Interview: Val Joyce, a long night's journey

  • 6 September 2006
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After more than 50 years on RTÉ radio, Val Joyce, host of Late Date, was axed during a curt meeting with his new boss. He talks to Colin Murphy

Val Joyce had no warning that his late night programme on Radio 1, Late Date, was being dropped from the schedule. "What happened was, there was a new broom, and the new broom decided to sweep me out under the door, and to put John Creedon in that slot," he says. He thinks Creedon will be "too brash" for the slot.

The "new broom" is Ana Leddy, the new head of Radio 1, who in June brought Val Joyce, John Kelly and Myles Dungan into her office and, in a series of curt meetings, told each of them their shows were being axed.

Ana Leddy has said Val Joyce "will continue to contribute" to Radio 1, and he hopes to be back on air. But for now, he has no plans. He hasn't thought about it. "Tonight'll be the first Tuesday I've been at home for years," he says. He seems bemused, tired, maybe a little angry – or at least disappointment – underneath his careful words.

There was no party. "They wanted to do something in Studio One [the largest radio studio in RTÉ]. Wine, and anybody who wanted could come in. And speeches. I said no. I couldn't bear the hypocrisy of it."

On his last night, on Friday 1 September, some of his old-time colleagues and friends surprised him at the studio when he came in for work and drank their way through his programme, sitting in the control room. He sat in studio with the curtain drawn over, as always, oblivious to the craic outside, as if he were, as usual, alone in the building.

When he left, at three am, there was a limousine waiting for him, organised by his daughter, but he didn't believe it was for him and got into a taxi that had arrived as well. Arriving home, his wife, Vera, sent him back to RTÉ to get the limo.

He has had hundreds of letters and cards wishing him well. If he could use email, there'd be many more. He'll have time now to reply to everyone, he says.

The telephone rings in his house and Vera Joyce answers it. "No he's not retiring, nor has he retired," she says. Val Joyce sits on the couch, nodding. "Correct," he says to himself. Then: "Except by nature."

Val Joyce started in radio in the 1950s, presenting sponsored programmes, including the Irish Hospitals Sweepstakes' programme. When the television service started in 1961, he developed a nice sideline voicing commercials. He presented Sound of the Light, the broadcasts of the Radio Éireann Light Orchestra and started the programme Pop Call on Radio 1 in the 1960s.

He would cycle to work in O'Connell St, where RTÉ then had its studios on the top floor of the GPO, with his long-play records in baskets on his bicycle [he still uses the same bicycle].

Late Date, which ran for over 15 years, was characterised by his eclectic musical taste (everything, at least up to the 1970s), his engagingly eccentric chat (the liturgical calendar provided him with nightly news of saints' feast days) and his nightly struggles with the technology that constantly threatened to overwhelm him. He talked his listeners through these struggles: "One thing I never did was pretend, when I was broadcasting. Tell it like it is," he says. He had no sound engineer or producer and even the continuity announcers left RTÉ when he came on at night.

It never occurred to him that it was lonely. He had no idea how many people were listening. "My idea of broadcasting is that I was talking to one person all the time."

"I hope there was more than one," he adds. His eye twinkles.