Saturday 10 December 2016

John Boland: Thanks a million? You must be joking!

The Secret Millionaire RTÉ ONE Put 'Em Under Pressure RTÉ ONE Celebrity Bainisteoir RTÉ ONE The Rise and Fall of Fianna Fáil TV3

John Boland

Published 24/09/2011 | 05:00

Now in its sixth year, Channel 4's The Secret Millionaire has always struck me as an odiously smug exercise whereby people with oodles of money get to show how much they care about their less fortunate fellow citizens and to dispense financial largesse to whomever they whimsically deem worthy of their patronage.

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What makes it even more repellent is that at the end of each episode the benefactor gets to reveal his true identity and financial worth to those who've hitherto accepted him as an ordinary Joe -- albeit an ordinary Joe who just happened to have attracted the constant attention of a camera crew.

By means of this revelation, he's alerting them to the fact that not only is he much more privileged than any of them but that they should be overcome by gratitude at the money he's bestowing on them from his petty cash box. This gratitude they always gushingly convey, though the gush quotient is undoubtedly enhanced by their awareness of the camera's presence.

This is the rich man's equivalent of ostentatiously dropping a euro into a poor box or a beggar's basket, but with an added and deeply elitist proviso -- the recipients have to demonstrate that they're engaged in some community-enhancing activity which makes them worthy of such magnanimity.

This was demonstrated by the recipients of John Concannon's cheques in the first instalment of RTé One's version of The Secret Millionaire -- Rachel and Michelle were running a football club for disadvantaged boys in west Dublin, Cathy was managing a carers' association for the elderly and infirm, while taxi driver John was a tireless volunteer for a charity dealing with suicide.

Their benefactor, who had begun his lucrative plastics career with a ribbing from Gay Byrne on a 1980s Late Late Show devoted to new entrepreneurs, came across as a decent man who was genuinely upset by the economic and social plight he discovered in west Dublin, and he brought to the show a cheering warmth and humanity.

But the basic exercise remained phoney, patronising, arbitrary and self-aggrandising, not helped by a voiceover which felt the need to keep breathlessly reminding us that "he's giving away thousands of euro of his own money". Well, I suppose we should be grateful it wasn't RTé's, and thus ours.

Put 'Em Under Pressure (RTé One) is Montrose's answer to BBC One's A Question of Sport, but whereas Sue Barker's modest tennis achievements give to her hosting of the BBC show a certain authority, Gráinne Seoige's presence as RTé quizmaster is unaccompanied by any distinction other than her sultry beauty and her ubiquity on our television screens.

The quiz itself is undone by the decision of its producers to make it as convoluted as possible, whereas the secret of all good television quizzes lies in their simplicity -- devising a clear-cut format in which a personable host gets to ask questions and the competitors attempt to provide answers.

It's not rocket science, just a bit of fun, though in this first instalment fun wasn't on the agenda of team captain Pat Spillane, who bleated throughout about what he perceived to be unfairness, thereby earning a rebuke from the presenter. The viewers' best rebuke to this tiresome show will be to reach for the remote.

Which is precisely what I did four minutes into the new season of Celebrity Bainisteoir (RTé One). When this reality series began a few years ago I wondered why on earth I should be asked to watch players being coached by celebrity B-listers who cheerfully professed ignorance of the game in question and whose only interest lay in getting their mugs on television.

That hasn't changed and so in this new series we have Amanda Brunker, Brenda Donohue, PJ Gallagher, Paul Gogarty and, need it be said, Dana -- who plainly would do anything to remind us that she's still there, even if it meant becoming President of Ireland, though how she'd find time for that job amid all her other media manifestations beats me.

The Rise and Fall of Fianna Fáil (TV3) didn't add up to much as a contribution to our understanding of a once-important political party, but it was full of great soundbites as various soldiers of destiny gave up any pretence of solidarity in their bid to distance themselves from this year's general election debacle. In fact, only éamon ó Cuív emerged from the series with his reputation enhanced as a serious and concerned politician.

In this last instalment, the bloodied and bowed candidates reflected on the reception they had got on election doorsteps -- Willie O'Dea experiencing "a frisson of apprehension" as he rang the bell, Tom Kitt reducing an unemployed man to tears, Conor Lenihan (in Kitt's recollection) "being run out of an estate in Tallaght by a fellow with a hurley".

Best of all, though, was former fun-loving junketeer John O'Donoghue, who recalled "a beautiful-looking girl" in the forecourt of a Killarney garage being "particularly abusive" about himself and his party. This led him to a profound pondering of the incident's meaning. "I said to myself: what's the point in being that beautiful if you're that ugly underneath?"

Thankfully, the bould John will never suffer from that dilemma.

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