The Late Late Show celebrates 50 years on air next month so it was great to get the chance this week to catch up properly with its host Ryan Tubridy.
Tubridy has so many strings to his bow it’s hard to know where to begin the conversation.
He’s passionate about radio, has a lifelong obsession with JFK and the Kennedys and is about to embark on a very high profile summer of work on BBC Radio 2. But inevitably it’s to that Friday night Irish institution that we start with.
“The responsibility is enormous because it’s your name over the door,” he says. “As I explain it to any guests who are trying to understand The Late Late Show, it is the Tardis and I am the new doctor. The show is 50 years old in June and I’m three years in as the host. It has taken me time to relax into it. You have to respect the audience you have inherited.”
Ryan broadcast his radio show from Mullingar the other week and as is his custom he made a visit to a local school to chat to the pupils. The first question always seems to be “do you get nervous presenting the Late Late?” So, does he?
“I do get nervous. I try to meet the guests beforehand in the green room. My palms are always a little clammy and the shoulders are a little hunched. I’m like a lion in a cage before we go on air.
“I’d describe it as like looking out at the sea before going for a swim, diving in and being cold and then you enjoy it so much you don’t want to get out. That’s what it’s like for me. When things go poorly I blame the team and then when things go well I take the credit!”
Over the three years in the Late Late hot-seat Tubridy has interviewed everyone from visiting political big-wigs to Hollywood A-listers, not to mention every single Irish name of note. Like every job, I’m guessing there are favourite guests and maybe a few that are rather forgettable? Being a political obsessive, it’s no surprise who he mentions first.
“Well I was very interested to meet Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. They are people I have watched for many years, following politics. And then you have fictional political leaders like Martin Sheen from The West Wing.
“I fell in love with Liam Clancy and Frank McCourt, men with a twinkle in their eyes. And then there was Joanna Robinson, who has no limbs, she came on the show and just blew everything else out of the water. Since her appearance recently she has been invited to address the UN on women and technology. I just love things like that happening.”
And there must have been a few difficult guests, the ones who make you work that bit harder? Again, Tubridy is refreshingly honest.
“I would say the actress Juliette Binoche was tough. I don’t think she wanted to be there. If you don’t want to be there, then don’t be there. Do yourself a favour, do the audience a favour and do me a favour…”
Summer 2012 is going to be a busy one for Ryan, he tells me that very soon he will be working regularly on BBC Radio 2, standing in for no less than a certain Mr Chris Evans. It makes you realise just how well respected Tubridy is and how successful last year’s Saturday morning stint at the BBC proved to be. They are, in fairness, big broadcasting shoes to be filling.
“I like his tenacity and his determination and his heartfelt zest for radio. I like his love of radio, his understanding and appreciation of the medium. When you are in the business you can spot it a mile away. Chris Evans is not in radio to be famous, he’s just an innate radio-head. He’s one of the very few real radio-heads and I have an awful lot of time for him.
“I love coming over to England, it’s a lovely diversion. People can get bored of you very quickly in Ireland! It’s lovely to be in another classroom for a little while. I’m flattered, honoured and excited that they have asked me back over for the summer. It’s like an occasional foray into another land.”
Tubridy’s popularity on British airwaves again highlights just how well Irish broadcasters do in Britain, but why is that?
“It’s so strange. I’m writing my second book (the first was a critically acclaimed look at JFK’s visit to Ireland, a compelling read with some amazing photographs and stories) and it touches on this subject. Look at Eamonn Andrews, they liked him very much.
“I think he was liked because he was a classless voice, it wasn’t a plummy voice. It was genial. And the Irish are great wordsmiths. The British system is a bit classist and class-based. They like somebody who isn’t tainted by any of that.”
TV has provided Tubridy with some amazing moments in his career, but radio was his first love and it seems, will always be.
“I think, to be honest, if I had to call it I would say I prefer radio. Television is perfectly fine but there is too much pressure, you have to worry about make-up, time and faffing about. Radio is immediate. And I’m impatient. I like time to interview people.
“They will talk to you more on the phone too, on the radio. In a TV studio it’s different. There’s an intimacy with radio that’s very hard to get anywhere else.”
Away from broadcasting Tubridy is also a fine writer and when the chance came to pen a book about JFK, one of his obsessions in life, he couldn’t resist. I got hold of a copy of JFK in Ireland at Dublin airport one day and devoured it. (I’m from Co. Wexford so the interest in the Kennedy clan is mutual).
“My passion for the Kennedys comes from a programme called The Rock ‘n’ Roll Years. I was just fascinated by the Kennedy’s story, I was intrigued by it. And I have always been a fan of American politics.
“When the book scenario arose we alighted on this as my subject. It was great fun. Look at their story…Irishman leaves Wexford in 1848, Patrick Kennedy. Within three generations they become the most powerful family on planet earth. Incredible.”
There is one modern medium, however, that it’s fair to say that Ryan has fallen out of love with and that is the social networking website Twitter. I always enjoyed his updates and banter, but he quit Twitter and I’ve always wanted to know why?
“I would say that decision was 70 per cent time-based. I loved Twitter, I really enjoyed it. But it became too much of a habit, it was like smoking too many cigarettes. And the other 30 per cent was the irritating people.
“That’s enough of a mix to get out. I just left it at that. I miss it in some ways and I did meet some lovely people through it. It was a great party and then somebody came in and wrecked it.”
It’s hard to believe that The Late Late Show is 50 years old next month, but the good news is that this Irish institution is in safe hands, hands that care very much about its future.
He adds: “There was a time when the Late Late had the run of the place, just two channels in the country. Now there are so many channels, between terrestrial and satellites. It’s an enormous fight we are in and we are fighting a good fight. We got a 48 per cent audience share last week. The Late Late Show is alive and well and fighting the good fight.”