Sunday 18 March 2018

Television review: Can an eejit get car insurance?

* Operation Transportation (RTE2)
* Gary Neville (Sky Sports)

Illustration: Jim Cogan.
Illustration: Jim Cogan.
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Speaking for himself in Operation Transportation, in which he tried to learn how to drive a car, funnyman Fred Cooke said: "It's nice to be the eejit.

"I kinda had it at primary school, in secondary school, taking the bullet for everyone else. I didn't mind doing detention if there was a joke before it, whatever.

"I loved it. I loved being the irresponsible gobshite not giving a shit and it's a great reputation to have. It's a wonderful reputation to have, reckless, irresponsible, couldn't give a shit. It's a great reputation to have, clownery.

"Unless... you're looking for car insurance."

Funny man, Fred Cooke, funny man. And that was a funny line about car insurance, though the danger for a funny man is that he sometimes doesn't even need a funny line to make the people laugh.

Cooke, though, is young enough still to be working hard at the lines, rather than relying on his innate funniness to do the work for him - this ability to suggest merely by this thing we now call "body language" that something funny is about to take place.

The body language of Fred Cooke is roughly in the "hapless" tradition of Tommy Cooper, described by Kenneth Tynan as "the hulking preposterous conjurer who is always in a jelly of hysterics at the collapse of his own man was ever less surprised by failure."

So to send such a man out to drive a car for the first time, and to have him do his driving test, is a fine thought - an amusing documentary in which people could actually get killed.

Yes, even an eejit, at some point in his life, may have to go looking for car insurance.

There was urgency too in the fact that Cooke really needed to pass his test, to get a reduction on the massive amount of insurance he would otherwise be expected to pay. And there was much pathos in the knowledge on the part of the viewer that he hadn't a hope in hell.

Those of us who have driven home from a few driving tests with the L-plates still up there could see that Fred would struggle, even on the streets of Ennis, which is supposed to have the highest pass rate in the country. Ardal O'Hanlon confided in the viewer that he would personally try to stop Cooke driving a car on the open highway, yet Cooke seemed to hold out some vague hope for himself, which was touching.

Personally, I would have tried to address the issue of people failing the test and still driving home, a tradition which I believe shows the Irish at our most wise, able to draw a distinction between an official, legalistic ability to drive a car and an actual ability. Far from being the disgrace that many of our more feeble-minded commentators say it is, it may be the finest manifestation of our native genius.

I also believe there is a much darker comedy to be made about what I regard, for no particular reason, as the strange sub-culture of driving instructors in general, a breed of men who I like to think make the crew of Glengarry Glen Ross look like thoroughly well-adjusted citizens. And while Cooke didn't do that here, I felt that I would like him to do it and I think that he could do it.


But then people don't always do what I would like them to do, which explains a lot of things about this world.

Gary Neville, the Sky Sports football pundit, is in the process of making the most calamitous error of his life, by giving up his deeply important job at Sky in order to became the manager of Valencia - which some feel may be the start of a successful career in that field.

Yet it would not matter if he were eventually to become the manager of Manchester United itself, this is a wrong move.

Imagine, for a moment, that John Giles way back had formed the view that football management was the thing to strive for and punditry merely something to keep you going between "real" jobs.

How wrong would that have been? How much poorer our culture?

To be a great football pundit - and Neville was certainly on his way - is a position of such importance in our society it should be considered absurd to leave it for something "better".

There is simply no higher calling in life.

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