Northern Ireland has TV talent - but not for political broadcasts
The programmes to watch... and the ones you really want to miss.
It's been an unsettling old week on the box. First Alan Hansen appeared to be on his last Saturday morning on Football Focus, wild-eyed, chuntering and giving new meaning to the word "awkward". Then the usually rock solid Cathy Newman was fluffing every other line on Channel 4 News -- it was all as unsettling as sitting next to Peter Stringfellow at the opera.
Next, after Jeremy Clarkson appeared to say something racist on Top Gear -- his producers (not him, mind) offered a casual shrug of a non-apology -- there was more outcry about the sudden disappearance from our screens of Susanna Reid's "shapely pins" (trademark The Sun). The more televisually superstitious of us might have thought these were the first grim portents of the end of days. Some particularly apocalyptic goggleboxers are now predicting the exit of Jeremy Paxman from Newsnight. And we all know what happens then...
Thank goodness then, that back in HMS Norn Iron, that usually tricksy disparate notions of British/Irish cultural identity were dropped like hot, um, potatoes, in our clamber for anything with "Britain" in the title.
Yes, the week of Good Morning Britain's Got Talent steamrolled the north, and there was nary a protester in sight.
Britain's Got Talent (ITV) came to town and proved that our wee part of t'empire didn't mind performing for visiting royalty one jot, even if it was in the queenly shapes of David Walliams and Simon Cowell.
"It's about toim dey came to Oirlaand" went one of the more colourful 'off-message' voiceovers. Toothless simpletons were then wheeled onto the Waterfront stage, followed by dreadful dreadlocked 'street acts'. It was building up really to the unleashing of the Oirish Dance money shot that was Innova from "the north coast of Northern Ireland" as last year's city of culture has now been rebranded.
"Tradition with a twist!" parped Amanda Holden! "I can't wait to see what you do next" gushed Walliams (more Irish dancing I suspect, David). "This is why I wanted to come to Belfast" boomed Simon in the style of an unemployed regional news reader.
And as the girls of Innova, to use a colloquialiasm, "went mental", so too did "we". We being that disparate pan-tribal gaggle of TV watchers, who forget our differences to pick up phones and dial premium rate lines from Ardoyne apartments to Tigers Bay terraces. Then after the break, BGT got bored of the blarney and moved back to its bread and butter, English people with "back-stories". "We" then shouted at the tellie in unison "we've got more talent here than 10 effing minutes-worth", to little avail.
But it wasn't all Riverdance, Vaselined lenses and cheerfully sublimated senses of identity on our screens. Behind the hair and teeth, there was a murky political landscape of Alliance offices, gay rights and immigrants all being attacked, violent flag protesters being left alone and men who look like retired geography teachers being questioned for dark dealings. Thank goodness, then, for our final submission for the thesis that Norn Iron, on tellie at least, has never been so British. Hurrah for The TUV, who not only brighten up our teatime screens with their eye-popping election broadcast, but made politics fun in a way it hasn't been here since Sammy Wilson hung up his naturist flip-flops. Like an Alan Partridge corporate video with slightly more right-wing politics, Jim Allister's bid to win hearts and minds was touchingly rubbish, and directed by somebody who'd just discovered what the zoom function was. Seriously -- go watch it on iPlayer.
As British as Finchley is the TUV, but with the production values of Fr Ted. It said it all for our mixed-up, inside-out ever-contradictory corner of the Emerald Isle.