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Monday, 24 May, 1999, 14:40 GMT 15:40 UK
Gay Byrne says goodnight
Gay Byrne: A familiar voice in every household in Ireland
"To whom it may concern, it's the Late Late Show, with your host, Gay Byrne."

Those opening words have been heard for the last time on Irish television - bringing a remarkable piece of broadcasting history to an end.

Much of Ireland was watching on Friday night as Gay Byrne bid his viewers a final "goodnight" following 37 years in the chair of the Late Late Show.

Now 64 and holder of the world record as the longest serving host of a chat show, Byrne signed off for the last time from the hugely influential show.

Byrne was always at the forefront of moral debate
Author Salman Rushdie, comedian Billy Connolly, and pop band The Corrs were among those to appear on his final programme.

Irish President Mary McAleese, one of several surprise guests told Byrne: "You're bearing up well, but people out there are crying tonight, they're very sad."

"You've entertained us, you've educated us, you've exasperated us. What more could anyone ask over 37 years?"

Early days

A Dubliner from the capital's north side, Gay Byrne's first break in TV came on Granada Television in the early 1960s - he joined two other wannabes from Ireland, Terry Wogan and the late Eamon Andrews, the long-time host of This is Your Life.

When RTE, the Irish State Broadcaster, first came on the air in 1962, Gay Byrne went back to Ireland where he was lined up to host a late night Friday chat show.

The programme, which initially began as a summer schedule filler, graduated to RTE's flagship programme and has been pivotal to the entertainment and the evolution of modern Ireland.

During the 1960s Byrne often steered a course which ruffled the feathers of bishops and politicians alike.

'The Bishop and the Nightie'

Affectionately known as Gaybo by his fans, Byrne didn't realise the genie he was letting out of the bottle when, during an interview with a married couple on the Late Late, he asked the woman what had she worn to bed on her wedding night.

Her coy reply that she 'might not have worn anything at all' caused uproar.

At least one Bishop publicly criticised RTE for its corruption of public morals and some local authorities supported him.

Bertie Ahern
Byrne with the Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern
Eventually, RTE apologised but it was too late to prevent the incident known as "The Bishop and the Nightie" entering into broadcasting legend.

The ultra conservative Oliver J Flanagan even credited Byrne with bringing sex to Ireland.

Though times changed the Late Late Show remained the most talked about Irish TV programme.

Recent interviewees have included Annie Murphy, the American divorcee who had a child fathered by disgraced Irish bishop, Dr Eamon Casey; and gossip columnist, Terry Keane who talked about her long running affair with the former Taoiseach, Charles Haughey.

The Late Late Show: The most talked about show on Irish TV
Politically Byrne has had courted controversy on more than one occasion.

His invitation to the Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Brooke, to sing on the same night that the IRA had killed seven Protestant workmen in an ambush, led to calls for Brooke's resignation.

The programme which featured Gerry Adams as a guest was also condemned. While some felt that the Sinn Fein president should never have been invited on the programme others believed Adams was ambushed by a panel of critics.

But not every Late Late Show has been controversial - the Toy Show before Christmas in which Gay Byrne surveys the latest toys has regularly topped the viewing charts for RTE.

Top spot for wannabe pop stars

His tribute shows to Irish entertainers such as the Dubliners, the Chieftains and Sharon Shannon are video best sellers while the Late Late Show special on the Omagh bombing was praised widely for its sensitive treatment.

Byrne can also lay claim to have given current chart toppers, Boyzone, their first big TV break as they made their debut on the Late Late Show. Other bands who have reason to be grateful to Gay Byrne and the Late Late are U2 and the Bob Geldof led Boomtown Rats.

The lead singer of U2, Bono, acknowledged that help by driving a Harley-Davidson motorcycle onto the stage during the last show and presenting it as a gift to Gaybo.

Now Ireland's best loved broadcaster plans to leave it all and "do nothing" for six months.

It may be difficult for the man, who made it happen on the Late Late Show, to sit on the side lines for too long and RTE insiders have said that the door will always be open for a return by Gaybo.

The BBC's Denis Murray: "Gay Byrne has a unique place in Irish history"
See also:

12 May 99 | Entertainment
Dublin honours talk show king
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