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TV Review: No Surprises in this rehash

Surprise, Surprise (UTV, Sun) Cogar: Island of the Dead (TG4, Sun) -- "The more the world is changing, the more it stays the same," warbled Cilla Black, excruciatingly, from the top of a staircase that led nowhere at the beginning of every episode of Surprise, Surprise, which originally ran on UTV from 1984 to 1997.

Oh, how chillingly prescient those lyrics turned out to be, because Surprise, Surprise is back, albeit without Cilla, the ersatz stairs or her wailing. Those of you of a certain age will remember Surprise, Surprise with either a frisson of affection or a jolt of horror.

It was a mawkish slushfest in which Cilla, then the queen of weekend television thanks to the massive success of Blind Date, would reunite long-lost friends and relatives, spring a few surprises on unsuspecting members of the studio audience and make a few dreams come true, in the manner of a more grown-up version of the now-disgraced Jim'll Fix It.

We're talking kitsch of the thickest, gooiest kind here, and yet it worked brilliantly. Millions watched it every week, largely, I suspect, because Cilla -- a Liverpool lass and a friend and contemporary of The Beatles (Paul McCartney wrote a few hit singles for her) -- had the common touch. She could connect with audiences in a way few television presenters before or since have managed.

You can't say the same of her replacement, the dead-eyed Holly Willoughby, a woman with all the warmth and charisma of a rubber glove whose ubiquity on what producers call "shiny-floor shows" is baffling.

The new Surprise, Surprise more or less retains the old format. Two F1-mad best friends, one of whom donated a piece of his kidney to save the other's life, are treated to a trip to see their idol Jenson Button driving in the American Grand Prix.

A couple are reunited with the 8mm film of their 1970s wedding, which went mysteriously missing without them ever having watched it, only to turn up in the attic of a bric-a-brac collector.

A girl with cystic fibrosis gets to say thanks to her carer, her 14-year-old sister, by treating her to a day out with pop group, The Saturdays.

Heart-warming as these individual stories are, it's the way they're manipulated that sticks in the craw. It's as if Willoughby has been briefed to ruthlessly prod at the participants emotions until they deliver the required result: buckets of tears.

We've grown so used to seeing needy, attention-seeking idiots on The X Factor bawling their eyes out over nothing that, when a display of genuine emotion comes along, it gets mashed up in the cynical mix.

The only surprising thing about the new Surprise, Surprise -- and it wasn't a pleasant one -- was the appearance of Kian Egan, carving out a post-Boyzone/pre-inevitable Boyzone reunion career as the show's roving reporter.

Genuine emotions were on display in the Cogar documentary Island of the Dead, a melancholy, quietly horrifying film about the scandalous Catholic Church practice, now mercifully abandoned, of refusing to bury stillborn or unbaptised children in consecrated ground.

More than 1,000 such nameless infants, born to women in the 1950s and 60s, lie in unmarked graves in Cillin, the children's graveyard on Oilean na Marbh, off the west coast of Donegal. In recent years, the people of Carrickfinn, led by Seamus Boyle, have held an annual commemoration for these forgotten children.

A single grave, marked with a cross and plaque, now represents all of them and the ground has been consecrated.

Donal R Haughey's moving film featured interviews with people connected to the children, including one woman who has a baby brother buried there.

As achingly sad and powerful as the words were, it was the visuals -- and particularly the striking image of a field dotted with stones marking the burial places -- that lingered longest in the mind.



Surprise, Surprise 1/5 Cogar: Island of the Dead 4/5


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