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Brendan's voyage . . . into a world 'bitchier than Crufts'

It's more than a decade since Brendan Courtney devised and fronted Wanderlust, an RTÉ dating-cum-travel show that I found just as insufferable as its presenter, who seemed hell-bent on fashioning a career out of extravagant camp and smirking innuendo. God, I disliked the guy and his clamouring insistence on my attention.

Well, either I've softened in the intervening years or he's settled down -- or maybe it's just that some of the RTÉ 'personalities' who've emerged since then (yes, you, Craig Doyle, and yes, you too, Kathryn Thomas and Lucy Kennedy) make him seem positively endearing -- but now I find him one of the more agreeably self-aware people on our television screens.

Actually, I think the reason lies with him rather than with any blunting of my critical claws. On RTÉ One's Off the Rails he's been personable, knowledgeable, discerning and with a nicely judged line in self-mockery -- qualities that helped make this week's Reality Bites: Ladies Day (RTÉ Two) a good bit more engrossing than it had any right to be.

Indeed, although this engaging film, produced and directed by Marion Cullen, didn't really fulfil its stated aim -- in Courtney's words, to "explore the phenomenon" of Ladies Day competitions at race meetings -- it was crammed with intriguing sights and engaging soundbites, many of the latter coming from the presenter, who has been a judge in a hundred or more such contests.

"There's probably more bitchiness than at Crufts," a veteran of such competitions drily observed, with Courtney himself describing the inevitable jealousies and rivalries as "full-on girl-on-girl civil war".

But bitchiness wasn't his main aim. And thus, though veteran feminist Nell McCafferty was on hand to marvel that all the competing women had "Celtic Tiger tastes", Courtney was kindly disposed towards them as individuals and showed real empathy as they confided their hopes and disappointments.

So did this mean that he "explored" this strange and -- to many of us -- silly and shallow phenomenon? Not really, but the viewer was left in no doubt that, along with the vanity and greed such contests encourage, there are more likeable aspirations that motivate the competitors, too. The film itself was extremely likeable.

On Prime Time (RTÉ One), Miriam O'Callaghan spoke of the "new level of depravity" that saw fathers being gunned down in front of their children, mused about the "really slim" chance of the killers being convicted, and asked: "Are people getting away with murder?"

Former detective inspector Brian Sherry felt unable to contradict her, pointing out that although there's now a more visible garda presence on our streets (really?), the detective units that might secure such arrests were under-resourced.

Less than an hour later on the same channel, a possible reason was to be discerned in Crimecall, which featured so many law enforcement personnel seated around a studio table (13, at my count) they could have manned four garda stations.

Meanwhile, TV3 was doing what it does best -- or at least most often -- by showing us scenes of violence and asking us to be appalled by what we're witnessing. Here the subject was Traveller Feuds, and though we were assured that the vast majority of Travellers were decent, law-abiding people, the programme kept showing them going amok.

This it achieved by screening the same scenes over and over while a narrator solemnly informed us that "the mindless violence can quickly spiral out of control". We were also told that videos of Traveller fights can "help continue the cycle of violence". Needless to say, the programme's intentions were on a much loftier plane.

Sandwiched between two All-Irelands, Cogar's Cnoc 16 (TG4) offered a lively and informative history of Croke Park's most iconic vantage point. Maybe it was just informative for me, but I certainly never knew that the famous terrace was once called Hill 60 and that it had been named after a famous Turkish battle during World War One in which the Royal Dublin Fusiliers had fought.

Needless to say, such an association with empire had its vehement detractors and so the spot was retitled to honour the 1916 Rising -- though the common assumption that it was constructed from city-centre rubble caused by the rebellion had all to do with legend and nothing to do with fact.

The period shop-based drama The Paradise (BBC One), an eight-part series based on a novel by Emile Zola, was originally planned for transmission in the coming New Year, but apparently the Beeb learned that ITV was about to screen its own department store drama, Mr Selfridge, and so it has hurriedly brought forward The Paradise.

If you've fond memories of House of Elliott and Lark Rise to Candleford and can't understand why Downton Abbey can only be viewed once a week, this looks like being right up your street. I'll probably give it a miss.

Indo Review