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Reaching hands across the water (well, the border)

Our Friends in the North

Monday, RTE One, 8.30pm

Panorama

Monday, BBC One, 8.30pm

Untold History of the United States

Tonight, Sky Atlantic, 9pm

For those of us of a certain age, Kevin McAleer will always be associated with his stint on Nighthawks, when he played a vaguely sinister country bumpkin who wove increasingly surreal and deranged tales of farm life. It was only as his career developed that people realised that this wasn't some genius, pre-Ali G style character. No, it was just who he was.

His lugubrious, almost quizzical, style made him the perfect man to explore the lives of his mysterious Northern neighbours, the so-called 'Ulster-Scots'.

The Ulster-Scot revival has been emboldened in recent years. To counter a perception that Catholics were hoovering up all the Government money, funds were redistributed so that Protestants could have just as much money to waste on a dead language as their Taig brethren enjoyed.

Now, as someone who looks on those from across the border as living in an entirely different country, what was genuinely interesting was the fact that, as far as McAleer was concerned, the people he lived beside were also foreigners to him, and he to them.

But as McAleer went on a tiny round trip across Antrim it quickly became clear just how Balkanised the region had become.

Despite the presenter's cod-trepidation, the people were, well, lovely.

In fact, they were exactly as you would expect hard-working farming stock to be.

They drank lots of tea. They had the occasional sing-song. They went to bed early.

That's not to say that there weren't some interesting nuggets, however.

For instance, the two Presbyterians who were executed in 1798 for being United Irishmen and buried in a Northern Anglican graveyard. Or the the stoic acceptance by some of the Ulster-Scots that grave wrongs had been committed by both sides.

This was never going to be a rigorous examination of the often-inexplicable funding that is handed out to artificial constructs of cultural identity on both sides.

But then Our Friends In The North was funded by the Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund and, anyway, this was a relaxed and charming little doc that taught us a little about something we had never before cared about.

Q Going out at the same on Monday night was the hugely controversial BBC exposé of life in the vast death cult that is North Korea.

Presenter John Sweeney is still best known for having an epic tantrum with a spokesman for Scientology and now the London School of Economics has taken him off their Christmas card list. The college has been loudly complaining that the show duped them into getting them into the country and demanded the programme be pulled – proving in one fell swoop the law of unintended consequences as interest went through the roof.

But the most important question remained – was it any good?

Well, the answer is . . . so, so.

We saw government guides who made no pretence of not keeping tabs on the foreign visitors. There were empty streets. The people knew they were dead if they stepped out of line. And yes, they had the obligatory demented female newsreader screeching at the top of her voice about the Great Leader reducing America to ashes. Nothing you wouldn't see on the average Six-One News.

What we didn't see enough of were the concentration camps, the mass executions, the mass deportations and the cannibalism.

If you want a real look at the surreal horrors of that country, read Escape From Camp 14 by Shin Dong-hyuk.

RECOMMENDED

He may be as mad as the proverbial, and some of his theories are positively Corr-esque, but there's no denying the fact that Oliver Stone is one of a kind.

He dips his hands into the the world of documentary with Untold History Of The United States and it has already proved to be hugely controversial.

Expect plenty of conspiracies, a revisionist take from a left-wing slant and, all in all, it boasts much potential for hilarity.

Prepare your faces for stunned.

(Oh, if I'm wrong, and it's brilliant, I'll be the first to apologise.)

iodoherty@independent.ie

Irish Independent