It may not be up there with Glenn Beck somersaulting off Fox’s deep end, but Ireland has had its own media personality storm of late: our own Ryan Tubridy is moving to the BBC, albeit only for a few months. I don’t blame him.
The BBC is, after all, the best in the world at the very numerous things it does, and any broadcaster who wouldn’t want to work there has a serious salt deficiency. It’s also very much a world station, so it’s not a case of joining the Beeb means he’s betraying his roots or something mad like that.
But I have to confess, it’s a perplexing move to me. Ryan, arguably the biggest presenter in Ireland, has taken on the role of National Flag Waving Morale Officer very much to heart of late, emphasising with metronomic consistency on both his radio and TV shows that the country needs good news, to accentuate the positive the country has to offer and realise what a great little country we are.
Therefore a move across the water, even if it is just for a couple of weeks, was quite surprising. That surprise, Choirmaster of Irish Happiness shtick aside, doesn’t stem from the fact that he’d want to work for the BBC, it stems from the fact that I had assumed his crossover moment had come and gone.
In 2002 when he took the reins of the 2FM breakfast show, Tubridy took Irish radio and gave it such a shaking that it didn’t know where it was anymore, which was just as well because the place it had been was terrible. He was smart, witty and exuberant, a self-styled young fogey and unabashed nerd. He was who he was, and he gained immense kudos and popularity for it. I loved him for that.
Better yet, it turned out he was a class act as a person too. Many’s a time I pestered him for interviews on my college radio station and many times he happily obliged. On one such occasion he called me up to apologise for the delay in getting back to me regarding a pre-recorded interview I’d asked him about doing, said he’d be happy to do it live instead and that he’d make time to be available for whenever it was we’d be going on air.
He did exactly that, acting as a freewheeling pundit on a college radio station that had as many volunteers as listeners, for a full hour. You could count on your thumbs the amount of people in a position like his so generous with his time.
It was around this time, as both the TV and radio strands of his career were in the ascendency but not yet at the peak, that I thought a crossover to the BBC was inevitable, doing the things he was doing in Ireland, and how he was doing them, but to a bigger audience. But he basically fulfilled his RTE Man Of Destiny prophecy instead, and conquered every square inch of Irish media real estate worth having. Between then and now, something has happened him.
Ryan, famously, is a fan of The West Wing, and in a lot of ways he suffers similar problems of late that used to plague President Jed Bartlet. He smoothes himself out. He lets the pitch go by. He runs straight to centre and would sacrifice controversy for keeping the show consistently on the road. He’s so concerned with being a responsible mainstream figure that he’s neglecting to do anything substantial with the responsibility. A perfect case in point recently was his interview with popstar Ronan Keating. Ryan went nowhere near the white elephant in the room, Keating’s affair with a dancer on his tour, and he was met with wall-to-wall derision for his soft soap. Celebrities are one thing, but a couple of months ago he was unforgivably lenient in an interview with former Minister and controversy magnet Willie O’Dea too, who he let prattle on about all sorts without taking him to task on his own preposterous escapades. Somebody needs to write “Let Tubridy Be Tubridy” on a sheet of paper and hand it to him.
I sincerely hope Ryan’s time at the BBC is really successful. More than that, I sincerely hope that it blasts him out of the funk he’s been in this last while and we start seeing the Tubridy that so took us by storm in 2002.
It’s often said that a well-known person’s public and private persona are very different, and smiley people on camera can often be not so nice once it’s off. Tubridy couldn’t be further from such a description, and from what I know and what I’ve seen of off-camera Ryan he’s witty, irreverent and really good craic. I can only hope we see it more when the recording light goes on in future.