On The Edge
UNLESS he reappears in a recurring nightmare, the politicians of Ireland can rest easy and go on their summer break knowing that they will never have to worry about getting the executioner’s call from the TV3 producers of Tonight with Vincent Browne again. No more grilling with exasperation from the country’s most tenacious journalist whose eyebrows could hang-draw-and-quarter a tongue-tied interviewee while his sighs were enough to provide alternative wind power for the Ballymount studios in Dublin 24.
No better woman for a Browne ‘haranguing’ than the former Labour Party leader, Joan Burton while SIPTU’s Jack O’Connor proved a rather equal sparring partner before he flung his microphone aside and walked off, with the programme later closing to the background music of “Hit the Road Jack and don’t you come back, no more, no more, no more, no more.”
I almost hit the road myself as I slipped and slid up the steps of the Merrion Hotel in Dublin on a frosty November evening in 2010. I had just passed along the square in a taxi and was wide-eyed looking at the stationary cavalcade of international broadcasting vans with their frozen reporters stamping numb feet as they awaited an update from inside Leinster House. The country was bankrupt and the bailiffs – IMF, ECB, EC – were here with their battering rams.
Missing in action
MEANWHILE, inside a plush reception room of the hotel, little huddles of people were gathering for a book launch – champagne glasses were clinking as canapés were being served. After about an hour of small-talk, second fill-ups of the Prosecco, the editor of the book began to look a little edgy; her smile became more strained; her eye darting towards the clock more frequently. Little did the majority of us realise that it was because there was no sign of the person who was due to officiate at the launch. Well, he was otherwise engaged – you could say doing the State some service – but Vincent Browne had totally forgotten about his commitment to launch the book of essays on modern Ireland.
Turned out he was busy, across the road, putting politicians to the pin of their collars about the bungling bailout. When he finally arrived – after some furious text messages – Browne, in his inimitable self-deprecatory way, entertained everyone and had us all in stitches of laughter as he spoke totally off-the-cuff. Well, did any of us ever see Vincent Browne reading from a prepared script? Don’t think so.
ALMOST seven years later as he presents his flagship programme for the last week and, as his colourful career is widely reviewed, it transpires he doesn’t read auto-cues, unlike the majority of his contemporaries. Hardly surprising? Yet his forensic grasp of subjects, memory of even minor political events, ability to synthesis an argument, hound (aka harangue) an interviewee until they address his question or huff-and-puff so much they are reduced to mumbling morons, is legendary and almost unique in Irish broadcasting. For so many media celebrities these days it is all about style: posturing while their faux polemical views are more often than not prepared by some anonymous producer or researcher in a bid to improve ratings.
Indeed, the above is just one minor detail that sets Vincent Browne apart but it underpins his uniqueness in the modern-day straitjacket of cosmetic and formulaic broadcasting.
Unlike so many of his contemporaries Browne – even though he once dallied with the idea of running for Fine Gael – has never been lured to the smug world of the conservatism of his peers in the media who, as they age, become more like stuffed peacocks in gilded cages than opinion creators and challengers charged with holding the establishment to account.
The fact that there is no obvious dauphin to replace him is an indictment of the Irish media industry’s lack-lustredness, as it hurtles from one crisis to another in the face of the anarchism of social media.
It is hard to believe that Browne’s voice will totally disappear from the political discourse but like Father Ted repeats, we will always have the brilliant Mario Rosenstock sketches of him for therapy.