Tuesday 12 December 2017

TV gold: When Gay met Geldof

With all due respect to Gay Byrne's interviewing skills, The Meaning of Life (RTÉ One) is only as good as its interviewees, which meant that this week's encounter with Bob Geldof was very good indeed.

Indeed, despite decades of exposure to Geldof's articulate loquaciousness, I hadn't expected this latest interview to be quite so arresting -- just as I'd been bracingly surprised by Terry Wogan's forthright reflections in the same slot a couple of years back.

So, yes, maybe the host has rather a lot to do with such successes, not least by putting his subjects at such ease that they're moved to express what they really feel rather than what their inner image maker might advise them to feel.

In this week's instance it was hard not to be beguiled by someone who spoke with such unaffected tenderness of his late father and sister -- and, indeed, by someone who didn't sound at all pretentious when noting that his memories of childhood were "few and Proustian": lipstick on his mother's china cup, the velvet gloves she wore to functions with her husband.

In fact, I could fill this column with Geldof's finely judged phrases on the schooling he hated, the religion that never meant anything to him and the fulfilment that he's found in the material world, though what registered most was the painstaking honesty of all his responses -- a tribute, you felt, to his relationship with his questioner, who's always seemed to be a father-figure in whom he could place his trust. If that's the case, it was well rewarded here.

There were well-judged phrases, too, in Andrew Marr's narration of The Diamond Queen (BBC One), the first instalment of a three-part series marking the British monarch's 60 years on the throne.

However, it was startling to hear him describe this most distantly dutiful of perambulatory women as a "symbol on legs", as if she were Geri Halliwell or Angelina Jolie doing their career-enhancing UN ambassadorial rounds.

As it happened, the difference between them and her was nicely summed up in another pithy remark, with Marr observing that "celebrities court the camera, but cameras court the queen".

Mindful of those who think of themselves as republican (with a small 'r'), he wondered at the point of it all, but this was merely a token gesture by someone who'd been granted official access to Buckingham Palace and to most of the monarch's extended family and entourage. Marr wasn't as cravenly sycophantic as some previous BBC presenters who'd been allowed similar access, but he was careful to mind his manners.

Meanwhile, in this little republic of ours we've gone From Boom to Maternity, or so columnist Maia Dunphy informed me at the outset of the RTÉ Two documentary bearing that name.

The film started in offputtingly me-me-me mode, with Dunphy declaring that babies had never been on her "to-do list" but that since she and "the divine Johnny Vegas" got married last year, "all everyone wants to know is: when is the baby due?".

"Everyone" plainly doesn't include this reviewer, who hadn't even been aware of her nuptials to Mr Vegas, though it was clear from the outset that she was bidding to match him in robust comedic talent, observing that "pissed-up and pregnant is not this year's look" and protesting that she hadn't "signed up for poo under my nails".

Poo became something of an obsession when she undertook to change the nappies of two babies, leaving her to echo Jimmy Rabbitte in The Snapper when she wondered "how that much shite has come out of one tiny person".

But just when I'd concluded the film was replete with the same substance, it became more interesting.

This was partly because Dunphy chose to abandon the laboured flippancy she'd adopted in the initial 20 minutes but also because she elicited good comments from obstetricians and other health professionals on a variety of birth-related topics -- not least the problems she herself might encounter as a woman in her mid-30s thinking of having a child.

A Prime Time (RTÉ One) special entitled 'Profiting from Prostitution' made for grim viewing, even if it told us little that we didn't already know from previous investigations into this sinister and brutalising trade.

Still, it was startling to view what the undercover cameras captured as the managers, pimps and chauffeurs of this sordid undertaking went about their business -- a woman organiser filmed through her kitchen window as she gave phone assurances to a wannabe young escort; a taxi driver transporting clients and women from place to place; a Romanian male ferrying frightened young prostitutes from town to town in a bid both to evade detection and to satisfy local demand by men who've come to regard such "commodities" as "a takeaway menu -- will I have Thai or Polish tonight?".

In this latter instance, three of the young women were arrested but not the man, which led the viewer to wonder: if an RTÉ camera crew can come up with such incriminatory footage, why can't the gardaí do the same?

As it stands, it's the women, most of whom are plainly terrified and abused victims of this trade, who seem to take the rap.

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