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Wokeness in Ireland--1966 style

  • #1
    Registered Users Posts: 5,109 ✭✭✭ Snickers Man

    I have recently been thumbing through the memoirs of the late great Gay Byrne which were published in 1989 and in which he discussed, among other things, great controversies from his time as host of the Late Late Show. One in particular, which has gone down in legend, was the "Bishop and the Nightie" affair which occupied the national newspapers of the day for quite a time in 1966 and caused no end of anxiety in RTE headquarters.

    I quote an extensive passage from the book below for anyone who wants to read the whole thing. What I found so astonishing about it is how familiar it sounds in these days of "woke" outrage and cancel culture. Sure, the viewpoints which are held so vehemently and from which one dare not deviate too much are very different 55 years later but the righteous indignation, the tyranny of peer pressure, the willingness to use powers separate from the normal chain of command within any public organisation to bring influence to bear on someone deemed to have outraged popular sensibilities are pretty much the same as today.

    To summarise for anyone who thinks the passage is a case of TLDR: In February 1966 the Late Late ran a short item in a then popular format (called Mr and Mrs) in which a married couple are asked the same questions about each other while out of each other's earshot. The humour comes from then comparing each other's answers and realising how different they are. Hilarious, and very very dated in these days of cohabiting and indeed single-sex couples.

    One of the questions asked of this particular couple was the colour of nightdress the wife had worn on her wedding night. After humming and hawing for a time she replied that she probably hadn't worn one at all. The minx!!!

    The audience had a good natured titter and all seemed well until the Bishop of Clonfert got in touch to say how outraged he was and that he intended denouncing RTE, the Late Late and Gay Byrne in particular from his pulpit the following day (Sunday). What has Mr Byrne to say about that?

    The response from RTE moved pretty quickly from "You can't be serious!" to "Oh ****, we're in big trouble" Hurried apologies were made, Gaybo was forced to say how sorry he was (when he wasn't at all) and various organisations up and down the country (town councils, GAA boards, Catholic newspapers) were very sure to declaim publicly their outrage and intolerance of such reprehensible behaviour.

    It's quaint to note that, writing in 1989 about these events, which took place in 1966, Gaybo was optimistic that "This sort of thing couldn't happen today." Poor lad must be spinning in his grave!

    It's important to note that the Catholic church had no direct power or responsibility over RTE and its programmes. But it had massive influence over its flock and that was clearly what spooked RTE management. Gabyo's reaction resonates very clearly with anyone today who has faced a hostile college mob demanding his or her "removal" or "deplatforming" or other ostracisation unless of course a fullsome apology is proferred along with a sincere promise never to "offend" in such a manner again.

    I don't actually like the terms "woke" or "Political correctness". They're just the same old priggishness expressed by a different crowd with different views but just as much self righteous indignation.

    They all need a good ride!!!!

    Anyway, for those willing to soldier through the full "horse's mouth" passage, here it is.

    From The Time of my Life (1989) by Gay Byrne

    "What I do believe is for the better is that there is this new willingness at least to hear the other guy out—if not always to listen: the two things are not synonymous. And there is a new perspective on what is truly important and what is not.

    Radio and television over the past twenty-five years have made it easier for people to realise the normality of their reactions and their situations, and they are prepared to talk about it—or at least to write to Gay Byrne about it or to Marian Finucane or any of the clones of the 'Late Late Show' or the 'Gay Byrne Show'.

    I do not believe, for instance, that the Bishop and the Nightie incident could happen today. This episode, which has gone down in history and folklore and to which I refer for the benefit of those who are not old enough to have seen it, happened because we had decided in February 1966 to include, as one of the lighter items on the show, a pastiche of a quiz that was popular at the time on other channels, in which husbands and wives were asked the same questions while out of earshot of one another but within earshot of the audience. The object of this exercise was to see how much their answers tallied with each other, to what extent they knew each other's thoughts and attitudes or to what extent they would find they did not understand each other at all. The questions were pretty harmless—or so I thought.

