Monday 21 October 2019

TV Review: The football has been wonderful, but, elsewhere, anyone for Denis?

The documentary Denis O'Brien: The Story So Far featured interviews with some estranged former co-workers, as well as Bill Clinton, who praised the billionaire businessman
The documentary Denis O'Brien: The Story So Far featured interviews with some estranged former co-workers, as well as Bill Clinton, who praised the billionaire businessman

John Boland

I know I'm the zillionth person to say it, but this really has been a fabulous World Cup - indeed, by far the most entertaining that I can recall, and I'm confessing this as someone who had become so bored with soccer and the antics of its grossly overpaid egotists that I hadn't intended watching it at all.

But most of the games have been terrific and the same goes for RTÉ2's match commentaries and studio punditry. And for a sport whose media coverage is so male-dominated, our national broadcaster should be commended for foregrounding a few women - notably Jacqui Hurley, an informed and incisive afternoon anchor, and former US goalkeeper Hope Solo, an arrestingly articulate panellist.

Roll on today's quarter finals, when I'll be cheering for England's Harry Kane (an old-fashioned hero straight out of Roy of the Rovers), though I can't be the only person lamenting that the superb Japanese team didn't make the cut that was deservedly theirs.

Anyway, full marks to RTÉ, which then went and spoiled it all by rescreening two of the most sycophantic programmes it has ever commissioned: Dermot Bannon's ridiculously wide-eyed celebration of multimillion-dollar bling in New York (Dermot Bannon's US Homes) and Yasmine Akram's ecstatic gushings about the wealthy Irish who live on the Riviera (Irish in Wonderland).

And to mark the recent passing of Ballymaloe's founder, RTÉ1 rescreened Myrtle Allen: A Celebration, which it first aired in 2013. At the time, I deemed it badly marred by its reverential approach, with even such intimate family members as Darina and Rachel referring to their matriarch in hushed tones as "Mrs Allen", yet somehow I was more tolerant in this aftermath of her death, though a little less awe wouldn't have gone amiss.

The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan (BBC2) began with its comedian host referencing other celebrities who have fronted global travelogues, such as Karl Pilkington, Jack Whitehall and Michael Palin. No women celebrities, such as Joanna Lumley, were mentioned but then Ranganathan, ­British-born of Sri Lankan background, has always presented himself as a very male kind of guy.

And not a very empathetic or appealing one, either, if you were to judge from this programme, in which he diffidently wandered about earthquake-ruined and poverty-stricken Haiti - a "shithole" according to US president Donald Trump, and one of the three "dangerous" places Ranganathan is visiting for this series, with Ethiopia and Albania (is Albania really that dangerous?) still to come.

His guide, local journalist Jeremy, was much more likeable, though towards the end Ranganathan did seem to get a bit more engaged with his surroundings, even advising viewers to opt for Haiti as an "ethical" destination. So would he be back next year? "Nah, I'm going to Portugal".

Someone who has done more for post-earthquake Haiti than most people, or indeed most governments, is Irish billionaire businessman Denis O'Brien, the subject of RTÉ'S two-hour long documentary Denis O'Brien: The Story So Far (RTÉ1).

David Murphy's documentary was a dense, and at times almost indigestible, account of O'Brien's business dealings.

The film's most arresting interviewees were people who had once worked with or for him but were now estranged for a variety of reasons.

These included former Esat Digifone CEO Barry Maloney, former INM executive Gavin O'Reilly and journalist Sam Smyth, all of whom had striking things to say.

As for those who spoke in praise of O'Brien, the film came up with the oddest of pairings in former US president Bill Clinton and disgraced Tipperary TD Michael Lowry, not that the latter thinks himself so.

But the core of all the controversy surrounding O'Brien over the last two decades is the accusation he built his global telecoms and media empire on payments made to then-communications minister Lowry for a mobile phone licence in the 1990s, with O'Brien always denying that he paid even a "red cent" to the former Fine Gael minister.

That's how the situation still stands, with both men denying any wrongdoing, and this overlong documentary ended by letting you make up your own mind about that.

In part two of Inside the American Embassy (Channel 4), we saw the London-based US consular staff dealing with the changed realities demanded by their new president. "The legislation could come through tomorrow", one of them said, "that nobody with purple hair is allowed in [to the US] and we would enforce it at the window".

At the same window, a Pakistani man who was being denied a holiday visa to Las Vegas tried to reason with the consular official: "I've never broken a law in my 33 years. Why would I start now?" But it was to no avail.

More optimistically, indeed quite lunatically, an English man who had served five years in prison for gross indecency with a child offered as his rationale for the crime: "I was kind of tricked into a relationship with a girl who was well known to the police".

That was never going to work.

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