Sunday 19 November 2017

Television: Quirky RTÉ hotel show well worth checking into

Catering for the masses: Staff at the Gleneagle
Catering for the masses: Staff at the Gleneagle

John Boland

All that was missing from the first instalment of The Gleneagle (RTÉ1) was Paddy O'Gorman and his dog - which made a change from last year's dreary series on the Shelbourne, where all that was missing was any reason why the viewer should be bothered watching.

I mention O'Gorman because this opening episode evinced the same interest in human quirkiness that's always been a trademark of RTÉ's roving reporter, whose usual seasonal wanderings around Ireland haven't so far enlivened this year's dreary summer schedules.

The show also reminded me of the excellent BBC series, Inside Claridge's, though instead of that posh London establishment we were presented with an unpretentious (and architecturally quite unlovable) Killarney hotel that ­cheerfully caters to the masses.

I was there in 2000 to review a raucous Wolfe Tones concert for this newspaper, but the hotel has also attracted adoring fans of Joe Dolan, Dickie Rock, Brendan Bowyer and Johnny Logan - a meeting with the latter causing entertainment manager Fiona to declare herself "starstruck" and to deem the encounter the highlight of her 12 years with the Gleneagle.

She was a genial presence in this fly-on-the-wall film, as indeed were most of the staff, and I would guess that the Gleneagle was chosen precisely for that reason - there were no airs and graces about either the owners or the workers in this family-run local enterprise.

The guests were good value, too, not least those attending an annual reunion of couples who years earlier had met each other at the Lisdoonvarna matchmaking shenanigans.

And the reunion weekend's promise of old-style dancing had also attracted three elderly women from New Jersey, one of whom declared that "when you get to a certain age, most of the men are dead", and it also brought along some elderly Irishmen in search of a permanent companion, one of them offering as bait the lure of both an English and an Irish pension.

Whether Edel O'Brien's affectionate and occasionally mischievous approach to staff and guests will keep viewers watching for six weeks remains to be seen, but this episode was an intriguing and likeable start.

Also intriguing was Man on Bridge (RTÉ1), a film about street photographer Arthur Fields that I and most other reviewers missed when it was first shown last December.

This concerned the son of Ukrainian parents who was born Abraham Feldman in the Dublin of 1901 but who changed his name when embarking on the career that was to make him one of the most familiar sights on O'Connell Bridge for over 50 years.

As it happened, I had my picture taken by him as a child with my mother and later with my first girlfriend, and so did hundreds of thousands of other Dubliners and visitors to our capital city.

From the reminiscences of his sons and granddaughters, he was a complex and distinctly odd man but the visual legacy he left behind, some of it now collected in a book, was an extraordinary contribution to social history - much like the photos of Father Browne or of American-based nanny Vivian Maier that were discovered long after her death.

I missed the first instalment of Joanna Lumley's Trans-Siberian Adventure (UTV Ireland) but was greatly taken by the second in this three-part series. Indeed, if we must have celebrities presenting travel programmes, let them try to emulate Lumley, who seems genuinely engrossed by what she's experiencing and also brings grace, courtesy and a quietly sardonic intelligence to her encounters. A young Siberian teacher of English confessed her reverence for Putin's authority and physical "strength", leading Lumley to remark "Well, each to their own" - though not to the adoring woman, which would have been impolite.

And, indeed, her easy charm and impeccable manners (an almost whispered "Thank you so much" was a recurrent phrase) got people to respond to her - though not some Siberian customs officers who searched her train cabin and whom she thought quite "menacing".

However, most of this week's instalment took place in the mysterious and remote Mongolia and was so absorbing that I immediately wanted to go there - which is the mark of an excellent travel show.

Lucy Worsley is another distinctive, and currently much favoured, presenter of factual shows, though some may find her head-girl archness and her lisping delivery somewhat hard to take. These qualities/defects were to the fore in Cake Bakers and Trouble Makers (BBC2) in which she celebrated the centenary of the Women's Institute, an organisation notable both for its radical origins and its middle-England prissiness.

Channel 4's new reality series, Lookalikes (Channel 4), features a cast whose only claim to distinctiveness is that they resemble famous people, which is quite sad really.

And some of them don't even look like the celebrities they're imitating. Indeed, Andy, who runs the Lookalike Talent Agency, presents himself as David Beckham without persuading you of any real similarity to the former footballer.

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