Gaybo exhumed, Pat Kenny lampooned, Ryan Tubridy marooned

Prime Time can be unfocused and all-over-the-place at times, very often when it tries to do two or three items in a half an hour. Prime Time Investigates has been superb and, in the run-up to the election, Prime Time itself may be excellent too, that is if its programme on sentencing on Tuesday 27 March is anything to go by. 

The programme producers did something worthwhile. They assembled an audience of 100 in-studio, gave them the bare facts of a criminal case, asked them what the appropriate sentence would be, then elaborated on the background information and asked again. The expectation presumably was that the audience, when given fuller information, would decide on a sentence that corresponded, more or less, with the sentence awarded by the judge in the case. But in all three cases outlined, the audience, by a large majority, even after it had heard the full facts, believed the judge had been far too lenient.

Maybe the cases were exceptional but, even so, the outcome was telling. Whether the judges will be told by anybody is yet something else.

Just a few reflections.

What is the point of jail sentences at all? Presumably there is a retributive element to sentencing. Presumably there is a deterrent element and a rehabilitative element. I can't think what else there could be, aside from keeping psychopathically dangerous types out of harm's way.

Society, I suppose (not sure about this) is entitled to retribution. My unease has to do with how close retribution is to revenge. But let's accept that there is some retributive element – should it be the overriding element? I think not.

The deterent element seems to me very exaggerated. The main deterrence is the prospect of being caught and because the detection rate is so low, the deterrence factor is low too. Anyway, so much crime is committed on the spur of the moment that deterrence doesn't enter into it.

And on the rehabilitative issue, what rehabilitation? The prison system ignores this entirely. Society isn't bothered about rehabilitation. So let's leave that out. And, for the purpose of the discussion, leave the psychopathic element out as well for, clearly, special arrangements have to be made in such instances.

We are left with the doubtful deterrent factor and the questionable retributive factor. So, riddle me this, what is the point of lengthy sentences?

Or yes, there could be a further factor, the “example” factor. The argument on this one goes: society has the right to mark its abhorrence for particular crimes by an insistence on lengthy prison sentences. But, but, but... Isn't there something questionable about making “examples” of people? Using people to make a case or a point?

My father, the ex-sergeant, has gone partially demented by this “liberalism”, or “hedonism” as he curiously calls it, and I suspect he is a little closer to the public sentiment than I am, but aren't rebellious daughters permitted to offer a conflicting opinion? OK, I withdraw all of the above.

images/village/150407pics/gaybo.jpg The ex-sergeant used also to detest Gay Byrne, who certainly was loved by most women in Ireland when he was going strong and, I believe, by a fair proportion of the men as well, if not the macho-men of An Garda Síochána.

RTÉ exhumed him for its St Patrick's festival offerings. Two one-hour documentaries on Gaybo over that weekend, both of which had been shown previously.

Fintan O'Toole seemed to think Ireland would be still in medieval times were it not for Gaybo. We were reminded of the now-worn claim that it was he who brought sex to Ireland, who opened up the Irish psyche to self-examination. I have only a vague recollection of his presence on the airwaves but such claims seem to be to be vastly overstated. Certainly, Gaybo facilitated the liberalisation of Ireland through a vivid, challenging television programme on a monopoly channel. He helped open up debate on taboo subjects such as the Irish language, church-state relations, contraception and, yes, sex. But does anyone seriously believe that, had he not been there, this would not have happened anyway?

My memories of Gaybo on the Late Late Show are of someone who was bored with himself, the show and the issues. Although ritualistically described as the great listener, he more often than not in many of his programmes in the 1990s appeared not to be listening.

Not alone was there no artifice in extracting that, there was no appreciation anything had been extracted. So the guff about the expert wind-up and self-hanging is just that, guff.

Gaybo, according to my Ma (an ex-teacher) was the best radio presenter ever in the history of broadcasting worldwide and she would know because she was on the Isle of Man once. Gabyo was able to extract from, mainly the women of Ireland, stories of extraordinary unhappiness, suppression and, at times, violence. He certainly, according to my all-knowing Ma (and she is all-knowing), managed to open floodgates on the radio programme, which, she maintains, was far more influential than the Late Late Show. That story about Ann Lovett, that poor 15-year-old girl who died having given birth in a churchyard in Granard, Co Longford, was certainly both shocking and moving and the wave of disclosure and release this gave rise to must have been cathartic.

There is one thing certain about Gaybo and the Late Late Show of his era – it was streets ahead of the pallid version of today. Yes, this has to do with Pat Kenny, who is just all wrong for the programme. He doesn't have the ease of style, the humour, the charisma that Gaybo, even in his bored final years, had. Even watch his hands? Stilted, jerking, stiff, and oh so uneasy. This man isn't happy doing this, his hands say.

But it is not just Pat Kenny that is wrong with the programme. The whole thing is a mess nowadays. The set is awful – a row of usually vacant black, ugly chairs – as is the choreography, by which I mean the exposure of Pat Kenny to full glare when, clearly, he would be happier and a little more at ease behind a desk or a long board table. But also the items. They range from dismal to calamitous. Take, for instance a discussion in March on the state of the Irish nation. They assembled two undistinguished panels to blather about nothing in particular and this was allowed to disintegrate into a row between David Norris and a fat fellow from the Irish Independent, whose name I gladly admit to having forgotten,
The great Late Late Shows of yesteryear surely were nothing like the shambles this has become?

And this is such a pity for Pat Kenny, who is such a luminous radio broadcaster. I used to write here that he prattled too much, asking a question and before someone had an opportunity to answer, inserting an “I mean” and then going on and on. But he has got better of late and now his bright intelligence, his fluency, his diction and his precision are some of the best things in Irish broadcasting, radio or television.

For instance, he has been superb on subject of the siting of the new national children's hospital. He is able to master a brief on an issue such as this, then pursue the issue tenaciously, intelligently and authoritatively. Such a pity for Irish media that he has taken on a role in celebrity broadcasting, for which he has no talent at all and where his magnificent talents are obscured.

Perhaps one of the reasons Pat Kenny now comes across so splendidly on the radio is because of the other example of car-crash broadcasting that his radio programme follows, The Tubridy Show. To be fair, The Tubridy Show has 38 per cent less blather than it used to have. It now has just 58 per cent blather. It is awful. It is wretched. It will do in Radio One if it is not stopped soon.

Radio programmes are supposed to be about something and I acknowledge that since around Christmas there has been some attempt to make The Tubridy Show about something. But poor Ryan subverts this with the incessant chatter.

And finally, back to another St Patrick's festive television special, the two-part drama Single Handed. This shaped up initially to be interesting. A Garda sergeant, Jack Driscoll (Owen McDonnell) was transferred from Dublin back to his homeplace in the west of Ireland, succeeding his father, Gerry (Ian McElhinney).

A Moldovan woman was found dead in a local caravan and Jack, all on his own, started to investigate this. Once the investigation started, it became ham-TV. At almost every turn it was implausible, becoming laughingly so. All of which was a pity because Owen McDonnell, who played the lead part, is a fine actor, and also looks great. His girlfriend (who turns out to be his sister – yes that awful!), Laura Murphy, was also good. The camerawork was good, the scenery great, the editing slick. Only trouble – the plot and the script were beyond atrocious. If shown in the Would You Believe slot, it might have made sense.