Saturday 24 February 2018

Even Anne couldn't make a silk purse out of this sow's ear

John Boland

A correspondent has implored me to go easy on former newscaster Anne Doyle, who is the presenter of RTÉ One's latest quiz show, Division. It's not her fault, he argues, that the programme is such "a bucket of shit".

I don't know if I'd put it quite like that, but yes, I also have an affection for Anne Doyle, whose genial presence enlivened many a news broadcast for more than three decades but who is reduced here to fronting a complete crock. Was she that bored after two years of retirement?

From the late 1980s up to 2003, there was an excellent Channel 4 afternoon quiz show called Fifteen To One. It was hosted by the imperious William G Stewart and eliminated contestants one by one when they incorrectly answered three questions, until finally there was just a lone survivor. An outfit called Vision Independent Productions has now played around with this style of format – but to indescribably tedious effect.

Here, throughout a very long hour, 32 contestants are divided into two teams, with a representative from each team being sent out by their colleagues to answer questions on a particular topic. A wrong answer means that all 16 members of that team are immediately gone.

The remaining 16 are then divided into two teams of eight, an incorrect answer meaning that eight more contestants are summarily banished, until finally only two players remain to compete for the €5,000 prize.

On last Sunday evening's opening show, this meant that only six of the contestants actually played the game, the remaining 26 being unidentified to the viewer and entirely redundant to the proceedings, save for the whoops and grimaces they made as their chosen representatives either correctly answered or botched their questions.

And the questions themselves seemed so randomly conjured out of the ether (or some Wikipedia nerd site) as to be just plain silly. Who cares which of The Beatles liked to play Monopoly or which other Beatle acted as narrator on Thomas the Tank Engine? And why would anyone want, or be expected, to know who was the second-longest-serving Taoiseach? As Jennifer Lopez said to the guy hitting on her in Out Of Sight: really, Dave, who gives a shit?

Doyle was proficient and pleasant in her role as presenter/questioner, but making a silk purse out of a sow's ear was beyond her, as it would be for anyone.

As a general rule, I try to avoid places and events that require the employment of bouncers, not least because trouble can often ensue – most of it caused by fractious and drunk members of the public but some by these strong-arm enforcers themselves, whom I've occasionally observed over-reacting wildly to situations that didn't warrant such reactive force.

However, none of these over-enthusiastic enforcers were to be encountered in Men in Black: A Summer With Frontline Security (RTÉ One). Indeed, the members of the particular security firm being filmed were presented as such a noble bunch of guys (and one gal) that RTÉ deemed them worthy of endorsement in the programme's subtitle.

Founded in 1982 by Alan Gannon, Frontline Security describes itself as "an event security agency", which means that you'll encounter them working at everything from student discos and the Rose of Tralee to major sporting occasions and Pro-Life rallies around Leinster House.

It was somewhat oddly at the latter that viewers witnessed the film's only really violent moment, when an irate elderly campaigner was roughly manhandled – by the gardaí, though, and not by anyone from Frontline Security, whose staff were depicted as almost saintly in their understanding and tolerance of human frailty.

Or, to put it another way, they couldn't have got better publicity if they'd paid for it. Other security firms out there must be wondering why they missed out on such slavish puffery from our national broadcaster.

But if the bouncers were worried about men behaving badly, Channel 4 was busily celebrating them in Fifty Years of Rock Excess: Amps, Whips and Rebel Riffs, with Alice Cooper there at the outset to advise young wannabe bad boys: "Watch and learn, kiddies, watch and learn."

The focus was on rock in the 1970s, when, according to pundit Barney Hoskyns, the music and its practitioners "suddenly became much more hedonistic" – the film thereafter gleefully wallowing in such hedonism.

Keith Moon ("clinically insane", noted Cooper approvingly) trashed hotel rooms and exploded toilets and drum kits with cherry bombs. Footage of the latter, which caused Pete Townshend permanent ear problems, was shown, while there were fond reminiscences too of the on-stage and off-stage antics of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and other supergroups. I felt quite tired at the end of it all.

Generation War (RTÉ Two) came to its end with two of the young friends dead and the three others scarred for life by the barbarism they'd either perpetrated or witnessed. There were flaws in this German-made mini-series but overall it had real dramatic impact and never shirked portraying what decent, ordinary young Germans were capable of doing in the name of their demented Fuhrer.

Irish Independent

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