    Two of the volunteers for the quiz, a Mr and Mrs Fox, were asked individually what colour nightdress had been worn by Mrs Fox on their wedding night. Neither could really remember, and Mrs Fox ventured, in all innocence and good humour, that perhaps she had worn none at all. . . The audience laughed delightedly, and that, I thought, was that.

    You can imagine my astonishment when, after the show, I was told there was a most urgent phone call for me from a reporter in the Sunday Press, who wanted to know if I had any statement to make in answer to the strong attack made on the programme by the Bishop of Clonfert, Dr Thomas Ryan. I knew of no attack, and knew only slightly of the Bishop of Clonfert and I asked for further details. The Sunday Press had them, in the form of a most forthright denouncement of the 'Late Late Show', which had been provided to them by telephone by the bishop's secretary, and which denouncement he intended to make the subject of his sermon in Loughrea Cathedral the following morning. Further, the Sunday Press was going to give its full front page over to the bishop's statement, and make it the major story of the day. I was so surprised that I had to ask the reporter which part of the show had so affected His Lordship, and I was told it was the section of the programme that featured the husband-and-wife quiz; they had their front page made up and were able to give me full details of it.

    The Sunday Press plans for such a big story made everybody surprised, except presumably the bishop and his secretary, and I went home that night not a little convinced that the whole thing was some huge gag being perpetrated by someone just to see what my reaction would be. But not so. The next morning [my wife] Kathleen and I went to ten o'clock Mass in University Church in Stephen's Green, and coming out we bought both Sunday papers. There it all was. They differed little in their coverage of the story, and it was obviously the most serious thing to happen in the country in decades. I remember as we drove up Dawson Street on the way back home that we were overtaken by an old friend of ours, Fr Brendan Heffernan. He had seen us coming out of Mass and had read the newspapers; he raced after us to offer his condolences, and I was somewhat relieved to find that he had seen the show and was as much at a loss as I was to know what all the fuss was about. I say I was relieved, because I was beginning to think I was going a bit mad.

    That morning [my brother] Al was having a few friends round for drinks, and he had asked us to drop in. When we got there, Gunnar Rugheimer, the Controller of Programmes, was also there, and was in rollicking good form about the whole saga. He thought it was intensely funny, and another indication of the quaintness of the Irish mind. Everyone present had a good laugh about the whole thing; but by the next day, after the story had gone out on both the radio and television news bulletins on the Sunday, the atmosphere had changed somewhat, and the laughter died down a little.

    On the Monday I was told that the Controller of Programmes and the Director-General wanted to see me. They had obtained a transcript of the whole programme and had examined it minutely—that is to say, they had had typed every word spoken by everybody on the show from beginning to end. I was forced to admit as I looked at the transcript that in the light of the bishop's criticism it was quite the most filthy, double-meaning and suggestive programme that had ever been transmitted anywhere in the world. Right from the moment I came on and said, 'Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the "Late Late Show!"' one could sense an evil glint in my eye and a knowing, suggestive smirk about my mouth. The further in we got the worse it became, and, of course, in cold print, taken out of context, the husband-and-wife encounter was sheer dirt from be­ginning to end. Again, bearing in mind what the bishop had seen in the programme, my final 'Good night and God bless' was pornography ram­pant. One didn't need to hear the actual words: one knew instantly what was in my mind.

    Both the Controller and the Director-General were agitated and wanted to get out a statement. Why they wanted to do this was never very clear to me, but I got the distinct impression that there was a bad case of the screaming funks going around, and everybody was catching it fast. I be­lieved then, and I still hold the belief, that the bishop should have been told by the DG that we had thought about the show and that we had come to the conclusion that there was nothing wrong with it; therefore we were making no apology for it. But this is not what happened. Having run up and down the corridor a few times with draft statements, the Controller and I sat down and wrote something to the effect that we now realised 'that part of last week's programme was embarrassing to a section of our viewers and we should like to say we are sorry about this.' And that became the official statement in reply to the objection. I was quite appalled at how so many people in responsible positions must have known that they were right but allowed themselves to be placed in a one-down situation—and I include myself in that criticism.

