Wednesday 21 November 2018

Television: Francis flies south with his fans - while John stays local in his jalopy

The cult of Francis: Brennan is in South Africa for his latest Grand Tour
The cult of Francis: Brennan is in South Africa for his latest Grand Tour
John Creedon

John Boland

Crikey, is it that time of year again? Well, it must be because here comes John Creedon meandering along the highways and byways of Ireland and there goes Francis Brennan waving his little flag as he leads his 12 disciples through the wilderness.

If the cult of Francis defies my comprehension, maybe it's because I'm not a middle-aged single woman greeting her hero at Dublin airport with the declaration: "I've been waiting for this all my life."

That was Patricia from Cabra in Dublin 7, who also felt "breathless, as if I'm going to get married, and there's my man, thank you, God" - although the somewhat alarmed look on the unmarried Francis's face suggested he intended to remain that way.

Anyway, here we were on Francis Brennan's Grand Tour (RTÉ1), this time to South Africa and with the usual motley crew in attendance - including 83-year-old Frances from Limerick, dog breeders Barry and Colette, Latvian pest controller Iveta and Bantry man Finbarr, who announced "I'd love to get up on an elephant".

John Creedon
John Creedon

There being no answer to that, the party jetted off to Johannesburg before visiting an ethnic cultural park where they learned how to bang drums. "The native people were all in good humour," one of the party remarked, though Francis didn't seem too impressed by the stalls selling souvenirs. "It reminds me a bit of Knock," he sniffed.

Then they all ate a dish of worms before heading into Johannesburg, where a guide pointed out a high-rise building that was known as the city's "largest vertical slum". No one asked him why. Then they visited an apartheid museum, the programme's voiceover explaining to any viewer who'd previously been living on Mars what apartheid was.

The long day ended with the voiceover declaring "Time for bed", and I wondered for a split second if the show was suddenly about to morph into Love Island. But alas, no.

Meanwhile, back in Ireland, the first episode of Creedon's Road Less Travelled (RTÉ1) had its host in nostalgic mood as he drove a 1967 Ford Cortina (one previous owner: former Taoiseach Jack Lynch no less) from his native Cork city up the old N8 route to Dublin.

"I'm going to rediscover the joy of life before the fast lane," he told us at the outset, "and find out what's the craic in the towns and villages along its margins". And so he took an initial detour to Kilworth camp, where he'd been a private in the FCA in bygone days and where he'd won a medal as a crack shot. And begob, didn't he win one again on this latest visit.

Then he stopped in Mitchelstown where he was told about the local man who, 50 years ago, had gone to Kilburn and broken the world record for being buried underground. This apparently had been an "international sensation", though it was never officially recognised.

After that the bould John was in Cahir, then Cashel, then Thurles, then Emo Court, and finally Mondello race track. In all of these places he met up with people whom he had promised would be "intriguing characters" with "curious stories", a promise that he failed to keep.

Along the way, he had also stopped at Morrissey's pub in Abbeyleix, where decades ago he had come to "a large junction in my life". That was where and when he learned that he'd landed a job with RTÉ, thus enabling him, all these years later, to make programmes like this.

The Good Fight (RTÉ2) is a spin-off from The Good Wife and the bad news is that it hasn't retained the services of Julianna Margulies, Chris Noth, Archie Panjabi or Alan Cumming. The good news is that Christine Baranski is still there as Diane, though less poised now after being scammed out of her life savings and forced to start all over again in another Chicago law firm, this time run by African-American Adrian, played by the arresting Delroy Lindo. We're now in the time of Trump and many of the firm's cases involve police brutality and the alt-right.

As always, Baranski is a commandingly tart presence, while the writing is as smart as the scripts the same people brought to The Good Wife. Whether it turns out to be as engrossing as its predecessor remains to be seen, but this week's pilot was encouraging.

Stan Lee's Lucky Man (Sky One) has begun its third season for those who like its weird mix of hardcore police drama and superhero dabblings. I'm quite partial to it, even though the superhero element is a bit rubbish - detective Harry rides his luck by means of a magical bracelet he can't remove from his wrist.

But what's winning about the series is that it's all played straight, not least by James Nesbitt, whose Harry has the furrowed intensity of someone who has strayed in from a grittier and more realistic drama. And he's well supported by Amara Karan as his sceptical colleague.

Hong Kong was the setting for this opener and it looked even more fabulous than I'd recalled from my one visit there. The plot was quite crazy but it was great fun, and Rupert Penry-Jones was a splendidly villainous adversary.

This week's instalment of Mark Kermode's Secrets of Cinema (BBC4) focused on heist movies, from Rififi and The League of Gentlemen to Ocean's Eleven and Baby Driver, with clips from oodles of other crime capers, too. It was also very informative - I'll bet you didn't know that Tom Cruise stole one of his Mission Impossible robbery ideas from the penguin in Wallace and Gromit's The Wrong Trousers.

Shankly: Nature's Fire (BBC2) was a fine profile of famous Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, with interesting reminiscences and observations from Denis Law, Hugh McIlvanney, Irvine Welsh and others about his Scottish background and his much-fabled talents.

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