Sunday 17 November 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: I've had an idea for a new reality show - and it all started with a health check


Illustration by ben hickey
Illustration by ben hickey
Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

I did one of those health checks a while back. It was the summer and there was no football on the telly, so I was looking for things to get me through the hungry months and - don't ask me why ­- I signed up for the health check.

I felt a bit brave, like I'd joined the Foreign Legion or something. But actually, it was boring. Blood pressure, eye and ear tests - it wouldn't make a good reality show on a Sunday night. Celebrity Health Check? I don't think I'd be watching that one.

But, anyway, the doctor - a woman, by the way - was examining the various scars and bumps and other damage on my legs, arms, chest and the back of my head.

- Were you in a car crash? she asked.

- No, I said. - Never. Not a real one, anyway.

She was staring at the old gash on my left shin; it's a ringer for the River Shannon on the map of Ireland. She was looking at where Athlone would be.

- Where did you get this one? she asked.

- Hurling, I told her.

She pointed to the right leg, where a small chunk of my knee has gone missing.

- And this? she said.

-Hurling as well, I told her.

- You played hurling?

- Once.

- No, I didn't mean you still play it, she said.

She laughed.

- Once, I said again. - I only ever played it the once.

She stopped laughing and gazed - lovingly, I like to think - at the other scars and potholes.

- All this, she gasped. - In one game of hurling?

I nodded.

- They took me off at half-time, I told her.

- On a stretcher?

I shook my head.

- The Christian Brothers didn't believe in stretchers, I told her.

- My God.

- They said that stretchers were for English softies and girls.

- I'm just glad I'm a girl, she said. Anyway, I was remembering this when myself and the wife were watching the telly last night. We've had to abandon our usual diet of box sets. We're halfway through the new series Succession and we've one episode of Der Pass left, and we're dying to get dug into the second series of Mindhunter; I love serial killers and the first series was top drawer. But they'll all have to wait till after Brexit.

We've become Brexit junkies. Six-One News, Channel 4 News, RTÉ's Nine O'Clock News, Prime Time, if it's on - and what gobsh*te in RTÉ decided that nothing of significance ever happens on a Wednesday night? - BBC Ten O'Clock News, Newsnight. We're glued to all of them. There's no room in our heads for fiction; reality is way better.

But there's the thing. The reality shows that always start at this time of year are uniformly sh*te. I know, I don't have to watch them, and I don't - but I kind of do. They're always just finishing or starting before or after the various newses, so I get a glimpse of them every night. Do your house up, do your hotel up, do your garden up - they do my f**kin' head in.

Celebrities dancing, celebrities cooking, celebrities surviving in a room full of other celebrities; overweight celebrities, unhappy celebrities, boring celebrities with interesting ancestors who weren't celebrities - the only real satisfaction is in not knowing any of the celebrities.

So, anyway, it got me and the wife talking in the short space between the end of Prime Time and the start of Newsnight. We've been using that time to have the dinner, call the kids, fill the washing machine, put out the wheelies, sleep.

I think it's the sight of a celebrity chef looking at some poor eejit's cheese sauce like he's just found one of Boris Johnson's pubic hairs floating in it.

- We could do better than that, Charlie, she says.

And that's when I tell her about my Celebrity Health Check idea.

She sits up. I hear a creak but I say nothing.

- That could be brilliant, she says.

- Could it? I ask.

I'm pleased - it's my idea, after all - and worried; because I hadn't realised it was a good one.

- What do all those shows have in common? she asks me.

- Sh*teness, I say.

- Besides that, she says.

- Go on, I say.

- They're all about humiliating the celebrities.

- Are they?

- They are, she says. - It's obvious.

- Yeah, I agree. - And Celebrity Health Check would really, really f**kin' humiliate them.

- No, she says. - No. It would make them human.

- Would it?

- It would make them seem vulnerable, she says. - Like the rest of us. We'd feel closer to them.

- So, if we had, say Marty Morrissey having a prostate test, I suggest.

She stops and I immediately regret interrupting her, because I love watching her in full flight.

- I'll get back to you, she says, and we stare at the ads.

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