Damian Corless is spoiled for choice when it comes to compiling the Top 10 worst Irish TV programmes, with gems such as the 'Calor Gas Housewife of the Year' and 'Quicksilver'
A new edition of The Penguin TV Companion pays special attention to the worst programmes ever to air on the networks of Britain and America. The compilers of an 'Irish Worst List' would be spoiled for choice, but the following shows would all be worthy contenders for a place in the top ten.
Calor Housewife Of The Year Gay Byrne hosted this annual 'Lovely Girls' triathlon for the mature Irishwoman. The finalists' first task was to rustle up a meal. That done, they were given a dab of make-up and wheeled back out to tell how they trapped their man. Having established their desirability in the kitchen and the bedroom, they closed with a party piece that might be a song, or a jig, or a poem in Irish.
In the '90s, the contest was dropped amid complaints that too many women working outside the home were taking part. The morning after what turned out to be the final show, a caller phoned RTE to protest that most of the finalists "would never get down on their knees to scrub the floor".
Leave It To Mrs O'Brien Twenty years after it ended, this dismal sitcom about two priests and their housekeeper (originally entitled The Good, The Bad & The Clergy) remains a by-word for plodding ineptitude. Mrs O'Brien was played by Anna Manahan, but RTE didn't see the need to use a professional writer, and series one was scripted by a Dublin housewife. She was jilted for series two, with Montrose promising "more character depth" and "more reality". Instead, they brought in plots involving mysterious sacks of swag and showbiz intrigues.
One TV critic wanted those responsible "thrown on the dole and given lousy references". The makers finally raised a belly-laugh with the hilarious defence that their target audience were kids and oldies, and that it was RTE's public service remit to satisfy the low expectations of these undemanding viewers.
Going Strong Bunny Carr made his name hosting Quicksilver, a quiz show famous for its poor prizes (they started at one old penny) and poorer answering. Q: "What was Ghandi's first name? A: "Goosey-Goosey." Q: "What was Hitler's first name?" A: "Heil!"! The musical clues of organist Norman Medcalf have also entered legend. Once, to suggest the answer 'Meath', he played Meet Me In Kentucky.
In 1975, Bunny moved to Going Strong, an afternoon sop to senior citizens which made Quicksilver look like the Apollo 11 moon landing. Going Strong had regular features on knitting, shrubberies and mushy foods; no episode would be complete without an elderly farmer recalling the time he was chased by a bull. The annual highlight was a Grandmother Of The Year pageant.
Play The Game In any other country, Play The Game would have been scheduled in mid-morning to find its target audience of students, alcoholics and nursing home inmates. In Ireland, this charades-based charade ran as prime-time entertainment several times weekly for 10 years. The format involved Derek Davis, Ronan Collins, Twink, two sofas and a procession of 'special guests' who were so low-profile that carpet burns were an occupational hazard.
Upwardly Mobile This series about a skanger family that win the lotto and move in beside snooty neighbours, took a classic sitcom set-up and bludgeoned it to death. Joe Savino played the male lead, while Hilary Fannin was the female star. The theme song originally went: "'So it's goodbye to old J Arthur, and it's hello to fine Chablis". This was changed when RTE discovered that the J Arthur in question was not Guinness, but movie mogul J Arthur Rank. J Arthur is rhyming slang for something rude that sounds like Rank. That was as funny as this got.
Murphy's Micro Quiz-M/Winning Streak In 1984, computers were poised to take over the world and RTE responded with a gimmicky quiz show, featuring lots of whirring sounds and flashing lights. Host Mike Murphy wore a space suit and greeted each special effect with an awestruck gasp of "Gawd, would you look at that". He later admitted he hadn't a clue what a 'Quiz-M' is.
Mike moved to Winning Streak, which makes Micro Quiz-M look like Mastermind. The Lottery-funded Winning Streak cannot involve any element of knowledge or skill and relies entirely on the "Aw! Jaysus factor". An RTE source revealed: "Viewers love to see people win money. It makes them go 'Aw! Jaysus'."
The Spike This 1978 ten-parter set in a tough secondary school was effortlessly funny. Sadly, it wasn't meant to be. The briefest glimpse of naked flesh in episode 5 outraged the chairman of the League Of Decency, who suffered a heart attack while making angry phonecalls to newspapers. The Spike's producer bizarrely claimed the intent had been "to examine the attitude of pupils and staff to nudity".
On the day that part 6 was due to air with a story of a schoolboy bomber, RTE axed it. The remaining episodes remain locked away.
Ryantown This dog's dinner was the low-point of Gerry Ryan's TV career which has never hit the heights. Gerry had a dog and it was disobedient. That was the show's main running gag. Someone from Fair City would drop in and casually start cooking spaghetti bolognese. Brenda Donoghue would doorstep householders with a roving camera and there was an identity parade called Who's Married To Who?. Ryan later admitted it was all horribly "half-baked" and "should have been taken off the air after a few shows".
Extra, Extra, Read All About It In recent years, RTE has squandered taxpayer's money on two fabulously bad comedies. A sitcom about swingers, Fergus's Wedding, was as funny as a tax audit. And The Cassidys was so cringe-inducing that one member of RTE's top brass publicly disowned it.
However back in 1993, RTE served up a comedy so deeply unfunny that the station tried to pretend that it wasn't actually a comedy. So dire was Extra, Extra, that a joke went around Montrose that it had been commissioned solely to make Ryantown seem less awful.
Hilary Fannin, who also starred in Upwardly Mobile, played the female lead in Extra, Extra, which was written by comedian Morgan Jones who also starred in the series.
Introducing episode 1, the announcer described it as "a new drama". Nobody had told this to the engineer who'd tacked on gales of histrionic canned laughter. Midway through the first instlment, the entire cast (supposedly staffing a newspaper office) began dancing a hornpipe to the tune of HMS Pinafore.
The Lyrics Board The Japanese devised a show called Endurance where a panel of volunteers suffer cruel tortures to entertain viewers at home. Giving this formula an ingenious twist, the Irish invented a show where a panel of volunteers entertain themselves by inflicting cruel tortures on viewers at home.
The Lyrics Board is stunningly simple. You just need two pianos and two panels of people who may or may not be able to sing, but who are willing to belt out songs they may or may not know in front of a demented audience. It's every bit as good as it sounds and, to prove the point, it's been franchised out to 21 countries.