Friday 13 December 2019

Television review: Ground Control to Major Dobbo

* Six One News (RTE1)
* Rebellion (RTE1)
* Cuimhni on mBlascaod (TG4)

Illustration: Jim Cogan.
Illustration: Jim Cogan.
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Looking at Bryan Dobson opening the Six One News with a headline about the death of the "singer, songwriter and performer" David Bowie, one felt a mixture of admiration and compassion.

Like any hard news man, Dobbo is always a little off-balance when he is called upon to deal with these great issues, so that even the most basic descriptions sound a bit strange - is it necessary, for example, to refer to the "singer, songwriter and performer" David Bowie? Would a simple "David Bowie" not work?

I think it would, but then it is the standard position in news and current affairs to imagine that there is a 108-year-old person out there who has just been discovered living five miles under the sea, who is somehow watching the RTE News, and who needs to be told what David Bowie did for a living.

Still they got it right in making Bowie the lead item, and they jazzed it up with a perfectly-pitched tribute by John Kelly, despite that ancient voice which always comes to them at such a time, with the nagging question. Why does this matter?

They're sending Dobbo out there to stand in front of the people of Ireland using words like "Ziggy Stardust", and so that interior voice won't leave them alone: Why does this matter?

They know for sure why a Fine Gael re-shuffle matters. But the death of one the great artists of the 20th century? Not so sure about that.

By Wednesday, when the Dail resumed and Dobbo was standing outside Leinster House "as the clock ticks" towards the election, the old equilibrium had been restored. They know all the nuances of this game, such as they are, but they are never so sure-footed about "the passing of one of musicians true legends."

Obviously Dobbo meant to say "one of music's true legends", but it just got away from him towards the end, so he concluded with "one of musicians true legends".

Perhaps he was still traumatised after saying "Ziggy Stardust", but to his credit it sounded like he meant it sincerely. Whatever it was.


We are all in strange territory with Rebellion, which continues to throw us off-balance at vital moments, but in a good way. When May tells her British boss in the Castle with whom she is having an affair, that she is pregnant, we have been conditioned for centuries to assume that the next line goes something like, "I'm terribly sorry old gel, but you really don't expect me to do anything about that, do you?"

Instead the Englishman's response could broadly be described as a mixture of surprise and delight, and despite the fact that the 1916 Rising seems to be going on in the background, he seems determined to continue with the relationship.

Critics of such scenes in Rebellion are saying that the makers of the series are essentially just making it up as they go along - as if all the existing stories of the Rising are somehow deeply reliable and completely believable.

If anything we need more of this "fiction" to get a true sense of it.


"Everything you know is wrong", as the man said, in support of which I would ask you to guess the provenance of these lines spoken in a documentary programme: "It was an easy life . . . you had no worries or cares, only to pass the time . . . bright sunshine but no work . . . anywhere else you might have to have a pickaxe in your hand . . . you'd have to spend the day working hard . . ."

But not in this place apparently, which was . . . Paris during one of its Golden Ages? . . . some white mansion in the Caribbean at a time of colonial grandeur?

In fact it was the Great Blasket Island during a long-gone summer, and the speaker was one Peaidi Mhicil O Suilleabhain in one of several interviews from about 20 years ago with Blasket Islanders which were assembled in the sublime "Cuimhni on mBlascaod".

There we were, thinking that the lives of the islanders were harsh and even brutal, and perhaps they were at times, but it was also apparently "an easy life with no worries or cares . . . bright sunshine but no work".

David Bowie himself might have enjoyed such other-worldliness, such confounding of expectations, that's David Bowie the "singer, songwriter and performer".

Not the other David Bowie.

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