Last night’s TV: Watching Daddy Die
Someday, somebody will work out how many times in our lives we can expect to see the planes crashing into the twin towers on September 11 2001.
Images from the 9/11 attacks have become such a commonplace sight that they’re possibly the one experience that everybody in the world has in common.
From Dublin to Dubai, Caracas to Cape Town, nobody can escape them, particularly at this time of year, when news programmes struggle to find new ways to tell the same shocking story.
There’s no better way to spice up a badly-told tale than to suddenly cut to an image of a plane crashing into a tower; documentary makers sometimes find it very hard to avoid the temptation.
But, as 22-year-old Caitlin Langone, who was 12 when her father was killed in the attacks, told Channel 4’s Children Of 9/11, the images are not just a piece of filler to titillate viewers. “Every time I see those towers come down, it’s like watching Daddy die over and over again”.
Or as Catherine Coughlan told another of last night’s anniversary programmes: “every morning when you wake up, it’s on the news. It doesn’t go away.
Coughlan, whose husband Martin was killed when one of the towers collapsed, was speaking on The Ashes Of 9/11, RTE1’s account of Irish people affected by the attacks, which showed the planes crashing into the towers at least seven times.
It nevertheless managed to be a very powerful and respectfully told tale of the Irish who died and the families they left behind.
It started with Ron Clifford from Cork, who was in the lobby of the south tower when the first plane crashed into its twin.
He was helping a woman with 95 per cent burns into an ambulance outside when he heard the second plane plough into the building he had just left.
Though he couldn’t have known it at the time, his sister Ruth and her daughter Juliana were on the plane. Ruth’s purse was later found on the ground in lower Manhattan.
Ten years on, Ron is still damaged by the experience. He spoke about his memories on The Late Late Show on Friday in words very similar to those he used last night. Images of the day, the same terrifying images, are clearly on a constant loop in his mind.
When he talks about them, it’s as though it’s a huge physical effort to get the words out. His breathing is heavy, his voice strained.
It’s distressing to watch him, so desperate to talk, but so appalled, still, by what he is saying.
Martin Coughlan was also in the south tower when the first plane crashed. He rang Catherine to tell her what had happened and to reassure her that his tower was unaffected.
Ashes Of 9/11 played the message he left on Catherine’s machine, and another he left a while later when the second plane crashed into his tower.
He was remarkably calm, careful not to worry his wife unduly. He was seven floors above where the plane had hit, and while he did admit that he and his colleagues were in a spot of trouble, “hopefully I’ll see you tonight”.
A while later, his tower collapsed. Catherine was watching on television in work. “I just said to my co-worker: he’s gone”.
Eileen Tallon’s son Sean, a fireman from Cork, was in the North tower when it collapsed. A few days later, when his body still hadn’t been located, somebody approached Eileen and said: “you must be so happy Sean’s been found”.
For a few minutes, she had a sudden rush of hope that her son had survived and had been wandering around the place, or was in hospital, suffering from amnesia. But it was his body which had been found, along with those of several of his colleagues.
Stories like that were common place this time 10 years ago, of course, but to hear them told in an Irish accent was a reminder that 9/11 wasn’t just an American tragedy, its heroes not just American heroes.
Ashes Of 9/11 did their stories justice.
Elsewhere on tv last night, life continued as normal with The X-Factor auditions now in full swing and revealing the usual mixture of the good, the bad and the very, very bad indeed.
On the positive side, last night’s show came up with at least three people who will be household names by Christmas.
Amelia Lily Oliver, who is sixteen going on 36, gave an impossibly mature rendition of Take Another Little Piece Of My Heart, while Marcus Collins (23) – “my clients call me the singing hairdresser” – belted out an impressive version of Signed Sealed And Delivered.
But it was solider Jonjo Kerr who stole the show for many, recovering from two false starts to master Handbags and Gladrags. “I was more scared of going before the X-factor judges than of going to Afghanistan”, he said.
On the less impressive side – to put it politely – was Aisling Corr from Dublin who wants to be bigger than Britney Spears but who hasn’t a note in her head. “That’s the first time Louis has ever said no to somebody from Dublin”, Gary Barlow said.
She was that bad, I’m afraid.