    But that was not the end of it. The wolves were out on the rampage and saw a field-day being presented to them on a plate. Every good soul in search of a bandwagon to clamber onto realised that his day had come, and thousands must have been hurt in the scramble to get on board.

    The Irish Times on the Monday was toffee-nosed and amusing, and right. Its leading article was headed—predictably— 'The Bishop and the Nightie'. It ended off by saying: 'While feeling that His Lordship was killing a fly with a sledgehammer. . . the Bishop in this case may find that, as our music-hall correspondent tells us, Saturday night's joke is one of the staples of vaudeville and may have bored more viewers than it offended. A lapse of taste has been treated as if it were an outrage to morals.'

    The bishop was quoted in Monday's Evening Herald as saying that he had been 'inundated with calls to congratulate him on his stand in speaking out against an objectionable show.' He added that he had seen the show on a few previous occasions 'but could not see anything then which could be regarded as morally objectionable.' He said he was not a great television fan, and added that he mostly watched news and sporting items, and one or two other programmes, such as 'Tolka Row', for relaxation.

    Loughrea Town Commissioners got in on the act in their weekly meeting on the following Wednesday (surprise, surprise: they just happened to live around the corner from the bishop). 'A dirty programme that should be abolished altogether' was how one speaker put it when the commissioners were discussing a vote of congratulation to the bishop on his stand. 'It's time to nip this thing in the bud, and His Lordship deserves the support of the people in this matter,' said Mr Devine. The Mayo GAA Board joined with the Meath Vocational Education Committee in passing resolutions condemning the show. The letters pages of the evening papers were full of controversy, and of course the Irish Catholic was not behind the door in pointing out just why they supported the bishop against those who were abusing him for his action. By the time the Irish Catholic got to it, however, what had happened on the 'Late Late Show' had become, not just a quick question on a superficial quiz 'but a public discussion of bedroom relations between married couples'! (The exclamation mark is mine.) Further, thundered the Irish Catholic, 'what is important is that a person with authority and courage has drawn public attention in an arresting manner to the growing tendency to play down the grave implications of the Sixth and Ninth Commandments and the unworthy part that Telefis Eireann, deliberately or unthinkingly, is taking in that process.' Dear Lord, I thought—what, little old us doing all that!

    There was much more, and it went on for quite some time. The newspapers loved it and kept coming back for more bites of the cherry. But eventually the point of overkill was reached, and the turn came in the public reaction.

    The outpourings of outraged self-righteousness eventually became so overpowering that a lot of people, all of a sudden and all at the same time, decided that they'd had it and that this nonsense had gone on quite long enough. The point was made, somewhere along the line, that if the bishop had wanted to make the front-page headlines in the Sunday papers, there was surely a sufficient number of real and important questions to be tackled in our society that were much more worthy of his attention. And anyway, when all was said and done, what precisely was wrong with a husband and wife describing a nightie with good humour on an adult programme, designed for adults, late on Saturday night? Perhaps, it was suggested, His Lordship was slightly out of touch with how real people lived? Gradually a lot of people came to the conclusion that never had so much fuss been made about so little by so few—and never had it all been exaggerated to such nonsensical lengths. The tide of criticism turned, basic good humour took over, and the incident became the subject of jokes for many years afterwards.

    However, for me, one of the most telling and truthful points was made in a letter to one of the evening papers. It said: 'The worst aspect of this squalid little affair is that Gay Byrne, knowing that his conscience was clear, should have apologised in public' That was the one lesson that I took from the entire episode.

