Ian Paisley: An interview that gave us the evasive blather of a decrepit bully rather than any great surprises
TV critic Joe Nawaz says there was nothing revelatory to be gleaned from last night's BBC interrogation of Ian Paisley
Published 14/01/2014 | 12:00
And lo, it came to pass – the old, self-regarding poseur gave perhaps his last hurrah for the cameras on From Genesis To Revelation. But that's enough about Eamonn Mallie.
And what better subject for the broadcaster to confront than Ian Paisley, fellow narcissist and a man breathtakingly incapable of finding anything approaching fault within himself?
It's about time, too, as there have been so many dunderheaded Dad's Army-style acolytes over the years (such as, oooh, Peter Robinson) to take the hit for Paisley's heady combination of incompetence and hate-mongering.
Robinson, in fact, was one of the leading scapegoats last night for the ageing bigot-cum-elder-statesman's latest tranche of evasive and self-justifying blather.
The Irish people were also berated for bringing the Monaghan and Dublin bombings, in which 33 people died, upon themselves by simply voting, and we learned he had supported the civil rights movement – a surprise to anybody who heard him fling out his ludicrous but intoxicating vitriol.
But, really, the promised revelations weren't that surprising, were they? Was it a shock to discover Lord Bannside, for all his media rehabilitation, still held some rather unpleasant views, and was also a dab hand at the old volte face when it suited him?
Some unkind wags had billed this as the clash of the windbags.
But while Mallie in full flow could still generate enough hot air for a turbine to power every TV in Belfast, the wind in Lord Bannside's sails hasn't blown hard for a long time.
Nor, as the programme demonstrated, has he particularly revised his take on how blame-free he finds himself after six decades in the public eye. As he sat there beaming and slightly crumpled, like a cuddly uncle you might let your kids take a sweet from, the thought occurred that he was just loving being the centre of attention again. Mallie went about asking the questions we already knew the answers to.
Paisley is a man who didn't learn from his mistakes, because he doesn't believe he made any, but there was little forensic insight into this side of his character.
He did show occasional glimpses of the casual chutzpah of those who answer to a higher power – in Paisley's case, the Lord God Almighty that is his swollen ego. When Mallie suggested he might be accused of "taking the soup" by sitting with the President of Ireland, he replied: "If the soup is good, why not take it?"
He also quickly became forgetful when the topic got a little unsavoury, even for him, such as his oft-quoted line about Catholics breeding like vermin or rabbits or some such. Then, he became just that little bit more strategically doddery.
"I don't recollect saying that," he mumbled, and so we'd go on.
Mallie, you sensed, felt something of the hand of history, or at least the fingernail of posterity, on his shoulder. Paisley, I suspect, was wondering if he'd doled out enough faux-controversial flannel to steal headlines from his much-loathed political successors.
"You're well reported, sir," retorted Mallie triumphantly at one point, to a further Paisley denial of hate-speech. And really, the 'exposés', such as they were, left us with nothing new about this rather unpleasant man who wouldn't support a cause if he couldn't lead it, and had stirred impressionable others into horrific deeds that he – to this day – wipes his hands of.
As with most latter-day Paisley interviews, there was a combination of the sinister and the avuncular. Like most decrepit bullies, he likes to trade on a little of his human side in his later years to either dampen or muddy the view of previous unpleasantness.
The 'good' reverend didn't break sweat once as he cheerfully let Mallie – his critical lance sharpened and his charger of truth galloping at full pelt – rake over not-so-hot coals of his time consorting with the likes of the UDA godfather Andy Tyrie.
He didn't miss a beat when blaming rioters for the violence that followed his blood-curdling speeches, and admitted he had a bit of a chuckle to himself when he was described as an oafish bully and poisonous bigot by the NI Secretary of State Roy Mason.
Be it the Third Force, the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Ulster Workers Strike or his remarkable U-turn over sitting in government with Sinn Fein when he got a sniff of power, there was nothing revelatory to be gleaned from Big Ian. He knew he was right, even when he was wrong. We knew his real god was power, even when he spouted Old Testament fire and brimstone.
Mallie, meanwhile, must content himself with the knowledge when given the opportunity to poke the devil, like so many before him, he could only get close enough to tickle him under the chin. As the Big Man himself said: "I don't need to define myself. I'm already known."