Tuesday 28 February 2017

Wogan is our obvious saviour for obscure reasons

TELEVISION Terry's timing is perfect, says Declan Lynch. If only he could fix RTE's scheduling madness

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

IF Terry Wogan's Ireland had been made any time between, say, 1998 and 2008, we'd probably have laughed at it. Any time before that, and we'd have been grateful for the publicity. And in the present circumstances, we view it as a gift from the gods.

We got very smart during that lost decade of irrational exuberance, too smart for a programme such as this, with its gentle observations, its strict adherence to the style of the coffee table, and an overall sense that it was put together by a crack team from Bord Failte.

We got so smart, we would have regarded all these qualities as grounds for criticism, even for derision. Now that we are a bit more humble again, we see them as virtues.

We are mightily relieved, indeed, to see old Wogan using this autobiographical journey on the BBC to give an old-fashioned boost to Irish tourism, to remind all those potential visitors that a rainy day in Ireland is "a soft day", that the singing pubs are full of happy people singing sad songs, and that the statue of Our Lady in Ballinspittle moved.

A few years ago, we were finished with all that. Now we are glad to see ourselves portrayed in that light on a foreign station, when the alternative is to switch on CNN and to find ourselves looking at Cowen-sy handing over the country to the IMF, or perhaps a profile of Jackie Healy-Rae, the typical public representative in Eire.

After all we've been through on the international stage in recent times, an hour with Wogan and his lovely pictures and his good-natured quipping is a real treat. Let it be said that in our darkest days, when we needed him, he was there.

AND he is, after all, a star. We take it for granted that Wogan can just wander through these picturesque scenes, and it will be automatically watchable. Yet if it wasn't Wogan amusingly going the wrong way round the Ring of Kerry, it might not be watchable at all.

For a man to have a convincing presence on television is a rare gift, which might seem like a statement of the obvious, until you realise that the obvious is often the last thing that we notice.

It might have seemed obvious, for example, for a large room full of political journalists to ask Brian Cowen if the few pints he was known to have consumed on the night of his political self-destruction might in any way have influenced the flow of events -- a simple and deeply relevant question based on known fact, and yet not one of them went there, consumed perhaps with their own attention-seeking, the way that they would announce their names and the organs they work for, these people who spend half their lives hanging around Leinster House, acting as if Cowen had no idea who they were until that moment.

It was obvious bulls**t, as was the inevitable question in Irish, yet for all its obviousness, they kept doing it.

So it might be obvious that Wogan has some deeply reassuring quality which he brings to the screen, but there is still a mystery to it. I should ask my colleague Brendan O'Connor how it works -- because it sure don't work for me -- but he probably doesn't know either.

It works for him, and that is all we know.

On the rare occasions when I spend any time in front of a TV camera, I am a broken man for the rest of the day, as if something has been physically taken out of me. Whenever O'Connor sits in that seat on The Saturday Night Show, he looks like he belongs on the screen, like it was meant to be.

To me this is obvious, and I really don't think I would feel otherwise if he happened to work for, say, PricewaterhouseCooper in real life. Last week he did an interview with Aimee Richardson, who is the voice of the TV cartoon character Punky, and who has Down syndrome.

I don't think I have seen such an interview on television before, and I doubt if I will see its like again. There are TV personalities of 30 years standing who would not dream of stepping out of their usual routines in this way, who would wake up weeping with fear in the middle of the night at the thought of interviewing anyone who wasn't "on the circuit", as it were.

So this was not just a TV breakthrough, it was a great day for Ireland -- or as Wogan would remind us self-deprecatingly, another great day for Ireland.

THOUGH it is treated as something of a mystery, it is obvious too, why RTE is showing Mad Men at midnight.

Mad Men is good. And good programmes are considered too good for the masses. You can hear them described as "off-beat" or "quirky", which are put-downs really, when what they are, is good.

So Mad Men is on at midnight because RTE thinks that most of its viewers are too stupid to appreciate it.

That's why.

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