    The Bishop—who had not at the time realised the implications of his action in issuing the hasty statement, which could and in my opinion should have been held on his behalf until the more clear-thinking light of the following morning—was deeply embarrassed; and months later he sent an emissary to Kathleen's brother, Jimmy Watkins, who is a vet, asking for a meeting with his representative in Bewley's cafe. When Jimmy went along, the representative, a clerical gentleman, asked him to convey His Lordship's regrets to me over the entire incident. Decent man.

    Poor Tom Ryan! Clearly, a bunch of the boys had been tippling a few in the back room that Saturday night, which, God knows, they were perfectly entitled to do. But Tom failed to build in protection for himself in the event of having one over the eight, and thus found himself embroiled in something that was to cause him the most acute embarrassment for the remainder of his life.

    It has dogged my days for twenty years also, to the point of boredom; and the only reason I tell the story here again (and believe me, this is a very shortened version of it!) is because I know the younger generation will find it hard to believe that such an incredible fuss could have been made about so little. The hypocrisy, the cant, the posturing, the lies of that period are beyond credence, but the whole ridiculous incident is a historic marker of how seriously Irish people took their telly in those days. They've improved! "








  • The point I was, and am, making is that the real enemies of "explorative and expressive thought" are self-righteousness, presumptuousness and priggishness.

    In the absence of any agreed definition of "wokeness" or "Political correctness" I am left to infer what these terms are by listening to and observing what people say about them and what appears to drive their reactions to them, positively or negatively.

    i am drawn to conclude that what people despise about these terms are not the views held, but rather the vehemence with which they are held and the intolerance to those who demur.

    The views held by those who were outraged by the "nightie" question on the Late Late in 1966 have probably very little overlap with those who, say, want to silence people whose views on gender identification differ from their own. But the priggishness and presumption that they are right and everyone else is "in error", the willingness to harness groups to bring pressure indirectly on people over whom they have no direct control themselves, the intolerance of other points of view. These seem very similar today to what Gay Bynre experience in 1966.

    Don't you think?

  • i am drawn to conclude that what people despise about these terms are not the views held, but rather the vehemence with which they are held and the intolerance to those who demur.

    You could be talking about either side of the debate here. I've no doubt the 'non-woke' will claim that it is the advocates for a particular cause who have no intolerance to others disagreeing with them yet the significantly larger volume (most definitely on here) seems to come from the side of people trying to shut down the advocates or argument for a particular topic.

    Those outraged in the 60's were limited to members of the clergy who wished to maintain their control over society and the zealots who enforced their wishes through peer pressure. Any consideration of change was fearful for those clergy and I think that that is what motivates many non-woke today. If you think the world is changing outside of your control, it's probably a natural instinct to wish it would stop.

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  • All 1,100 complainants would no doubt be whingeing on Boards about the 'snowflake generation'.

  • At the heart of the matter here is what you understand by the term "woke". As I mentioned in my OP, I really don't like the term at all precisely because it is so unclear. I prefer the term "priggishness" because from listening to the more histrionic people in our society, and also to those who denounce them, it is clear to me that that old word is a far more accurate and better understood word than newer terms such as "woke" or "politically correct".

    In my venerable old (hard copy) Concise Oxford English Dictionary a prig is "a conceited and didactic person; a precisian in manners, morals and language"

    I looked up didactic to be sure what it meant. It basically means, in modern parlance "finger-wagging".

    Does that not meet your impression of what people are talking about when they use the term woke? Note that it does not say which morals or manners a prig espouses. The point is that such a person is conceited, didactic and rigid in their own interpretation of those manners and morals, and by implication intolerant of other people's, whether they are talking about the dangers of disregarding "the 6th and 9th Commandments" (1960s variant) or the crime of "misgendering" people of uncertain sexual identification (today's minefield).

    I do take your point that one should be careful not to exaggerate the power of the outraged classes and to mythologize the malevolent forces of mob but there is no doubt that some people in public positions have to be very careful about whom they offend. There are some real world examples, two of which involvied people in Ireland forced out of their jobs in recent years for infringing the sensibilities of today's zeitgeist..

