive reasons, was with Annie Murphy in 1993.

Murphy had an affair with former Bishop of Galway Eamon Casey and said he was the father of her son Peter. Peter was born in 1973 when Casey was the Bishop of Kerry.  

Byrne was criticised by many for his handling of the interview. 

“If your son is half as good a man as his father, he won’t be doing too badly,” Byrne said to Murphy on the show. 

“I’m not so bad either, Mr Byrne,” Murphy replied, before swiftly exiting the set.  

Source: Tubbystones1/YouTube

Boyzone, 1993

Another memorable performance, for very different reasons, was Boyzone’s first appearance on the show in 1993. 

The band had to fight for Byrne’s approval – he said they would be Ireland’s answer to Take That. He also said there was no talent in the group as they didn’t sing, write music or play instruments. 

The group performed a dance while wearing an eclectic mix of braces, no shirts and dungarees.  When the performance ended, Byrne commented: “You’re great movers… we’ll look forward to hearing from you when you’re famous.” And that we did.

Source: anthony c/YouTube

The Bishop and the Nightie, 1966 

One of the most famous, controversial moments on The Late Late Show was the ‘Bishop and the Nightie’ incident in 1966. 

This controversy arose from Gay Byrne picking a married couple from the studio audience, Richard and Eileen Fox from Dublin. Byrne asked each partner questions while the other was out of earshot. 

One of the questions related to the colour of Eileen’s nightie on their honeymoon. Richard replied that it was transparent, while Eileen said she wasn’t wearing any.

This scandalous, 1966 television moment drew condemnation from the Bishop of Clonfert Thomas Ryan in Co Galway. He denounced the show and said he was disgusted by the disgraceful performance.

Following this, Byrne issued a statement saying the show had not intended to embarrass viewers.  

Stephen Fry interview, 2015  

Outside of the Late Late Show, an interview with Stephen Fry went viral in 2015 when the pair discussed God and the meaning of life. This interview was included in Byrne’s RTÉ show The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne. 

“Suppose it’s all true and you walk up the pearly gates and you are confronted by God, what will Stephen Fry say to him, her or it?” Byrne asked. 

“I think I’ll say: bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you. How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault,” Fry replied. 

“It’s not right. It’s utterly utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?”

Byrne stayed silent before saying: “That sure is the longest answer to that question that I ever got in this entire series.”

After this interview, gardaí launched a blasphemy probe into Fry after a TV viewer claimed comments made in the interview were blasphemous. 

In 2018, a blasphemy referendum was held to change this aspect of the Irish Constitution, which was passed by 64.85% to 35.15%.  

Source: RTÉ - IRELAND’S NATIONAL PUBLIC SERVICE MEDIA/YouTube

Pee Flynn, 1999 

Former politician Pádraig Flynn, who said he has had a “charmed” political existence, appeared on the show 20 years ago and discussed accountability. 

He said that after tax, he earned about IR£100,000 a year with expenses and also owned a home each in Dublin, Castlebar and Brussels. 

When Byrne asked if he needs three houses, Flynn said he “has to live somewhere”.

This interview reportedly drove Tom Gilmartin Jr to proceed with his Mahon Tribunal evidence. The Tribunal found that Flynn had “wrongly and corruptly” sought a IR£50,000 payment from developer Tom Gilmartin in 1989. 

Source: soarer25turbos/YouTube

Dermot Morgan montage, 1998 

When Father Ted actor Dermot Morgan died in 1998, Gay Byrne introduced a compilation clip of Morgan’s various appearances on the Late Late Show.

The montage was played the night of Morgan’s funeral mass which was held in Dublin. 

Source: cillianotuama/YouTube

International Women’s Day special, 1991 

The Late Late Show charted the change for Irish women in society in everything from their personal lives to employment. In 1991, the show held an International Women’s Day special and invited some prominent women and feminists on the show. 

Broadcaster Marian Finucane reflected on progress for women over the past 20 years in Ireland. 

Journalist Nell McCafferty also discussed the condom train incident in 1971, where members of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement travelled to Belfast to buy contraception when it was still illegal in the Republic. 

Sinéad O’Connor 

Sinéad O’Connor appeared on the show in 1988 and performed a song before chatting with Byrne. 

He said people watching would say her shaved head is a disgrace – before an audience member said that people weren’t saying this.  

O’Connor later appeared alongside Byrne on The Late Late Show 50th anniversary show in 2012, and the pair held hands. 

