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Hamster is better out of Top Gear

Richard Hammond needs to get away from Top Gear more often. Like fellow Top Gear wheel James May, when Hammond is liberated from the shadow of the oafish Jeremy Clarkson, he makes better television programmes.

Richard Hammond's Engineering Connections dates from 2009, but with large chunks of Sunday evening currently consumed by Dancing on Ice and The All-Ireland Talent Show, I'll take a re-run of Hammond any day.

He was looking at the Airbus A360, the world's largest passenger plane. It's a jumbo-jumbo-sized monster, 40pc heavier than a 747 and with a wingspan the length of a football pitch.

Hammond is essentially a big kid at heart, albeit a diminutive big kid, but in Engineering Connections he's less interested in drooling over toys for big boys than in deftly exploring the science that makes them work.

The key to the A360 is the design of its wings, which are modelled on those of a Steppe eagle. Curved winglets at the tips provide the extra lift it needs to get off the ground and stay in the air.

Bird-collisions are one of the greatest threats to an aircraft in flight, so an aerospace engineer demonstrated to Hammond how they test the fuselage's strength by bombarding a sheet of it with chickens -- dead and plucked, thankfully -- fired from a cannon at 180mph.

And so to The All-Ireland Talent Show, which grinds relentlessly towards the semi-final stage. "It's about pride, it's about parish, it's 100pc Irish!" bawls Grainne Seoige at the start of every show -- and by God it IS 100pc Irish, especially in its parochial wretchedness.

It's difficult to know which is more nauseating: the egotism of the judges (especially the pompous Dana, the posturing Daithi O Se and the absurdly self-regarding Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh), the fact that most of the 'talent' is parish hall-standard mediocre (notably insipid balladeers Na Fianna, who Ni Chofaigh witlessly compared to The Clancys), or the ugly, tribal provincialism the series fosters.

This year it's acquired a spin-off show, Backstage at the AITS. When I say 'show', I'm speaking loosely. Hosted by Aidan Power and the spent force that is Dustin the turkey, Backstage is little more than a means of clinging on to viewers who might otherwise find the sight of Kathryn Thomas flexing her formidable eyebrows in a bikini on RTE1's No Frontiers challengingly cosmopolitan. As Dustin himself might have said, back when he still had some satirical bite in his beak: "Bleedin' Brutal!"

TOMORROW: Pat reviews Teens in the Wild (RTE1) and Aftermath (TV3)

Staceys' Stars

Richard Hammond's Engineering Connections ***

The All-Ireland Talent Show / Backstage at the AITS *