While RTÉ television is celebrating its 60th year on the air this year, so too is perhaps its most famous commodity – The Late Late Show. The world’s second-longest running chat show has in its time seen three main hosts across its run – the legendary Gay Byrne for 37 years, Pat Kenny for 10 years, and its current host Ryan Tubridy is about to finish his 13th year at the helm.
Incredibly, the programme remains the main ratings winner for RTÉ today, as it has done consistently over the decades. While the programme has transitioned to become more of a light entertainment, magazine-style presentation nowadays, it still has the ability to invigorate much of the public conversation and debate, all these years later. Throughout this article, we’ll list what we consider to be the top ten most notable moments from the programme over the years.
Number 10: Gerry Ryan Hosts the Late Late Show
In 2008, following the death of Pat Kenny’s mother, top RTÉ 2FM chat show host, the late Gerry Ryan hosted the programme. It was a particularly poignant moment for Ryan, as he had often expressed his wish to one day become a full-time host of the programme. Guests on the night included the Hollywood legend Tony Curtis, British television personality Richard Madeley, Irish crooner Daniel O’Donnell and the American comedian Roseanne Barr.
Number 9: Linda Martin and Billy McGuinness Clash
In 2014, during The Late Late’s annual Eurovision song selection programme, 1992 Eurovision winner Linda Martin engaged in a furious war of words with Aslan’s Billy McGuinness. The row erupted when McGuinness accused Martin of being an unfair choice of judge on the programme, given that both she and fellow judge Louis Walsh had a prior connection to one of the acts partaking in the competition that evening.
Number 8: Boyzone Debut on the Late Late Show (1993)
In 1993 Irish boyband Boyzone made their first appearance on the Late Late Show. In footage that has regularly been repeated and mocked in the years that have since passed, the boys dance in some questionable attire to a pre-recorded dance tune. When the band reformed in 2018 and had the clip played back to them, it drew an angry response from Shane Lynch.
Number 7: Frank McCourt V Gerry Hannan
During one of Pat Kenny’s first Late Late Shows in 1999, the author Frank McCourt appeared on the programme. His appearance came on the heels of the release of the film Angela’s Ashes, a film based on the book that he had written. While on the show, McCourt was subjected to a tirade of accusations from fellow Limerick man Gerry Hannan, who accused McCourt of writing false information in his books, and for portraying Limerick in too negative a light.
Number 6: Intruder heckles Pat Kenny on the Late Late Show
In late 2006, it seemed unlikely that one of the show’s most infamous moments would occur at the outset of an interview with the three judges for that year’s You’re a Star competition. However, that is indeed the case. Just before the interview was about to begin, a man came seemingly from out of nowhere, walked onto the show’s set, and berated Pat Kenny on live television. It prompted the show’s producers to immediately cut to an advertisement break, and apologise to viewers upon the show’s return.
Number 5: The 1995 Scientology Debate
In 1995, Gay Byrne dedicated an entire episode of The Late Late Show to a debate on the Church of Scientology. The show featured both current and retired members of the church, as well various theologists and religious experts, in what was at that time a first on Irish television. What followed was over an hour of gripping and oftentimes heated debate.
Number 4: Terry Keane and the Charlie Haughey Affair
In 1999 the Irish fashion journalist Terry Keane appeared on the show with Gay Byrne, when she spoke publicly for the first time about her affair with former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey. The interview made national headlines and was said to anger Haughey immensely.
Number 3: The Annie Murphy Interview (1993)
In 1993, Annie Murphy, the American woman who it was revealed had an affair with the former Bishop of Galway Dr. Eamon Casey, spoke on Irish television for the first time. Annie had claimed at the time that Bishop Casey was the father to her son, Peter – a point that was vehemently denied by friends and colleagues of the cleric. The interview sparked a national outrage and remained in the headlines for many days afterwards, as the fallout of comments made on the evening were rehashed through national print media.
Number 2: Pádraig Flynn Appearance (1999)
In what was one of Gay Byrne’s last Late Late Shows in 1999, the MEP and former government minister Pádraig ‘P’ Flynn was a guest on the programme. Over the course of the interview, Flynn accused ex-Pat Tom Gilmartin of “not being well”. Unbeknown to Flynn, Gilmartin was watching the programme live on Tara Television in the UK, and it was said that this comment prompted Gilmartin to give damning evidence against Flynn in the Mahon Tribunal. Separately, Flynn suggested to an audience member that they ought to “try it some time when you have a few homes and a few cars and few housekeepers”.
Number 1: The Rita Competition Phone Call
In a moment that has often since been recounted incorrectly, this very famous clip only recently came back to life when uploaded to YouTube last December. The show’s famous postal quiz was taking place at the conclusion of the programme, when Gay (upon a second attempt) got through to Rita Hanley. Gay asked Rita if she had been watching the show that evening – to which Rita replied that she hadn’t as her daughter had passed away the previous evening. What ensued was one of the truly remarkable segments in Irish television history, as Byrne perfectly and delicately handled what was a truly unforeseen and unpredictable situation. Gay invited each of his guests that evening to offer Rita a comment, which prompted the late poet Brendan Kennelly to recite on of his most famous works ‘Begin‘.
What are your favourite moments from 60 years of the Late Late Show? Did we make any glaring omissions, or did you agree with our top ten? Let us know in the comments!
The Late Late Show airs on Friday evenings at 9.35pm on RTÉ One Television.