Belfast Telegraph

Review: Nolan's Radio Face a captivating mix of controversy and raw nerves

Stephen Nolan’s new show allows radio callers to air their views on TV. Laurence White tunes in

Where do you start with BBC NI's newest Stephen Nolan offering, Radio Face, which aired for the first time last night?

It's a sort of Nolan meets Gogglebox, although the man denies that he was inspired by the cult Channel 4 show.

What it does is show us the people behind the voices of regular callers to Radio Ulster's Nolan Show each weekday morning.

Those conversations continue, usually by social media after the show ends, but now some of the regulars are filmed in their living rooms, taxis or cars as they sound off on a wide variety of topics.

Nolan's gift is engaging ordinary people, giving them a voice on the topics of the day and keeping the pot boiling nicely. His real target is the policymakers, and the callers to his show are his weapons of choice.

But it is one thing hosting a radio phone-in daily, with the ability to block or end unsuitable calls. Radio Face is something else.

If you want to hear the authentic, unvarnished and mainly working class voice of Northern Ireland then this is the programme for you.

Cue comments on welfare - claimants are a bunch of wasters who don't want to work is the opinion of some.

Two women who are set to be stars of the show, Marie Aldridge and Ann Marie Lee from Andersonstown, both on benefits, defended their right to welfare, Marie in particular in the more forceful language, liberally peppering her comments with the F-word.

Nolan, of course, is no stranger to controversy. After all he was the one who announced on live television that his weight gain had seen his libido plummet to zero, although in more graphic terms.

So, presumably he feels that expletives are a common part of everyday language for some people and should be left unbleeped. But will the viewers agree, or will that cross their taste boundaries?

It should be said that Radio Face is a brave venture by the BBC. What other public broadcaster would allow people to sound off about the cost of the licence fee and say there is nothing worth watching on its four tv channels anyway?

Nolan's defence of the cost - 40p a day - for all of the output from Auntie's television and radio found little support.

But that debate brought a moment of pathos. Bertie, who is blind and a long-time Nolan fan, regards the BBC as a lifeline. He is particularly fond of Hugo Duncan - "the greatest man on Earth" and "my oxygen, he keeps me alive".

There are many people who argue that those who regularly contact talk broadcasts like the Nolan Show have too much time on their hands and too little value in their arguments.

Certainly, most of those on Radio Face would not be regarded as among the chattering classes. They aren't the sort of talking heads that grace late night BBC2 debates, but they are the sort of people with the sort of views that you hear every day, be it on the bus, in the taxi or at the shopping centre.

Nolan comes from a working class background at the top of Belfast's Shankill Road. Through the dint of unstinting work he may be a wealthy man - a regular topic for debate on his radio show - but he retains his affinity with those who share his background.

So what if they are not captains of industry or opinion formers. Why should that invalidate their opinions on any range of topics? After all, the man - or woman - on the street makes up the majority of people.

Radio Face will not be everyone's cup of tea, yet it is compelling in a strange way. It is a mixture of car crash viewing and a touching of the raw nerves that lie just below the surface of even the most sophisticated. Instead of shouting at the radio, now we may start shouting at the television as the five-part series unfolds.

That is part of the genius of Nolan - who once was told by a senior executive that he would never be good enough to work for the BBC and who is now its prize asset. He draws us in, whether we like it or not, or even whether we like him or not.

Now he is asking us to like the cast of Radio Face. Too early to say. Have to watch another episode. Oops, I've fallen into Nolan's trap.

One thing is certain, he will get people talking, and not just those who appear on Radio Face.

Belfast Telegraph


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