Friday 6 December 2019

Television review: Seven million viewers and a dog

* Countryfile (BBC1)
* Imeall (TG4)
* Terry Wogan (BBC1)

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

Declan Lynch

There are times when the BBC's Countryfile gets more viewers than The X Factor. For what is essentially a farming and wildlife programme, this is quite an achievement - though for some of us these enormous viewing figures are not entirely surprising.

It has come to our attention that our dog, who is called Jack Doran, is an avid viewer of Countryfile. A Jack Russell terrier, he has the usual range of interests of his kind, and shows little enthusiasm for the television at other times, but on Sunday evenings at seven o'clock, Jack Doran sits on the couch and watches Countryfile.

Something in it seems to induce some deep relaxation in him, and it is not just the occasional sounds of other animals coming from the direction of the screen - he sits there peacefully observing the various items even when the only noise is that of human speech of the enthusiastic BBC presenter.

For the human being, the attractions of Countryfile are clear and were perfectly illustrated by the opening scenes last Sunday in which Matt Baker is walking through a magnificent snow-covered English landscape, saying, "grab your gloves for a walk in the wild side of winter....or alternatively you just sit in your nice warm house and we'll do it."

There is a great desire in people to explore the countryside, as long as someone else is actually putting "boots on the ground", exploring it on their behalf. Which makes a lot of sense really, as it brings you all the good things of nature with none of the drawbacks, such as having to leave the house.

It is a virtual countryside that we're seeing here, and all the better for it, says Jack Doran. Indeed the one slightly troubling aspect of these otherwise lovely scenes is that Jack Doran seems to be favouring this virtual experience of the outdoors as much as any of the seven million people who are watching the show with him.

We have noted of late a certain reluctance on his part to leave the house if the weather is not to his liking, and we wonder if a certain softness - a human softness you might say - has entered his terrier blood.

We also wonder why he does not watch RTE's Nationwide, which is quite similar to Countryfile with its uplifting themes and its deeply reassuring visions. Indeed we suspect that not only is Jack Doran getting soft, there is something essentially English in him.


Not that there's anything wrong with that, as Sir Terry Wogan would have asserted. Indeed you could imagine the younger Wogan presenting a programme such as Countryfile, completely at home in this England.

There was much reflection on the ease with which Wogan moved among the Britons, but perhaps not enough on the unease which sent him there in the first place; how such an obviously great broadcaster might have struggled at an RTE that was still not free of the forces of cultural nationalism.

There would have been certain voices suggesting that more programmes should be made in Irish, and other such impossible bullshit of the type which had caused Eamonn Andrews to resign from the RTE Authority - having gone to England and become a star, Andrews would been deeply aware that it's extraordinarily hard to make even one programme that works properly, and that's when everyone and everything is facing in the same direction.

To attempt such a thing with a bit of language revivalism thrown in would be ridiculous.

Now there is TG4, in which everyone is on the same side, and yet when I see an interview with the excellent writer Ger Reidy on the arts programme Imeall, I still feel that the only people watching this are three men and a dog, without the dog. That even when TG4 is doing good work, it is inherently limiting.

Wogan was far too sunny a character to bother himself with such things, though it struck me as significant that he hated the word "craic", as much for the falseness of it, as the thing itself. Eventually he was able to freely describe himself as a West Brit, perhaps because it was clear that he was hardly alone in this, that for a long time it has been a vibrant culture in Ireland.

It seems to have got Jack Doran too.

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