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When presenter Gay Byrne stirred up controversy

Nighties, teenage pregnancies, politics and illicit affairs... the topics that landed the broadcaster who died this week in trouble

Head to head: Gay Byrne interviewing Gerry Adams on The Late Late Show in 1994
Head to head: Gay Byrne interviewing Gerry Adams on The Late Late Show in 1994

By Niamh Horan and Liz Kearney

Bishop and the nightie: In 1966, Richard Fox and his new wife Eileen appeared on The Late Late Show to take part in a quiz designed for married couples.

When Gaybo asked Mr Fox what colour nightie his wife wore on honeymoon, Mr Fox said it was transparent, while his new wife said she couldn't remember; perhaps she'd not worn one at all. The audience laughed, but not everyone saw the funny side. The Bishop of Clonfert Dr Thomas Ryan complained to RTÉ that the item was 'disgusting' and 'immoral' and denounced the broadcast from the pulpit. The subsequent public outrage lasted for weeks, with public opinion divided between those who agreed with the bishop and those who saw it as just light-hearted entertainment.

The Ann Lovett letters

On January 31, 1984, a 15-year-old schoolgirl called Ann Lovett died giving birth in a grotto in Granard, Co Longford. In the weeks after her death, hundreds of Irish women wrote to Gay Byrne outlining the devastating impact of their own secret pregnancies, some of which were a result of sexual abuse, incest or rape. Byrne broadcast the letters to a stunned nation on his morning radio show, marking the start of a new conversation about teenage pregnancy which ultimately helped dispel the stigma and shame.

Peter Brooke's sing-song

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Brooke was coaxed by Byrne into singing Oh My Darling Clementine on the same day as seven Protestant workmen had been killed in an IRA bomb in 1992. Unionists saw red, believing the performance to be totally insensitive to those who were in mourning. Shortly afterwards, a humiliated Brooke resigned.

Gerry Adams handshake

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In 1994, after the lifting of a ban on Sinn Fein speaking on radio or television, Gerry Adams was interviewed by Byrne. But The Late Late Show host refused to shake the politician's hand, introducing Adams as "the most controversial man on this island".

The restored chair

On May 23, 1997, Siubhan Maloney from Donegal appeared on The Late Late Show with a restored armchair as part of the programme's furniture restoration competition. Ms Maloney won first prize in the competition for the chair which she said she'd restored herself. However, antique shop owner Joshua Duffy then claimed that he carried out the restoration. In the High Court, Ms Maloney's solicitor read an apology on her behalf, acknowledging that the upholstery work was carried out by Mr Duffy and she withdrew the "contrary assertions" she had made.

The competition winner

Some say this was the greatest talk show moment in TV history. It came out of the blue in 1997 when Byrne phoned a competition winner, Rita Hanley, to tell her she had won a car. When he wondered why she didn't seem delighted with the news, Ms Hanley explained that her daughter Linda had died the previous night, having been knocked down by a car. Byrne, who was always a natural during overwhelming moments of emotion, didn't miss a beat. He spoke gently to her about her grief and offered her comfort and support. Then he turned to a guest, poet Brendan Kennelly who happened to be on the show, and asked him for a few words. He responded by quietly reciting his fitting poem 'Begin' and the whole nation was stunned into silence. Many pinpoint this as Byrne's finest hour.

Sweetie unmasked

In 1999, Sunday Independent journalist Terry Keane appeared on The Late Late Show to lift the lid on her 27-year-long affair with the former Taoiseach Charles Haughey. Keane had actually alluded to the affair in her gossip column, but had never revealed her lover's identity, simply referring to him by the nickname Sweetie. When she told Gay Byrne who her Sweetie really was, the nation was agog and Haughey went into hiding from the media. It was a watershed moment on Irish television. Haughey never spoke to Terry Keane again.

Annie Murphy

Annie Murphy rocked the Catholic Church 25 years ago when she revealed that she had a child with Bishop Eamonn Casey. For 18 years the bishop had also been making child payments to her, even using some of the money from diocesan funds. After exposing the affair in her book, Forbidden Fruit, she appeared on The Late Late Show, she said at the time, to expose his vow breaking and to make the bishop acknowledge his son. Gaybo told the bishop's former lover: "If your son is half as good a man as is his father, he won't be doing too bad."

"I'm not so bad either, Mr Byrne," she countered before walking off the set.

Padraig Flynn's houses

Who could forget Padraig Flynn's memorable appearance on The Late Late Show? During a routine interview with Byrne in January 1999, the then EU commissioner from Ireland portrayed himself as the perfect politician. But when pushed to speak about Tom Gilmartin, a property developer who was reluctant to speak at the Mahon Tribunal, Mr Flynn snapped. He launched into a rant about Mr Gilmartin and his wife, who suffered from multiple sclerosis and was in a wheelchair. Mr Gilmartin happened to be listening to the interview at home in the UK and it reportedly drove him to proceed with his Tribunal evidence.

Mr Flynn was also asked by audience member, journalist Barry O'Halloran, about his pay and expenses, and replied: "I get, give or take, it works out at about with expenses 140,000 a year and I pay 30.3pc tax on that, so it's about a net 100,000 and out of that 100,000 I run a home in Dublin, Castlebar and Brussels. I wanna tell you something, try it sometime…" It was an interview which would change the shape of Irish politics forever and cause the demise of Padraig Flynn.

Stephen Fry

Long after his years on The Late Late Show, Gay Byrne could still draw millions of viewers. In February 2015, more than five million people watched a clip which contained controversial comments from Stephen Fry about the great beyond. While being interviewed on The Meaning of Life, Gay asked Fry what he would say to God if he had a chance. "I'd say 'How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault'," he replied. "Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?" His comments went viral and Fry was investigated for blasphemy.

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