Tuesday 20 March 2018

Television: Much ado about not a lot in Kenny's new UTV gig

Back in the game: Pat Kenny interviewed Mickey Harte for his debut 'In the Round' on UTV Ireland.
Back in the game: Pat Kenny interviewed Mickey Harte for his debut 'In the Round' on UTV Ireland.

John Boland

When Kate Middleton gave birth to her first child in July 2013, the British media reacted as if it were the eighth wonder of the world, leading Private Eye to produce a front-cover headline that stated: 'WOMAN HAS BABY'.

I was reminded of this in the run-up to last Monday night's Pat Kenny in the Round (UTV Ireland) which, despite all the overhyped pre-publicity it received from various media, could have been called Broadcaster Interviews Man.

It wasn't as if RTE's former star hadn't interviewed anyone before or as if his first interviewee, Tyrone football manager Mickey Harte, was of Nelson Mandela or even George Clooney-like interest. Indeed, if you weren't in thrall to GAA exploits north of the border, there was little to rivet the attention.

Certainly, as a rugby-loving alickadoo who hails from south of the border down Dun Laoghaire way, I felt quite estranged from much of the hour-long chat, only becoming properly engaged when Harte spoke movingly of daughter Michaela, who was murdered while on her honeymoon in Mauritius just over four years ago.

Kenny, who was functioning in Oprah-lite rather than forensic mode, handled it all sensitively, but throughout this recorded interview there was the sense of a pre-packaged occasion, with cutaways to filmed contributions from friends and admirers and much footage of Tyrone's sporting successes under Harte's stewardship.

And so, while an audience was occasionally to be seen in the Mansion House's Round Room where the interview took place, there was little sense of its presence as Kenny and Harte sat facing each other on a voluminous stage that seemed borrowed from Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

And while it's good to see the formidably intelligent and incisive Kenny on our screens again, I'm not really getting the point of a series which seems to promise no real cohesion or urgent purpose, though maybe upcoming interviews with Lulu and Chris Hadfield will prove me wrong.

I'm definitely not getting the point of The Speech (RTE1), which premiered more than two years ago with a one-off film in which broadcaster George Hook advised a young Dubliner on how to deal with his nervousness and deliver an oration at a friend's wedding.

That was a worthy but forgettable exercise, though RTE clearly hasn't forgotten it because now it's become a series in which various "mentors" help selected members of the public to overcome their terror of public speaking - "the one fear", according to Simon Delaney's introductory voiceover, "that stands out above all others". What, more than death? Or being trapped in a lift with Phil Hogan?

Instead, in this opening instalment, I was trapped for an hour with Gerald Kean ("well known", Simon informed me, as "solicitor to the stars") while the publicity-loving lawyer attempted to assist young pro-golfer and stammerer Brian Casey to get over his terror and make a speech at his local club.

Gerald was full of dazzling insights. "Talk it as it is", he advised Brian. "Speak from the heart", he counselled. "It's up to you to get across the message", he noted. He also told Brian to look in the mirror while practising his speech and he took him to the hill of Tara so that Brian could shout out his thoughts. He also enlisted the help of a "vocal communications expert" who, for reasons I couldn't quite fathom, threw tennis balls at Brian.

At the end, Brian made a nice speech and in the interim we got to meet his parents and his girlfriend, all of whom seemed lovely. But for someone not intimately acquainted with Brian, the film seemed interminable. And I got a migraine from staring at Gerald's pinstripe suits.

The British Academy Television Awards (BBC1) got some things right. Best actor went to Jason Watkins, who was wonderful in the ITV fact-based drama, The Lost Honour of Richard Jeffries, which concerned the eccentric London landlord who was wrongly hounded for the murder of young architect Joanna Yeates in 2010. Watkins spoke movingly at the awards ceremony both about the victim and about the tragic death of his own infant daughter.

And it was right, too, that the excellent BBC1 drama, Happy Valley, won out above the overrated The Missing, Peaky Blinders and Line of Duty. But best actress should surely have gone either to Sarah Lancashire for Happy Valley or to Sheridan Smith for her radiantly lovely playing in ITV's Cilla. Ah well, she'll win it next year for The C-Word.

Irish talents didn't fare that well, either, with Chris O'Dowd's Moone Boy losing out to lesser comedies, and Brendan O'Carroll being pipped by the marvellously demented Matt Berry of Toast of London. But Stephen Rea got rewarded for his lugubriously droll turn in the clever but somewhat hollow The Honourable Woman.

And I liked, too, Jon Snow's remark when being given a lifetime achivement award: "I'm a hack and very proud to be a hack, but that's all I am". It's enough.

It was poignant, though, to watch a sadly diminished Clive James accepting his own award on a link from his Cambridge home. He was the best and funniest of all TV critics.

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