On July 6th, 1962, the first ever Late Late Show was broadcast by RTÉ as a summer ‘filler-in’. Sixty years on and the show is still going strong, making it something of a phenomenon in the world of broadcasting. Here long-time fan Martin Collins looks back at the shows and the guests which made it essential viewing down through the years.
One of its most famous closing lines for many years was ‘It started on the Late Late Show’. And it did start sixty years ago this week (Friday, 6th July 1962) with Gay Byrne the presenter and it was 37 seasons later that the same man presented his last programme with another magnificent show, also on a Friday night (21st May 1999).
That first show included Professor Liam Ó Briain, Verona Mullen, Danny Cummins, Count Cyril McCormack (son of Count John McCormack), Ken Grey, Harry Thullier and George Hodnett. The second show on the 13th July Ulick O’Connor appeared for the first time. Ulick was to be one of the great characters to appear on the show for many years to come.
The famous singer, Josef Locke, appeared in the third show on the 20th July. The great Kerry playwright, John B. Keane, appeared on the first of his many shows on the 3rd August and four weeks later Milo O’Shea made the first of his many appearances.
Then on 7th September the first ever outside broadcast took place with a trip to Butlins of Mosney. The week after that the recently selected Rose of Tralee, Ciara O’Sullivan, appeared on the show. Then the final show of the first season took place on the 28th September.
It was originally intended to be just a summer filler-in and that first season ended in late September that year. But come the following September (1963) it was upgraded to premier programme status and switched to a Saturday night. That second season continued until the following May.
Gay Byrne at this stage was involved in many aspects of broadcasting, including work with the BBC. So he was not involved at the start of the third season and from September to the end of December 1964 the show was presented by Frank Hall. However come the first show in January 1965, Gay was back as the presenter and was promoted to producer as well. Between then and May 1999 he was involved in some of the most brilliant – and sometimes controversial – programmes ever broadcast on any channel.
The first of those ‘controversial’ shows took place in early 1966 (12th Feb). It immediately became known as ‘The Bishop and the Nightie’ Show. It was a bit of a ‘fun quiz’ where husbands and wives in the audience would answer questions about one another when out of ear-shot of one another.
The question that this husband was asked was ‘ what was the colour of his wife’s nightie worn on their wedding night?’. When the wife came back in to answer the same question she couldn’t remember the colour so, for fun, she said she didn’t wear a nightie that night and everyone laughed.
However one person who was watching the programme at home – the then Bishop of Clonfert Dr. Thomas Ryan – read it differently and in his sermon the following morning took grave exception to the show and asked his flock not to watch it again.
The controversy went on for weeks but so did The Late Late – every Saturday until the last show of that season on the 28th May. Guests included many celebrities of the time like Garrett Fitzgerald (then a Senator – later Taoiseach), Brian Friel, Tom Jones, The Clancy Brothers, Maureen Potter and Bryan MacMahon, to name but a few. The regular performers at that time included people like Ulick O’Connor, Sally Ogle, Ted Bonner and Matt Doolan.
The first all-priests show took place the following season (13th May 1967) with priests like Paddy Brophy, Fergal O’Connor, Tom Stack and Michael Cleary taking part. A very young 16-year-old singer from Derry made her first appearance on the show on 17th Feb. 1968 – Dana later made history when she became Ireland’s first winner of the Eurovision Contest (21st March 1970). In between those two dates I made my first of three appearances as a member of the audience. That was the first show of the season – 27th Sept. 1969. I was in the audience again on two more occasions after that.