Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Stephen Nolan holds up a mirror for us all and the reflection is not always pretty

Review: The Nolan Show, BBC ONE Northern Ireland

Nolan on box gives it to us straight, warts and all
on box gives it to us straight, warts and all
East Belfast MP Naomi Long
East Belfast MP Naomi Long

I'm not saying Stephen Nolan keeps a, um, fat file with all his negative Press clippings in it, but every time I happen to be on his radio show he insists on reminding me about the time, about 100 years ago in the Tele, that I described him as the "cake-loving Mother Teresa of chat".

Maybe he just has a long memory and a short automatic weapon, but, whatever, you've got to occasionally take your hat off to the big-boned broadcaster now and again.

And his TV show, at least, isn't 100% terrible. Sure, there's the old binary formula of "I think this plus + you think that = let's have at it" at the heart of his schtick, but, just occasionally, as demonstrated in this week's instalment, his show manages to hold up a mirror to "aar wee praavince". And what it reflects back ain't always pretty.

So, we had debate on the disarray of the children's care system, with a ring-binder of ashen-faced male bureaucrats all doing creditable impersonations of blinking deer trapped in the lights of a Nolan's oncoming Chieftain tank.

With each hesitant "err" and "um" it became clear there was no clear reason – or remedy – available for the abuses that went on within and without the care system.

Les Battersby from Corrie played to the gallery by professing his love affair with Belfast, while the gallery looked on unimpressed.

They were shifting even more uncomfortably with the even more upsetting revelations that followed, which I won't spoil for you here, night-shift working Stephen Nolan fans with iPlayers (talk about specialist magazines).

Finally, and most depressingly of all, Jim Allister and Naomi Long locked horns about the current disfunctionality of local politics. Something's been nagging at me about Jim Allister on the TV all these years now and, as I looked down at my hot, malty drink last night and sighed it hit me like a big wet kipper round the chops.

Whenever Jim goes "off on one" – ie, has a camera on him – something truly remarkable happens; he transforms into a little teapot, or rather one of those old-school whistling kettles your granny used to have on her stove.

The more outraged he gets about some perceived slight, the shriller and more steamed up he becomes. By the end of one of his big, long, oxygen-depleting sentences, he's barely audible and ... teaUV's up. Well, it's one way of kettling the opposition ...

Take also the obligatory Orange Lil in the audience the other night, who hollered at East Belfast MP Naomi Long "I never seen you round our way, you're out in the next election!", before being patiently informed that Long had just arrived at the studio from a meeting with constituents moments before.

As I said, it ain't always pretty, but the Nolan Show can sometimes be a useful reality check for us before we all get a bit too pleased with ourselves. Richard Haass isn't in these parts to trace his ancestry, you know.

And perhaps now, after this spoonful of faint praise, BBC NI's biggest broadcaster (you should see the size of his audience share) will have a brand new clipping for his much smaller Press file marked 'Not Altogether Negative'.

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