    George Hook was removed from his position at Newstalk for daring to suggest that young women should be a little more careful about allowing themselves into compromising positions with young men while drunk (advice that any father worth his salt would give to his daughter) and, most laughably, Kevin Myers one of the doughtiest supporters of Israel in the Irish media was hounded out of ALL of his journalistic gigs for being an anti-Semite! He had made a casual reference to Jews being able business negotiators, which on the grand scheme of things is not the worst thing you could say about anyone but when the named subjects of his article reacted with anger, there was nobody in his peer group that dared defend him. The only person that did, and fair play to him, was the head of a representative body of Irish Jews who was most insistent that whatever Myers might be or think, he is NOT an antiSemite.

    If you read the full extract from Gaybo's book in the OP (and if you don't want to I will quote it here) you will see that the Irish Times in 1966 wrote in an editorial that the objections of the bishop were akin to "swatting a fly with a sledgehammer" and remarking that "a lapse in taste has been treated as if it were an outrage to morals." Something similar happened to Myers a few years ago. Some would say, and some famously did, that it was no more than he deserved for picking on other more vulnerable groups down through the years who did not have the clout to hit back and it served him right for unwisely setting his sights on people who take the view that "those who don't take any shite tend not to get any".

    Much of the same disproportionate reaction and commentary is at the heart of what people today call "wokeness" and "political correctness". It's just old fashioned priggishness with a new title and with different protagonists.

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  • I guess if the same thing happened today, then the Bishop of Clonfert would be subjected to a Twitter pile-on and anyone who supported him would be rounded on. So what's the point then? That prevailing opinions have alwasy tended to shout down minority opinions? Is that really surprising?

    I guess what has changed is what the prevailing opinion is. The Bishop's opinion has gone from being the majority to the minority viewpoint.

  • No it's not surprising. Indeed I was drawn by the similarities in reactions back then, even though the viewpoint was very different to today.

    The likes of GAA county boards and Vocational Education Committees passing motions of condemnation were probably the nearest the 1960s came to a "Twitter pile on". I guess it's important to remember that outraged sensibilities and the need to denounce those of differing views are not peculiar to any political, religious, ethnic or cultural viewpoint.

    We're all at it! And always have been.

  • It's not an example of "woke", it is an example of pretty much every society on Earth at any one time having a set of beliefs they decide or have decided for them to live by and any dissension from the cathechism de jour especially a public one is rounded upon by the gatekeepers of that society. This was the case in Ancient Athens, Rome, Soviet Russia, the Caliphate, Catholic Ireland, America, Saudi Arabia, post revolutionary France, Nazi Germany, Franco's Spain and so on. The kerfuffle over yer wan being starkers on her wedding night is funny to us now and funny to some then, but not so funny to enough people back then to cause a storm in a teacup. The bit we don't like to think about is would we be on the side of funny or outrage back then? Chances are high it could go either way and our overall attitude to good oul Catholic Ireland would for the vast majority of people be one of agreement, tacit or active. "Rebels" in any society are as a near given the minority, often a tiny one.

    Few enough were innocent in the past, few enough are innocent in the present, we just don’t know why yet.

  • I'd literally never heard the term woke before Louise O Neills tweet about Tupac Shakur being a "woke bae". That was only about five years ago and since then there's no escaping it.

  • That's an awful lot of reading for an after hours thread

  • This is AH. I don't want to read a thesis. I'm out.

  • I’d forgotten the bishop actually made an apology of sorts, albeit very privately and through a 3rd party.

    not at all related to wokeness though- the opposite in fact- simple power, coercion and suppression of freedom of expression by self-appointed moral guardians - Irish society were still sheep in the most part back in 1966.

    The only vague comparison you could make here today between woke culture and back then is the intolerance to listen and understand other viewpoints, on both sides I might add. “I’m right, you’re wrong” is still the mantra regardless of your beliefs- we’ve moved well off the road of a pluralistic society I thought we were heading towards, over the last 20 years.

