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Gay Byrne obituary: The leading Irish broadcaster of his era

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Gay Byrne, or Gaybo, as he was almost universally known, was the leading Irish broadcaster of his era.

As anchor of the Late Late Show, he steered the audience through the highs and lows of Irish life.

From Ballybunion to Buncrana, he was a familiar and controversial face on Irish screens every Friday night, presiding over the shifting moods of the Republic of Ireland.

A series of taboos were broken on his programme at a time when Ireland was still deeply Catholic and conservative.

From the journalist who spoke about her long-standing affair with the former taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Charles Haughey, to lesbian nuns to former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, his interviews shocked and influenced in equal measure.

Born on Dublin’s north side in 1934, he began his television career at Granada Television in Manchester and became the first person to introduce The Beatles on screen.

He joined Irish national broadcaster, Radio Éireann in 1958 and was appointed as the first host of the television programme, the Late Late Show, in 1962.

Apart from an absence in 1964, Byrne presented the weekly television programme until 1999.

In the 1960s, Byrne, famous for his catchphrase “and there’s one for everyone in the audience”, was the talk of the country.

As well as giving out free gifts to the audience, the programme and its host were credited with influencing Irish attitudes towards many issues.

The show provided a platform for an unmarried mother to explain her position at a time when to be in such a situation was still deeply frowned upon.

As an interviewer, Byrne was very much his own man, he did not think twice about scolding one guest who appeared under the influence while on air.

On another occasion, he refused to shake the hand of former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams.

His interview with the then Sinn Féin leader took place after the broadcasting ban imposed on the political party on Irish airwaves was lifted in 1994.

He opened his introduction into the interview with the words: “We have just been joined by the most controversial man on this island.”

Another interview that courted controversy was one with the then Northern Ireland secretary, Peter Brooke, in 1992.

The senior politician was coaxed by the presenter into singing Oh My Darling Clementine.

His performance came on a day when eight Protestant building workers were killed and six badly injured in an IRA bomb attack at Teebane, a rural crossroads in County Tyrone.

Unionists were outraged and, shortly afterwards, the secretary of state resigned.