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The secret reign of King

Spin (TG4)

YOU will hear commentators drooling over the excellence of BBC4, how it is a haven for intelligent people such as themselves. What they don't seem to realise is that BBC4 is also a monument to the death of public-service broadcasting, or at least a version of it whereby the multitudes would be given certain programmes that were good for them, mixed in with all the crap that they liked.

And with a bit of luck, they might discover to their amazement that they liked the good stuff too, the Attenboroughs and so forth, which would improve their lives in some small way.

The whole point was to avoid the construction of little ghettos such as BBC4, where "the quality" could enjoy their art and their culture, away from the prying eyes of the masses. Alas, that's all over now.

Inevitably, Ireland would look for a way to copy this sad surrender, and increasingly I sense that this is where TG4 is headed.

Of late, I have noted a lot of really fine people on TG4, the likes of Philip King and Horslips and Dervla Murphy, and Padraig O Duinnin with his Muintir na Mara series, either making programmes or having programmes made about them, which would probably be seen by a few hundred thousand more people if they weren't on TG4.

And I can't help thinking that this is how the executive class wants it, creating a little centre of excellence in the certain knowledge that the Irish language will play its ancient role of repelling anyone who is out there, looking for a good time, ensuring that no one will ever stumble across one of these high-class programmes by accident, as they did in days of yore -- with potentially life-changing consequences.

We're back to Mad Men, and why it is shown round midnight on RTE1 -- they put it on at that time because they think it is too good to be shown at a normal time. There can be no other reason for it.

There's no more sex in it than there is in Desperate Housewives, there's not a lot of profanity, the only possible explanation is its goodness, which they feel may be a corrupting influence on the people.

In fact, we should probably be grateful that they didn't just ship it out to TG4 and slap a horrible translation on it, to be sure.

BUT then I guess we should be grateful that these things get made at all. Even if it means that the Irish language maintains its traditional role as a form of penance -- if you have the temerity to do something good, they bring you down by forcing you to make it "as gaeilge". And so it goes.

Spin is the latest production from the Dingle powerhouse of Philip King, whose Other Voices series has been a huge success with aficionados, while maintaining a discreet presence on RTE2.

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King speaks from his own studio, the one that I presume he uses for his radio show South Wind Blows, wherein he is starting to fill that Ciaran Mac Mathuna-shaped hole with his meditations on Bob Dylan and Neil Young, the true folk music of Ireland.

Spin introduces an historical, even an archeological dimension, as King holds up these rare old black vinyl artefacts which used to be known as LPs, "long-playing records" by important Irish artists such as Paul Brady and Andy Irvine, De Dannan and, perhaps the most important of them all, Jimmy Crowley and Stokers Lodge.

Like Kenneth Clark in his legendary Civilisation, King explains these exotic objects to younger viewers who have never seen such things before, showing them these "sleeves" which were specially designed to contain the LPs, and which themselves were often works of art, which might contain fine writing.

But ultimately Spin is about the music, about men such as Handsome Chris Twomey of Stokers Lodge, and the contribution they have made.

If there is such a thing as a one-man centre of excellence it is Handsome Chris, who, with Jimmy Crowley, Mick Murphy and Johnny Murphy, made The Boys of Fair Hill the real anthem of Cork, ousting the yacht-club crowd with their drawing-room renditions of The Banks.

You really must see this some time.

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