PA­TRICK FREYNE

Vin­cent Browne has kept the na­tion on the straight and nar­row for years, and now that he’s re­tir­ing, to­tal an­ar­chy is surely just around the corner

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS -

Vin­cent Browne, the de­light­fully er­ratic news frag­gle who se­cretly runs Ire­land, is re­tir­ing from his show on TV3. This makes us sad. It is the end of an era.

It’s prob­a­bly hard for young­sters who have only known life in the cur­rent glo­ri­ous hous­ing bub­ble (what a time to be alive!) to un­der­stand what he meant to us in the olden days, the pri­mor­dial times be­fore the bub­bling, when things were crap.

Let me take you back: It was 2007, every­one was lis­ten­ing to the sweet sounds of Bubba Sparxxx and Chamil­lion­aire and Ire­land was de­scend­ing into a cat­a­strophic re­ces­sion.

Browne had for­merly run a sort of pa­per-web­site called

Vil­lage and worked for an out­fit known as RTÉ (ask your par­ents) which pro­duced news reels and talkies and pen­sion plans. There was a wild look in his eye and he oft wore a side­ways smirk on his down­cast face, as if to ac­knowl­edge the ab­surd na­ture of ex­is­tence like a sad clown.

With each ap­pear­ance, the state of the coun­try seemed to be re­flected in the state of his hair (flat­tened and sub­dued or wild and in flux or “Oh God, that’s up­set­ting, what’s go­ing on there?”). He had the ap­pear­ance of some­one who’d taken over the broad­cast at the last minute when the real an­chors had fled the cap­i­tal.

But cometh the hour, cometh the de­light­fully er­ratic news frag­gle, and from that scar­let TV3 set (pre­sum­ably so coloured to dis­guise the fre­quent blood-let­tings) he started to im­pose or­der on what was an ab­so­lute don­key-show of a na­tion. He did so by know­ing lots of stuff and be­ing an ab­so­lute news bas­tard.

For over­lever­aged own­ers of real es­tate in Cape Verde, his pan­els be­came a sort of pro­vi­sional gov­ern­ment and each episode a purge. It was deeply cathar­tic for the na­tion. We would tune in ev­ery evening for a rit­u­al­is­tic hour of hate dur­ing which Vin B would tor­ture a ju­nior min­is­ter with facts or sac­ri­fice a way­ward TD to the God of so­cial democ­racy, or sim­ply grab a mi­nor spokeswonk by his teeth and give him a shake. “Raar!” he would shout. Or, in mo­ments of re­flec­tive calm, “Raaar?”

As an an­gry mob, we were happy enough. He was Lord Sum­merisle to our an­gry an­i­mal-mask wear­ing pa­gan cult. “Sumer Is Ic­u­men In!” we’d sing (well my wife and I would sing) and then watch in de­light as he wa­ter­boarded a blueshirt or made a so­cial­ist do a sum or con­fused a Fianna Fáiler by hav­ing a be­lief sys­tem or sighed an in­de­pen­dent to death.

He ha­rangued Klaus Ma­such from the ECB with ques­tions about the bailout when Ma­such first came here to look through our stuff. He stormed the bar­ri­caded evic­tion-re­sist­ing man­sion Gorse Hill. “Vin­cent Browne has not been in­vited in here,” cried the lads from the New Land League, ap­par­ently un­der the rea­son­able im­pres­sion that Browne was a vam­pire. “Come on in lads, this is bank prop­erty,” said Browne to the other jour­nal­ists as he ad­vanced. “Wimps! Wimps!”

He would pester guests with ef­fi­ciency. “What are you talk­ing about?” “What does that mean?” “Who do you think you are?” “Wheeeeerre is love?” (Wait, is that a song from

Oliver!?) After a while the cat­tle-prod-wield­ing TV3 han­dlers gave up try­ing to con­trol him and we watched him bat­ter dy­nas­tic politi­cians un­til they could take it no more. “I only did this job to please my da,” they’d cry as Browne sunk his teeth of po­lit­i­cal knowl­edge into their fleshy flank of par­ti­san ig­no­rance.

