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O'Gorman digs into the unsettled past

Paddy's dig for stories

PADDY O'Gorman is an Irish institution, a one man interviewing machine with a fedora hat and a dog on a lead.

For years now he has been wandering around the country, asking strangers questions like a precocious three year old for our viewing and listening pleasure.

I suppose they could jazz it up a bit by making O'Gorman wear a pigtail wig and ruby slippers and have him and his dog Snoop getting caught up in a "twister" at the start of each episode ("I don't think we're in Montrose anymore, Toto!" he could say on finding himself in the midlands or Leitrim or wherever he finds himself that week). But for the most part the format works.

Paddy gently questioning random people he meets about their lives and Snoop wandering around sniffing other dogs, fretting about the sound levels and getting people to sign release forms (I've long assumed that Snoop is also O'Gorman's producer).

Together the duo radiate an aura of trust. They practically own the copyright on man-on-the-street vox pops (there's no point a rival network investing in, for example, an interviewer in a top hat who has a cat on a string, because O'Gorman and his dog on a lead have the genre sewn up). However, the real stars of the programme are the ordinary people who happily recount key details of their lives in a humble, open and refreshingly un-fame-hungry fashion.

This week, at various allotments dotted across the capital, Paddy and Snoop spoke to a stoical young unemployed man, a recovering kidney transplant patient, a man recovering from depression and a couple of eager multigenerational families.

As usual the overall message is a life affirming one: everybody hurts, life throws curve balls, community is important and people are nice.

Back from the Dead: Crusaders also featured people digging things, but this time it's not allotment owners but archaeologists, forensic scientists and history buffs trying to make sense of crusader remains at Jacob's Fort, a site besieged by Saladin's army in the 12th century.

It's pretty grisly stuff. "This individual suffered the most appalling series of injuries!" says white-coated forensics man Dr Michael Wysocki excitedly, as he gapes at a battered old skeleton. This is followed by a dramatic sequence in which a square-jawed actor in a crusader outfit is attacked by a bunch of Islamic warriors against a CGI backdrop. The crusader gets his jaw broken, his arm severed from the shoulder and an arrow through his throat and yet he keeps fighting, much like the Black Knight in Monty Python's Holy Grail ("Tis but a scratch!") or Micheal Martin's post-election version of Fianna Fail.

It's all terribly exciting. Sadly, this exciting instalment is followed by yet more scholarly middle aged men doing science and saying facts. This in turn is followed by more bestubbled crusaders dying bravely in horrific blood-spitting ways. The programme should really have been called: Awesome Warriors and the Nerds Who Excavate Them, and it's clearly aimed at a demographic not hugely renowned for their love of history: teenage boys.

But as pitched battle follows pitched battle interspersed with contributions from likeable bandanna-wearing medieval weapons expert Pete "Buzzsaw" Holland (there's not much call for a medieval weapons expert in modern warfare, which means programmes like this must be a lifeline for old "Buzzsaw"), I have to conclude that if I was a teenage boy, this programme might well have inspired a life-long interest in history.

On the other hand, it might also have inspired me to pick up a sword and go on a rampage around a shopping centre.

Because the most striking facts I've gleaned from Back from the Dead: Crusaders are that swords are really cool (they could also have called it, Swords are Really Cool) and that "medieval weapons expert" is an actual job.