Monday 15 July 2019

Charlie Bird is still RTÉ's darling as he goes in search of old news stories

TV return: There were occasions in After the Headlines when Charlie Bird proved himself a sensitive match for its tragic subject
TV return: There were occasions in After the Headlines when Charlie Bird proved himself a sensitive match for its tragic subject

John Boland

Charlie Bird retired from RTÉ in 2012 but he hasn't gone away, you know - popping up over the past week on the Ray D'Arcy Show and Claire Byrne Live to promote his new three-part series, After the Headlines, and telling all and sundry about the 20-year age gap in his current marriage.

In the decade leading up to his retirement, RTÉ's chief newshound provided a good deal of gaiety for the nation: fronting a series on the Amazon, which he found much too hot, and on the Arctic, which he thought much too cold, and ending his short stint as Washington correspondent by announcing to bemused viewers that he couldn't hack it there anymore and was coming home.

For connoisseurs of Charlie, this week's first instalment of After the Headlines (RTÉ2), which concerned the perilous lives of fishermen, offered further diversion, not least because of the presenter's interviewing technique, which mainly consisted of quizzically repeating what the interviewee had just said.

"It capsized," a Dunmore East fisherman said of an incident on his boat. "It capsized?" Charlie gasped. "It sank," the man elaborated. "It sank?" Another man had to be rescued. "I was airlifted," he explained. "You were airlifted?" said an astonished Charlie.

The one I liked best was when a Wexford fisherman pointed out a quayside memorial to men who'd been lost at sea. "You're looking at the whole biography of a fishing village," he told Charlie, eliciting the awed response: "The whole biography of a fishing village?"

There were occasions in this film when the presenter proved himself a sensitive match for its tragic subject, mainly in conversations with wives and children of men who'd been drowned, but the Charlie mannerisms got in the way far too often for this viewer's comfort.

In the next two programmes he'll be dealing with the aftermath of the Stardust disaster and the McBrearty garda case in Donegal, and by then, perhaps, he'll have reined in some of his old familiar tics ("My God!" is another favourite), but I wouldn't bet on it.

There was nothing obtrusive about Gabriel Byrne's approach to My Astonishing Self (RTÉ1). Indeed, this evaluation of George Bernard Shaw's life and work was bracingly free of the showboating that marred Bob Geldof's take on WB Yeats a couple of years back.

The actor was clearly engaged with his subject - too much so and too uncritically at times, so that Shaw's admiration for fascist leaders in the 1930s, while not ignored, was dealt with hurriedly and somewhat apologetically towards the end. But Byrne was right to emphasise Shaw's essential humanity, whether denouncing the root causes of poverty or espousing women's rights.

Yes, he could be a dreadful old windbag - in the plays and polemics as much as in person -but he was a remarkable genius nonetheless, though still out of critical fashion since my college days when he was entirely ignored on the UCD literature syllabus. Maybe he's always been too hectoring, or indeed mischievous, for establishment approval, though the National Gallery of Ireland, which receives €200,000 a year from Pygmalion and My Fair Lady royalties, has reason to hold his legacy in high regard.

This engrossing film may do something to rehabilitate him. Indeed, all it lacked was any mention of Heartbreak House, a great state-of-England play (the dramatic equivalent of EM Forster's Howards End from a decade earlier) while there was only a passing reference to his writings on music, which are endlessly rereadable for their humour, provocation and insights. Anyway, it's good to see RTÉ funding such an appraisal and with an Anjelica Huston film about James Joyce scheduled for next week, perhaps our national broadcaster is rethinking its commitment to arts programming, which has been almost non-existent for some years.

The film at the heart of Prime Time: Carers in Crisis (RTÉ1) wasn't an easy watch, though it was impossible not to marvel at the devotion of people looking after stricken loved ones.

There are now 200,000 such voluntary carers in Ireland - one person in every 20 and that figure is set to rise to one in five by 2030. State support remains shockingly inadequate and, despite the platitudes of politicians, it seems destined to get worse as people live longer.

Miriam O'Callaghan conducted the domestic interviews with sensitivity and tact and I felt chastened by the film's end. Is this to be the fate of most of us? Well, as Philip Larkin said, we shall find out.

With four episodes gone, Nowhere Fast (RTÉ2) has been going nowhere fast, or indeed anywhere, so full marks for the accurate title. I still like the depiction of petty small-town life and I love the quirky performances of Clare Monnelly as stroppy Mary and Genevieve Hulme-Beaman as bemused Brid, but I've given up on Alison Spittle's Angela, who's just too stupid for words. Why, as creator of the series, she gave herself such a thankless role beats me.

I came late to The Sinner (Netflix) and then found myself unexpectedly binge-watching its eight episodes over a couple of nights. The first six episodes were excellent as both we and detective Bill Pullman tried to figure out why young mother Jessica Biel stabbed a guy to death in front of everyone on a beachside weekend. Then, in the seventh episode, it just got silly before recovering for a satisfying finale.

There were also irrelevant sub stories (Pullman's unhappy marriage and his relationship with a local dominatrix added nothing), but the two leads were so good, Biel indeed something of a revelation, that you couldn't help getting sucked in. Certainly worth a look.

Indo Review

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment

Back to top