Saturday 23 March 2019

UTV Ireland quietly opens up its revenue streams

The corporate vision replaces the song-and-dance man in the industry of human happiness, writes Declan Lynch

A SLICK ACT: Pat Kenny
A SLICK ACT: Pat Kenny

By a strange coincidence, on the night before the launch of UTV Ireland, there was a documentary about the great Shay Healy which contained scenes from the launch of RTE2 in 1978.

Shay had somehow found himself with the title of 'Acting Press and Information Executive' (as distinct from the non-acting kind), and you can trace a direct line from this inspired appointment to the fact that on the big night, there were messages of support beamed from America from Sammy Davis Junior and Liberace, declaring how proud they were to be part of the opening festivities of Ireland's second television channel.

Yes, there were festivities, overseen by one John McColgan, including a gala night at the Cork Opera House which seemed to involve a lot of women on stage dancing.

There were no festivities, as such, for the launch of UTV Ireland, just a clock counting down as we enjoyed some lovely pictures of Ireland, a five-minute corporate introduction, and then straight into Emmerdale.

There was no Sammy Davis Junior, no Liberace, to give the impression that some of the world's finest entertainers were proud to be part of this new adventure, of which they knew nothing - though there was a greeting from Olly Murs.

And in the place where the dancing women used to be, there was an immaculately-produced hour in which Pat Kenny spoke to some top people about their hopes for the year ahead, with a particularly effective contribution from a delightful 99-year-old woman in a nursing home, who turned out to be Nidge's granny.

There was no sense that a person with the showbusiness instincts of a Shay Healy was on the premises, that the 'Acting Press and Information Executive', for his next trick, could be the acting presenter of Nighthawks.

But then, you would not expect such things.

The corporate vision has long since replaced the vision of the song-and-dance man in the industry of human happiness. We are no longer startled when a new TV station gives us a five-minute introductory "package", and then gets straight down to Emmerdale, the brief formal opening followed by the one that matters, the opening of the revenue streams.

And the UTV Ireland vision has replaced a vision of UTV which had been so weirdly distinctive, forged in the darkest days of war and burned into our souls by men such as Julian Simmons and Jackie Fullerton and Charles Witherspoon.

Now that I think of it, if you were to fuse the personae of Julian Simmons and Jackie Fullerton in a certain way, and add a little stardust, you might end up with someone not a million miles away from the aforementioned Liberace - a UTV presenter such as Simmons might not actually appear on camera playing a piano studded with diamonds and wearing a silver suit as he introduced the night's episode of Coronation Street, but you always felt that there was at least an aspiration in that direction.

You'd be looking at a UTV presenter and, after a while, you might start to notice that there was something slightly unusual about this set-up, maybe some strange yellow curtain behind him with little sparkles on it, like stars. Which reminded you that you were now on Planet UTV, that you couldn't possibly be anywhere else.

Without any expensive branding, UTV always managed to convey this unmistakeable sense of, well, UTV-ness. And when you couldn't see the front-of-house folk putting on their funny voices and winking conspiratorially at you, the more sombre voices of UTV would break through whatever programme happened to be running at the time, requesting all keyholders in the main street of, say, Craigavon, to return to their premises immediately to search for incendiary devices.

Emmerdale itself once had the capacity to surprise at least some viewers in the Republic of Ireland, when it was called Emmerdale Farm, and this English farmer could be seen in this room in his farmhouse that he called an "office".

There will be no such culture shocks on UTV Ireland, though some have expressed joy that they will now be able to tape UTV programmes on Sky.

The fact that they will be able to see The Jeremy Kyle Show on a channel where they haven't seen it before, or that the opening night climaxed with A Night In With Olly Murs, has not been so widely hailed.

The great hope is that Chris Donoghue will carry on doing what he and Ivan Yates have done on the radio, making their RTE equivalents sound institutionalised.

Julian Simmons claimed to be "the Martini Man", because he is ready to perform "any time, any place, anywhere". In his own way, Chris Donoghue may eventually merit such a title.

He's the bright one, he's the right one.

Sunday Independent

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