Entertainment Television

Thursday 21 March 2019

Couchsurfer: If you're Irish

Homegrown talent such as Jason Byrne, Keith Barry, Angela Scanlon and Laura Whitmore are keeping British screens alive, says Emily Hourican

Laura Whitmore
Laura Whitmore

Emily Hourican

Being Irish in London media circles is generally a good thing, but right now the combination seems even more dynamic and fruitful than usual. From serious to light, fashion to family entertainment, Irish presenters are mopping up the top gigs on British TV.

Most recently, Keith Barry, Waterford magician and mentalist, landed a spot as resident mind hacker with ITV's new game show, You're Back In The Room, in which contestants must try and win money - £25,000 - somewhat hampered by the fact that they are hypnotised, into believing they are Patrick Swayze in Ghost, or in love with Phillip Schofield, or auditioning for X Factor, any one of a hundred things that will interfere with their ability to keep their eyes on the prize and perform the fairly simple tasks allocated them. A blend of pure slapstick with a dash of 'how-does-he-do-it?' thrown in, The Telegraph called it "significantly funnier than anything else on TV."

Jason Byrne, meanwhile, gets to have even sillier fun with Wild Things, Sky1's utterly bonkers new game show; in fact, he can usually be heard laughing uproariously in the background. Byrne - who recently confessed to being snubbed by Gywneth Paltrow after he made a joke about her daughter Apple's name - and Kate Humble preside together over a show in which pairs of contestants compete on a woodlands assault course for a prize of £10,000 - while one of them is wearing a giant furry animal suit that completely blocks their view. So you get a man-size duck running against a giant furry fox, steered and cheered on by the fox's wife, say, or the duck's daughter. Owing plenty to Japanese game shows such as Takeshi's Castle, not to mention the underground, rather kinky trend for 'Furries', Wild Things is absurd, and hilarious.

Laura Whitmore, above, who hangs out with a London-Irish crew that includes Niall Horan of One Direction and pop rock band The Script, sparked off plenty of interest recently when she quit MTV News (she can still be seen on MTV Asks), after seven years, because, although "it has been a blast," apparently "due to some upcoming projects I can no longer commit." From Bray, Whitmore won out from among thousands of hopefuls in the star search Pick Me MTV, to become the face of MTV News. From there, she launched a presenting career that included I'm a Celebrity. . . Get Me Out Of Here and BBC's Eurovision coverage. She fronted the red carpet for this year's BRIT Awards, as well as taking to the runway herself for London Fashion Week, walking for Bora Aksu.

What Laura's "upcoming projects" are precisely, has not yet been revealed, although a clothing range is in the pipeline - as are rumours that ITV's Celebrity Love Island is a possibility.

Angela Scanlon has pretty much nailed the 'bubbly, irreverent, fun-girl' presenting persona, helped by her ready wit - she recently asked "Why does anyone do Lent now we're permanently living it?" - and long copper curls, meaning she is the go-to for gigs such as hosting the main stage at London Fashion Weekend, and now digital host for The Voice UK, as well as more traditionally-packaged fare such as Getaways, on RTE1 and BBC, and documentaries partly of her own devising, including Oi Ginger! and Full Frontal.

What all four presenters have in common is ease of manner and an ability to get the joke, no matter how absurd the joke might be. Good style is clearly a big part of Angela and Laura's appeal, but particularly where this is allied to a sense of humour. It's the hint of barely-supressed laughter in the background, rather than the ability to rock a red carpet look, that makes them UK TV gold.

You're Back In The Room is on ITV, Saturdays at 8.25pm. Wild Things is on Sky1, Sundays at 7pm

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