Thursday 18 January 2018

Television: Daniel aims to pack them in with Kristina's help...

Strictly Donegal: Daniel O'Donnell with partner Kristina and presenter Tess.
Strictly Donegal: Daniel O'Donnell with partner Kristina and presenter Tess.

John Boland

Up to last weekend, you probably never encountered the words "Daniel O'Donnell" and "six-pack" in the same sentence, but it was the man himself who brought them together on the launch night of Strictly Come Dancing (BBC1).

Observing that some of the male contestants wore revealingly tight outfits, Daniel confided to millions of viewers: "I don't have a six-pack, I only have a one-pack".

This unasked-for and unwanted image stayed with me for the rest of the show and refused to go away, and co-presenter Tess Daly didn't help matters by assuring the Donegal crooner that "if anyone can turn that one-pack into a six-pack" it was his dancing partner Kristina, a Strictly Come Dancing veteran.

"Well, praise the Lord if she can do that," Daniel piously responded, as if Kristina were about to perform the fourth miracle of Fatima. Oh, enough already and others can keep up with Daniel's terpsichorean or other prowess because I'll be seeking out alternative forms of amusement for the next 10 Saturday evenings.

But if Daniel was only one of 15 contestants frantically vying for the viewer's attention, another Northern singer was granted centre stage in Van Morrison: Up on Cyprus Avenue (BBC4), which was filmed at the recent open-air Belfast concert celebrating the man's 70th birthday.

The show, though, was somewhat dispiriting and I'm half sorry I saw it. I grew up on Morrison's music and have always thought him not just the greatest of Irish singer-songwriters, but also one of the finest in the world over the past half-century.

Indeed, throughout the 70s and 80s and into the 90s even his lesser albums were more interesting - more urgent, more musically surprising - than almost anyone else's, with the possible exception of Bob Dylan.

But in this latest concert, performed on his beloved Cyprus Avenue to a daytime crowd of demurely-seated well-wishers, it was a somewhat sedate and almost desultory Morrison who sauntered through a largely familiar repertoire - not helped by a band of supporting musicians, most of them of the singer's vintage, who might well have been playing in a local cabaret lounge.

Some ageing rock stars soldier on perversely (Dylan), some grotesquely (the Stones) and some with a thrilling grandeur (Cohen), but it was sad to see and hear someone who appeared merely to be going through the motions of re-enacting his extraordinary achievements. Still, the concert sent me back immediately to the original albums, whose power and beauty enthralled me all over again.

Yet while Morrison in the 70s was creating such masterly albums as Moondance, Tupelo Honey, St Dominick's Preview and Wavelength, the decade also came up with some execrable television, as older viewers were reminded in It Was Alright in the 1970s (Channel 4). Younger viewers, meanwhile must have been gasping at the casual racism and sexism and all-pervasive political incorrectness of much of the programming.

Child star Lena Zavaroni was only 11 when she sang an innocently-intended but deeply creepy love duet with the adult Bachelors.

Less innocent and even creepier was a sketch in which Barbara Windsor played a 13-year-old schoolgirl being ogled by the loathsome Sid James, and it was hard to credit an interview in which Michael Parkinson kept asking a young Helen Mirren about her "assets" and "equipment" and "physical attributes", though cheeringly she withered him with her disdainful response.

There are so many plugs for Lidl in The Taste of Success (RTE1) that the makers should have gone the whole hog and inserted the name of the German supermarket chain into the title.

Otherwise, this second season is much the same as last year's, though with the ubiquitous Daithi O Se taking over as presenter from Lidl advocate Paul Flynn of Dungarvan's Tannery restaurant.

I'm not sure what, if anything, Daithi brings to the proceedings, the main judgmental duties falling to food writer and entrepreneur Domini Kemp, who in this week's opener told one culinary hopeful "it's not right" and another that his offering was "a little clunky".

"I'm a little disappointed", said one loser and "I'm gutted", said another. This viewer, however, was simply bored.

Private Eye used to send up a trade union leftie called Dave Spart and for all I know it still does - I stopped reading the satirical magazine when I grew out of my twenties and when Barry Humphries ceased coming up with his Barry McKenzie comic strip.

But when I looked at 80s footage of Jeremy Corbyn in this week's Panorama (BBC1) profile of the man who today might become Labour's new leader, I immediately thought: That's Dave Spart, right down to the straggly beard, corduroy jacket and hectoring certainties.

Now he's all sweetness and light ("a saintly figure", according to former Labour MP Chris Mullin) and it was left to his powerful backer, Len McCluskey of the Unite union, to come across as an aged Spart ranting about "thieving Tory bastards".

Ah, there's nothing like the old days.

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