Wednesday 21 August 2019

John Boland's week in TV: Good times under Clerys clock and one fix too many of DIY dross

 

Stairway to heaven: Peter and Kathleen Cullen in Under the Clock
Stairway to heaven: Peter and Kathleen Cullen in Under the Clock

John Boland

In Under the Clock (RTÉ1), a feature-length documentary made by Colm Nicell, various interviewees reminisced about relationships that began with arranged dates outside Clerys on O'Connell Street in the 1960s and 1970s.

Either the director chose his contributors wisely or was just blessed with the quality of their observations, because most of them had absorbing things to say and what emerged was a fascinating social history of a vanished era.

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We met Ray, bereft after the death of his wife (who had succumbed to alcoholism in her fifties), and it was wrenching to see a snapshot from their dating years, which showed them as a cool young couple.

Still cool (strikingly so in their youth), Peter and Kathleen sat on their stairs for their interview and recalled fondly how they had met under the Clerys clock and, despite family obstacles, had never looked back. Indeed, still clearly in love, they paid sweet tribute to each other.

There were stories galore, including those from a woman who'd subsequently endured domestic abuse and from a woman who'd begun adult life as a married man before changing sex ("You've got to be who you are," her 11-year-old daughter had sagely told her).

Topics ranged from fashions, dance halls and sexual mores to pregnancy, working mothers and smoking habits, and the film was so engrossing and so expertly edited that the viewer never felt they had outstayed their welcome.

In the final instalment of Thatcher: A Very British Revolution (BBC2), the British prime minister's loyal press secretary, Bernard Ingham, recalled visits to her home after she'd been ousted and was suffering from dementia.

"It was as if nothing had changed from Number 10," he said. She imagined she was still prime minister and would ask "What's the problem?" and "What are we going to do about it?" "It would have been funny if it wasn't tragic," Ingham said.

But for some there was nothing funny about the way she hung on to power even as others sought to oust her. "Four years waiting for her to go", aspirant PM Michael Heseltine fumed. "An awful waste of my life" - which it turned out to be when the Tory faithful opted to ignore his bid for No 10 and instead installed the hitherto unknown John Major as her successor.

Watching this superb five-part series, it was hard not to wonder if anyone, in decades to come, will be bothered making a similar documentary on Boris Johnson or any of the other sorry lot who featured in Tuesday night's Our Next Prime Minister (BBC1).

The title itself was a chilling statement of fact, reminding us that one these self-serving chancers will soon be in charge of the UK government, with the current odds firmly on Boris Johnson, whose blustering evasions in this hollow debate probably won't harm his chances among the 160,000 paid-up Tories who will decide the matter. God help the British, and maybe us as well.

God help us, anyway, that our national broadcaster expects us to be enthralled by its light entertainment output, the latest excrescence being The Big DIY Challenge (RTÉ1), hosted by comedian PJ Gallagher.

This shouty motormouth's idea of humour never rose above crude innuendo, as when he informed us that the husband of an amateur carpenter "encourages her to practise before she screws".

I endured 20 minutes of this rubbish, throughout which the sponsor's name was shamelessly puffed and the contestants' DIY efforts were routinely scoffed at by Gallagher, before deciding there must be more to life.

I can say the same about The Family Brain Games (BBC2), which ran over four nights and in which Dara Ó Briain played quiz show host as two families each night competed to be cleverer than their rivals.

"It's not a war," one dad insisted, but that's exactly what it was and after watching the opening hour, I decided that it was all too grimly intense for my liking.

Nor will I be staying with Top Gear (BBC2) and not just because I don't drive, which puts me beyond the pale.

As far as I'm concerned, the only thing this revamped show (now starting its 27th season) has going for it is that it doesn't feature the bumptious Jeremy Clarkson and his equally resistible mates, all of whom departed for Amazon Prime after Clarkson got sacked for punching a BBC producer.

Nor does it feature short-lived replacements Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc, neither of whom brought anything interesting to the format. But I'm afraid the new lot, with former cricketer Freddie Flintoff and game-show host Paddy McGuinness as the star names, seem just as tiresomely laddish as their predecessors.

Years and Years (BBC1), which had been fizzing with polemical ideas as well as chronicling an absorbing family drama, came to a somewhat barmy end.

First we had a state-of-the-world soapbox speech around the dinner table from matriarch Muriel. Then we had a highly unlikely revolutionary uprising with all the baddies instantly capitulating in the face of angry citizens and their mobile phones. Still, it had been great fun for a few episodes.

Gentleman Jack (BBC1) though has a couple of more episodes to go and is already becoming a bit wearisome. An eight-parter that should have been a six-parter, this has been dragging out the business trials and romantic travails of 19th-century lesbian landowner Anne Lister, and by last Sunday night's instalment I had become bored by it all.

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