Entertainment Television

Sunday 18 August 2019

The Kennedys and the Cootes: men who wanted to fly

  • The Kennedys
  • The Man Who Wanted To Fly (both RTE1)
Co Cavan Icarus, Bobby Coote
Co Cavan Icarus, Bobby Coote
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

In the first part of the series The Kennedys, narrated by Martin Sheen, we were reminded that the eldest son Joseph and his younger brother Jack served in the US army during World War II - that Joseph was a pilot killed in action in Europe, and that Jack was lucky to escape the Reaper during his adventures in the Navy in the South Pacific.

It was on Joseph that the family's political ambitions had mainly rested, after old Joe Kennedy has destroyed his own hopes for the presidency by favouring the appeasement of Hitler - a rare bad call there by the man who had made his extravagant fortune mainly through calling the stock market and other such forms of low animal cunning.

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Indeed having accepted that he had screwed it up for himself, he saw the military service of Joseph and Jack as a tremendous opportunity for them to get the Kennedy dynasty back on the right side of history.

Which it did in the fullness of time with Jack, helped by a ton of money from the old man for a campaign which included the making of the movie PT 109 - it extolled the heroism of Jack after his boat was destroyed, but played down the fact that Jack had foolishly put the boat in danger in the first place.

Still, at least he had been there. At least he had been an active participant in an actual war, had done things which could later be misrepresented in order to exaggerate his accomplishments - he had, as they say, put himself in harm's way.

For the rich and the privileged and the insanely ambitious, there would be a steep learning curve from this to the current situation whereby people of their ilk would never do anything so dangerous.

If the Kennedys went to extravagant lengths to get Jack's war effort noticed, the Trumps went to equally extravagant lengths to keep Donald out of the war in Vietnam, or anything remotely resembling it. And looking at Boris Johnson: Fit To Be Prime Minister? on Channel 4, it was clear that he became foreign secretary and now prime minister for no great reason except that he had always really wanted that.

It had never occurred to his people that he might have to get himself a war record to back up the rest of it - in fact old Joe Kennedy now looks impossibly stupid, allowing his sons to participate in that conflict when they might have been participating in debates at the Oxford Union instead. Or participating in whatever Trump participated in during the 1960s, while his contemporaries from the lower orders were being blown away by the Viet Cong.

So it would seem that the lust for power on the part of the privileged few, has actually degenerated in recent decades - all the more so, when you consider that the Kennedys would at least claim to be using their political power to help those less fortunate than themselves. Neither Boris nor Trump could say such a thing without drawing raucous laughter from any sane person.

And then we have the Coote brothers, Ernie and Bobby, from near Bailieborough in Co Cavan. They were the subjects of The Man Who Wanted To Fly, a fine documentary directed by Frank Shouldice, made by Loosehorse.

Bobby didn't want to be prime minister or president of the USA, and even if he did he wouldn't have had the money to get himself going on that journey. But he did want to fly, and in his 80s he organised the building of a runway and a hangar, and he put his life savings into buying a kind of flying machine.

Amusingly, Ernie was convinced that he'd never make it. And while it all might seem a vast distance away from the machinations of the ruling classes, it had a kind of healing power - not only was it a lovely piece of work all round, it showed us that here were two men who weren't just sitting back watching the Trumps and the Johnsons gorging themselves on all before them.

Instead they were - if you'll pardon the expression - taking back control.


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