Tuesday 24 October 2017

Class snobbery versus 'grand cake'


Tonight With Vincent Browne (TV3)

Corrigan Knows Food (RTE1)

The Riordans : Tea, Taboos, and Tractors (RTE1)

FOR years I have been a lone voice calling for an end to the practice of emails from viewers being read out on TV, and comments scrolling across the screen. There is no show that has not been diminished by Barry from Ballivor stating the bleeding obvious, which is done to give a false impression of reverence for the viewer, when in fact it would be far more reverential just to make a proper programme.

In time, I predict that programmes will boast that they are free of emails, as a special attraction. And Tonight with Vincent Browne could have been riding that wave, but instead, tragically, he has discovered the email, and the text message, and he seems excited about it.

You've got a good thing going there, Vincent. Don't do this.

I have also been a lone voice on the subject of food.

I do not look to food for entertainment or as a form of therapy. I believe that most TV chefs are damaged individuals who think deep down that they are doing women's work, and who over-compensate for this by abusing people. And though it is heavily coded and covered up with the pizzazz of show business, I regard food as one of the last bastions of class snobbery.

Imagine my surprise, then, after all those years on the margins of society, to discover that I am not alone.

Ryan Tubridy has exactly the same attitude to food as I do. He does not like dinner parties and he does not seek happiness in restaurants.

He was willing to have his beliefs tested on Corrigan Knows Food, and he did not succumb. He did not give in to Corrigan's hectoring. He ignored the abuse, the accusation that he is "ponced-up" because he has no appetite for life-enhancing activities such as chasing animals, killing them and eating them virtually raw. And while he allowed Corrigan to give him some meat, as far as I could see it was actually cooked.

Corrigan succeeded in forcing a fried duck-egg into Tubridy, for reasons best known to himself, but ultimately he failed to convert Tubridy to his ridiculous cause.

Meanwhile, somewhere out on the digital wasteland, I found some food geezer called Bob Blumer mingling with various characters from the upper echelons of Dublin society in Glutton For Punishment. His mission was to go on a Guinness diet for a week, which in Bob's world is regarded as an extreme culinary experience. Personally, I know men who lived like that for about three years.

And, yes, at the end of that, they would enjoy their meal.

They would also enjoy proper TV shows like The Riordans, celebrated in the documentary Tea, Taboos, and Tractors.

Presented by actor Aisling O'Neill of Fair City, daughter of Chris O'Neill, aka Michael Riordan, there was a strong sense of a personal journey as well as the journey of a nation.

In fact, many of us regarded The Riordans itself as a documentary, in which RTE would just set the cameras rolling for half-an-hour every Sunday night, while Tom Riordan and Benjy got on with it.

How great were these actors such as John Cowley and Tom Hickey? Certainly, John Cowley was Tom Riordan to the extent that his role seemed to involve no acting at all.

In a famous TV ad, he could connect with an entire race of people by stating, "that's a grand cake, Nora".

All the talent and energy that went into The Riordans tends to debunk my preferred myth, that RTE in the 1960s and 1970s was heaven itself, a place devoted to almost everything except the making of programmes -- in the mind's eye it was a home for political agitators, for well-spoken men wearing cravats, and for alcoholics of all kinds, who were perhaps locked in for the Holy Hour while the viewers were watching the screen clock ticking around to the official starting time of three o'clock... which would come and go, with the clock still shamelessly ticking.

Clearly whatever energy was left was poured into The Riordans and The Late Late and Wanderly Wagon and... eh... the other programmes... but we will never know for sure because mysteriously, nearly everything was wiped.

Which may partly explain why, in 1997, Tom Hickey somehow found himself appearing in a play written by my good self, which required him for publicity purposes to perform a scene on an RTE TV arts programme. And as I remember it, as Tom was relaxing before doing his bit, a young RTE woman asked him if he had any experience in television.


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