Source: KillianM2/YouTube

Mike Murphy prank, 1982 

He might have been a consummate professional but even Gay Byrne couldn’t escape being tricked by Mike Murphy.

Murphy had a candid camera sketch show called The Live Mike and in this instance, he pretended to be an over enthusiastic football fan. He stood in the distance behind Byrne, who was trying to do a piece to camera in Trinity College Dublin.  

Byrne was distracted by the commotion in the background, and when he recognised Murphy he said: “Do you understand the expression fuck off? Do you?”

Source: Caitlin ó Ceallacháin/YouTube

Paul McGrath tribute show, 1997  

A tribute night was held for footballer Paul McGrath in 1997, a man who Byrne described as “one of the most beloved people in sport” and “revered as one of the best professionals ever”. 

McGrath allegedly did not know about the full show being a tribute night, and thought it would involve a short talk about his year. 

Source: KillianM2/YouTube

Omagh bombing tribute, 1998 

This tribute night was held six months after the Omagh bombings incident in which 29 people were killed.

On the night of the 50th anniversary of The Late Late Show in 2012, Sharon Corr recalled the “very powerful” show which was “a lovely way to unite the whole country”.

Families of those affected by the bombing were interviewed on the show. 

Bob Geldof was also interviewed and said his reaction to hearing about the bombing was “typically extreme” and he got sick with rage. “For a brief moment, it seemed that this was all finally done,” said Geldof.  

Source: KillianM2/YouTube

Birmingham Six, 1991

Three members of the Birmingham Six, six Irish men who jailed following false convictions of the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings, appeared on the show shortly after their release from prison in England in 1991.

They discussed their 16 years in prison and the impact it had on their lives. 

Source: KillianM2/YouTube

Terry Keane interview where she revealed her affair with Charlie Haughey, 1999 

In an interview in 1999, journalist Terry Keane revealed that she had an affair with former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey. 

Keane later said on the show in 2006 that she regretted this interview and felt she had been “under pressure” at the time. 

She said she “lives to regret it to this day” in the 2006 interview. 

Source: KillianM2/YouTube

Gay Byrne meets Fawlty Towers

The famously bumbling waiter Manuel from TV show Fawlty Towers appeared on The Late Late in a fondly remembered performance featuring Gay Byrne.

Byrne asks him for a glass of water as Manuel appears on stage with a tray and a jug.

In classic Manuel fashion, played by actor Andrew Sachs, he spills water everywhere and says “I’m sorry, I don’t like to do this in front of so many people. I hope nobody else is watching”.

Source: RTÉ - IRELAND’S NATIONAL PUBLIC SERVICE MEDIA/YouTube

Interview with a sex therapist, 1989

The broadcaster has interviewed a wide variety of people throughout his career, including a Swedish sex therapist in 1989. During this segment on The Late Late, a man named Johnny from Mayo phoned in to ask the therapist “how often she has it herself a day”. 

The Swedish woman said she wouldn’t answer that on television because it’s a private matter. The Mayo caller continued on to ask how often a “healthy buck” like himself should be having sex. 

Source: KillianM2/YouTube

The Late Late Toy Show, annually 

A montage of Byrne’s best moments wouldn’t be complete without an honourable mention for the much-loved annual Late Late Toy Show. 

Source: KillianM2/YouTube

Gerry Adams interview, 1994 

On his first appearance on the show, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams was interviewed while he was in Dublin to attend the Forum on Peace and Reconciliation. 

This 1994 interview followed the lifting of Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act which did not permit broadcasters to interview members of organisations which “engage in, promote, encourage of advocate the attaining of any political objective by violent means”. 

Earlier this year, Gerry Adams repeated his denial that he wasn’t a member of the IRA. 

Source: Best Of Craig Ferguson/YouTube

Introducing U2, 1980 

For U2′s first performance on the show, Byrne asked journalist John McKenna to introduce them as he said he didn’t know enough about them.

This was a landmark moment for Irish audiences who may not have heard of the band before. The band was formed in 1976 when the members were in their teens. 

Source: U2mx/YouTube

U2 return, 1999

In Byrne’s final episode as presenter of The Late Late Show on 21 May 1999, Bono and Larry Mullen Jr from U2 rode into the studio on a Harley Davidson motorcycle. 

“I wasn’t planning on singing,” Bono said when Byrne asked. “I thought the bike would be enough.”

Bono then started an a capella version of the Late Late Show’s theme tune with the audience.

Source: CR's Video Vaults/YouTube

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