  • +1. I'd even argue that a pluralist society mostly exists as a concept, or for a brief interlude between two competing sets of moralities and social attitudes as a society works out where it stands on different subjects.

    Few enough were innocent in the past, few enough are innocent in the present, we just don’t know why yet.

  • Thanks Kermit, your contribution really added a subtle nuance to the thread. Have you ever thought about creative writing?

    Very good post OP, and I totally get where you are coming from. Sure, perhaps invoking the W word (even the use of the W Word is going to get you in difficulty these days, in fact I am even a bit nervous as I type it...) is going to bring out the usual response in some of the usual suspects.

    The general theme of 'I'm Right, You're wrong', as pointed out by a poster above, is indeed in play.

  • Today no one would give a fcuk what colour nightie a bride worn on her wedding night.

    1966 belongs in 1966

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  • One difference is that the Bishop’s denunciation and demand for consequences was based on the prevailing orthodoxy. Modern, left wing cancel culture, by contrast, is based on imposing a minority ideology.

    There’s an audio recording of the programme. Byrne is somewhat disingenuous in describing it as entirely innocent. There’s a suggestiveness throughout, such as asking where the wife first feels the cold, ‘Her feet, her nose or [pause] somewhere else.’

  • As Wibbs pointed out, these are constants in human societies. We are hierarchical pack animals.. this means conformity, conscientiousness, status, belonging, expressions of loyalty, experiences of shame, celebration, status, mutterings of discontent, in groups out groups. Also constant.. the will to power, wolves and sheep, binders, divders and disrupters, totems and taboos. One constant about Ireland in particular, however, is that it is an island. Maybe that is significant, maybe not.

    Even the concept of being 'awake'/'woke' as opposed to the sleepy dopes that have different views, has ancient origins, probably reaching its height in late antiquity w/ the gnostics who declared themselves truly awake and all-knowing while challenging Christian and Roman orthodoxies.

    tldr: You have no god-given right to a summary of the above and will not receive one here you lazy get. :D

  • Well to be fair, I did put the extract from the autobiography at the end of the post and as an appendix, inasmuch as a site like this allows you to do so, while also providing a TLDR synopsis in the main post. Reading the full extract was meant to be optional. :)

  • Wow! I didn't realise there was ANY sort of recording still in existence. Thank you so much for that. Great to hear it all "from the horse's mouth".

  • Yeah that was my thinking too - I thought we had commenced that around the turn of the century but I think we’ve lost our way - and not just Irish society, I think many cultures are very confused right now- what defined them in the past, whether good bad or indifferent has been eroded and what’s being proposed to replace it is being forced upon in the main.

    I remember a bunch of a few thousand in Dublin leading a walk against the gay marriage referendum narrating the rosary through load-speakers as they went - I just thought thank god (yes him) we live in a democracy where freedom of expression is still tolerated even though I may not have agreed with their views. They went about their march unmolested which was the most important thing in my eyes.

  • But one of the hallmarks of "cancel culture" or "wokeness" as I understand them is the tyranny of peer pressure. The harnessing of a mob manipulated into action by an appeal to what is generally considered something worthy such as denouncing racism and bigotry, an appeal for a more equitable society, a desire to see a more civilized and inclusive culture. Regrettably, just as arrogance is often an inevitable by product of competence so too is priggishness an inseparable part of any movement in favour of moral principle. After all, if you are convinced that you are righteous in your views, it follows logically that anyone who is opposed must be living in error if not downright sin.

    "Modern left-wing cancel culture" may not be the "prevailing orthodoxy" as you put it but surely the values to which its followers appeal to the general public in their search for support, like the ones I mentioned above, are largely irrefutable?

  • we just tremble before a different form of cleric nowadays

    was once the catholic bishops , now its the WOKE ayatollahs , beit on Twitter or wherever

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  • the high priests of WOKE ideology represent a sort of politburo culturally speaking , they dont need to represent the majority of the populations values , they are in the business of imposing values as a self appointed elite council