Entertainment Television

Friday 24 May 2019

Declan Lynch: 'The 'Wingman' will soon be flying over many lands'

  • Wingman (RTE1)
Making a drama: Jimmy Byrne and Baz Ashmawy in Wingman
Making a drama: Jimmy Byrne and Baz Ashmawy in Wingman
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

I happened to be in Berlin recently, checking the pulse of the Germanic peoples, and I found myself wondering about a strange phenomenon that I have noticed in some of these great lands on 'the continent' - their television isn't that great.

Many other art forms are available to the highest standard, and yet you can find yourself on Saturday night in Germany looking at a thing called 'Schlager'.

This is a type of easy-listen' music that seems to have developed in these countries as a reaction to what they perceived as the menace of rock and roll. It has echoed through the ages in the sounds of Eurovision, but that doesn't really convey the full extent of how poor it is.

Indeed, if we take the demon rock 'n' roll as our guide here, the 'Schlager' is as poor as rock 'n' roll was rich - worse indeed, because it is not just poor in itself, it implies this rejection of the superior alternative. Its poorness has a kind of defiance to it, a perverse boastfulness.

As you watched these quite elderly TV performers and their devoted studio audience letting themselves go, lost in the 'Schlager', you could sense this weird pride in what they were doing - like they were preserving this tradition with a fierce determination that would be laudable if the tradition they were preserving was good.

But it is not good. It is bad.

Still it would be wrong to single out this blind spot in Germany's culture of light entertainment, when so many of the otherwise magnificent cultures of the grand old continent are similarly impoverished.

Have you ever actually seen a great TV programme, on your sunshine holidays?

Unlikely, I would say. And while I accept that you're not there to be watching the telly, and often would be actively avoiding it, you'd still expect that just once, if only by accident, you'd happen across something that was on vaguely the same level of excellence as the average RTE production.

So we should not forget how lucky we are here, that by a wondrous accident of geography we have been the beneficiaries of the British standards in this area, which of course are beyond compare. Even if way back, the darkest forces in RTE had had their way, and turned our national service into a version of Romanian TV but entirely in the Irish language, they couldn't have got away with it.

They only got away with such things in Romania, because viewers had little to compare it with, they weren't getting proper TV programmes along with their own kind, they did not know any better.

But we knew better, and so it came to pass that not only could we make TV programmes that were sometimes comparable to the ones on the BBC, we could have actual Irish people going to the BBC and ITV and becoming stars.

Which brings us naturally to Baz Ashmawy - if you're asking me who will be the next Irish TV personality to make that trip, I would say to you: Baz Ashmawy.

I realise he's already gone there, with 50 Ways to Kill your Mammy on Sky, but you can see from Wingman, his latest series on RTE, that a larger destiny is within his range.

Wingman last week had Baz helping Jimmy Byrne, a farmer in Co Louth to realise his dream of putting on a play. He got there in the end, as we knew he would.

But while we were interested in whether Jimmy would make it to the village hall with his version of The Quiet Land, we were just as interested in whether his wingman Baz will make it to the global village hall, like Graham Norton, or Wogan.

Personally, I can't see much stopping him at this stage, he has that largeness of personality which can hardly be contained on our little stage, but which could easily make him big in Britain and which, indeed, has already won him an Emmy in America.

Wouldn't be too sure about Europe though.

Sunday Independent

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