Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Rik Mayall's passing makes me yearn for golden age of comedy

The programmes to watch... and the ones you'll really want to miss

Rik Mayall
David Beckham
David Beckham

I can't have been the only one who binged on Rik Mayall this week. His very shocking, very sudden death was probably the way the star of Drop Dead Fred would have wanted to go.

But at only 56, and in seemingly fine fettle, perhaps not for a good few years yet. It certainly threw everybody – fans into sadness, and TV into a tizzy, because they weren't planning on working on a Rik Mayall retrospective for at least another decade.

It gave me an excuse instead to watch Blackadder and old Comic Strip episodes again. And it reminded me of the days when TV comedy was actually groundbreaking, interesting and even funny. Mayall's generation truly planted the seeds of a hell of a lot of comedy we see on our screens these days – not all of it good, either.

Little beats the experience, however, of seeing him in his pomp gurning and flailing, making us laugh until we nearly swallowed our tongues.

The "people's poet" may really be dead, but thanks to the magic of TV we can rewind our favourite bits again and again.

Now for the Beeb to catch up with that televised obituary special.

More twaddle at Twaddell shakes my faith

There's no greater hole in the local TV schedules than that left by Stephen Nolan. As he lumbered from Blackstaff Square studios last week for the final time in the current series, like the last diet-plan raven from the Tower of London, it didn't so much shake the foundations of the Beeb as expose the rickety erection that is their summertime schedules.

Take City Of Faith (BBC1 NI) for example. Three sepia-soaked episodes in, it continues to be like the documentary version of The Wicker Man. Mainly in the way it casts the gaze of its woozy vaselined fish-eye upon small, odd people with big supernatural obsessions. Trotting out Handel's Sarabande as a musical shorthand for mysterious workings couldn't disguise that. At best, it's an odd beast of a programme: televangelism for fans of Last Of The Summer Wine.

So you have nice but slightly troubled people saying: "In that moment I heard the voice of God telling me he loved me. I was sure I was going to Heaven no matter what." Or "I've been commissioned to pray for the healing of Ireland." And... that's it.

I'm puzzled as to the wider point. It fails at a spiritual and human-interest level or even as a recorded document of a time and place. Because it offers little context, save a hint that these people are, indeed, all troubled. It just laps up the full-fat milk of religious faith over here, and regurgitates it back into our living rooms. As my (very religious) grandmother would have said: "Shut up and pray if you're going to. Or talk if you want to. But don't do both."

Instead we got: "God is our father and wants to pour out blessings galore on his children. But the blessings couldn't get through because the sins of history had not been confessed."

Speaking of historical ills, Spotlight's (BBC1 NI) spluttering beam rather failed to illuminate the sorry proceedings in Ardoyne that have made it the news carbuncle of the North for longer than we care to remember.

Instead we found things just as we left them last time. Intransigent men, intellectual torpor and some incredible acronyms. The world according to GARC was rather bleak, CARA appeared to offer compromise in which nobody else seemed interested. The Camp Twaddellers DID want to be sold a PUP, and Spotlight favourite 'Winkie' Irvine still wasn't in the UVF.

The programme-makers chose to demarcate and denote the two tribes in a refreshingly unreconstructed way. So we had a bouncy, camp-as-woggles europop version of The Sash whenever the Pride of Ardoyne were in view. To be fair, it matched the kitsch incongruity of their bright-orange-sash-draped-over-sportswear look. When it came to soundtracking the "other side", it had to be fiddle-dee-dee music so twee you could feel the chafe of Aran wool.

But, really, the not-so-merry-go-round of claim and counter-claim; the 35,000-quid-a-day cost of the "camp"; the sorry inability of mature men (and it was all men) to see the word "no" as simply one weapon in the linguistic armoury; the air of repressed violence, and the Parades Commission continuing to play the role of Mr Barrowclough in Porridge were all present and correct. As was the increasingly funny expression: "How are we to get home?". I can't have been the only one shouting "Translink" at the telly. "Ardoyne could be in for another long, hot summer," concluded presenter Declan Lawn. If only there'd been a tad more light to go with all that hot air.

Men cut from an infinitely more impressive cloth were to be found on We Fought At D-Day (BBC1 NI), which I caught on Sunday (whilst agonising over whether to roast or mash the spuds). It traced the events of D-Day through the Royal Ulster Rifles. The likes of Bill McConnell and Stanley Burrows may have been in their ninth decade, but they were lucid and fascinating. The last human bridges to an era all but lost to us. And you could bet your bottom franc they'd still have no trouble getting home.

Becks gets call of the wild in Brazil

Becks went off to find himself this week in David Beckham Into The Unknown (BBC1). In the rainforests of Brazil, of course. With a few mates, motorbikes – and a full TV crew.

"Why can't you find yourself at home?" asked Victoria, a great line that had Tina Fey said it, would have been described as "withering wit".

Instead, he and his mates climbed, camped and lost themselves in a place where nobody knows your name, but they're still always glad you came. Annoyingly, Becks once again came off as a likeable, endearingly credulous chap, who mistook a firefly light for a mobile signal.

One wondered if his own mobile was on in the Amazon, just in case the call came from Roy Hodgson just up the road.

Switch on...

Del Boys And Dealers (BBC1): Sample line: “Bedpan – one, one, one, one, one, one, two.” Three words spring to mind with this oddly entertaining show about batty bargain-hunters (right) — ‘skip’ and ‘psychiatrist’.

Switch off...

Football Hooligan And Proud: Oh Channel Five. When I think about you at all, it’s as the current home of Australian soaps from the Nineties and purveyors of sub-Channel 4 dross like this. And there’s not much lower than that.

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