It was re­ally only a mat­ter of time be­fore we tuned in to find Vin B wear­ing a skull mask, a cloak wo­ven from the skins of his en­e­mies and a staff topped off with a bit of New­grange. Sadly, this hap­pened just the once.

Pluck­ytroll dolls

He wasn’t nasty to every­one. Oc­ca­sion­ally, TV3 did mad things like make him in­ter­view Jed­ward. Those plucky troll dolls charmed the beastly Browne with their hi­jinks and by tak­ing a thorn from his paw, and Vin B chuck­led con­tent­edly.

Browne also smiled fondly at those other blessed chil­dren, the so­cial-me­dia en­abled younger jour­nal­ists, who came on to chan­nel the mes­sages of what he called the “tweet ma­chine”, a smoky steam­punk con­trap­tion that spat out tweets on punched tape. Vin B was al­ways ready to in­dulge the high-fa­lutin’ no­tions that of­ten come from that well-known ee­jit, “the com­mon man”.

Browne likes the com­mon man, and in the run-up to the last elec­tion, he hosted Daniel O’Con­nell-style mon­ster meet­ings ( The Peo­ple’s De­bate) around the coun­try­side (or “The Out­lands” as we in the Dublin me­dia call it) and it was gen­uinely great. Tonight with Vin­cent

Browne gave a voice to ac­tivists and work­ing-class peo­ple and fem­i­nists who didn’t usu­ally get on such pan­els.

I knew it couldn’t last for­ever, that this ma­jes­tic beast was not born for cap­tiv­ity and yearned for some­thing be­yond his crim­son lair of pain. I didn’t know what the spe­cific trig­ger would be, but I knew that if Vin B, for ex­am­ple, achieved a so­cial­ist par­adise/found the Jade Mon­key/ex­pe­ri­enced a mo­ment of per­fect hap­pi­ness, it would all come to an end.

Last week, he an­nounced that he will re­tire at the end of July. Un­til then, his show sees him deal­ing with the is­sues of the day while wax­ing nos­tal­gic. This is a bit like watch­ing a sav­age puma at­tack in which the sav­age puma spo­rad­i­cally gets a far­away look in his eye and puts his arm around his stunned and bloody prey (last night: Conor Leni­han) to re­call sav­age puma at­tacks of yore. It’s quite en­dear­ing.

At the end of the month, he will re­treat to his home be­neath the desk in the TV3 stu­dio or to Val­halla (Dún Laoghaire) or to Jed­ward’s cave deep in the for­est (these are just guesses; I have no idea where he lives) to al­low pub­lic life to go to the dogs with­out him.

Un­for­tu­nately, like all be­nign au­to­crats, Vin B never sorted out the is­sue of suc­ces­sion. Who could re­place him? They’d need to be a pas­sion­ate cur­mud­geon with real val­ues, not a cyn­i­cal con­trar­ian, which is the cur­rent fash­ion for broad­cast jour­nal­ists. They’d need to be prop­erly left wing and fem­i­nist to bal­ance the wider bi­ases in Ir­ish me­dia. They’d need to be fear­less and not just loud-mouthed. And they would have to be called Vin­cent Browne, be­cause the show is called Tonight with Vin­cent Browne and the sta­tion­ary has been paid for.

One way or an­other, TV3, and prob­a­bly the na­tion, will col­lapse into an­ar­chy when he’s gone, which is per­haps no more than we de­serve. We’ll miss you, Vin B.

With each ap­pear­ance, the state of the coun­try seemed to be re­flected in the state of his hair (flat­tened and sub­dued or wild and in flux or “Oh God, that’s up­set­ting, what’s go­ing on there?”)

Browne town: The Peo­ple’s De­bate with Vin­cent Browne

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