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TV View: No place for idle gossip on UTV ... Spotlight has cornered that market


Sarah Travers

Sarah Travers

Sarah Travers

It's nearly time to go over the top, tellie pop pickers. If you're anything like me, you'll be bracing yourself for the imminent deluge of brandy butter, welcome cheer and unwelcome relatives that we call "the festive season".

The City Hall may be currently tarted up like a Yuletide drag queen here in crazy cosmopolitan Belfast. In greying telly land however, there's one last deep breath of carbon monoxide to inhale before being forced into sucking up the tinsel. And while we patiently await the delivery of that mystical parchment known as the Christmas TV schedule, it's a good period to bury, or indeed broadcast, bad news. And so we had the unpleasantness of hearing that Sarah "la" Travers' UTV vehicle The Magazine was no more, got to watch two wind-bags cancel each other out in a half hour of very white, very self-regarding noise, and to top the mud-cake of farce with the imitation cherry of despair, there was the unsavoury proposition of a Spotlight "special".

Dodgy expenses, exaggerated offences, parping moral outrage from out of their depth politicians, appalling dysfunction and ludicrous self-aggrandising are great ingredients for an extended episode of The Thick of It, but it's not so great on a Spotlight "special" where, as Quincy MD used to say, you're talking about human lives.

Incidentally, isn't every Spotlight "special"? But if ever there was a programme to make the most hardened devolution nut pine for the halcyon days of direct rule, it's one of those Spotlight-does-Question-Time "specials".

Astonishingly, Jim Allister said it best: "Who in their right mind would give Stormont any more powers?"

"Has the level of political debate in Northern Ireland reached a new low?" asked an audience member.

The programme itself was the depressing answer. All that and Dolores Kelly, like fellow panellist Arlene Foster, seems to think there's a programme called "Housewives" on telly.

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I'd sack these people's overpaid researchers for starters.

For a harder boiled TV alternative, look no further than Stephen Nolan's steel-capped tip-toe down memory lane with professional Jim McDowell impersonator: Jim McDowell.

"Hard-hitting hack from Belfast. Twenty-one official death threats. No submissions," was almost what Nolan said, in something approaching obsequious awe of the serially convivial Sunday World editor. "Is this were it all started Jimbo?" asked a smitten Nolan, standing with the big man on the edge of his native Donegall Pass, as he (McDowell) reminisced about peeing himself to Darby O'Gill and the Little People.

"There are certain people here wouldn't be pleased to see me," McDowell muttered darkly to Nolan, who described the sense of fear as "palpable".

Really it was just nosy staff in the nearby Chinese continental market, wondering what the hell Stephen Nolan was doing outside talking to a big loud bald chap.

"They'll not beat me," was McDowell's final word on the paramilitary bully-boys, who get annoyed of a Sunday when they find their exploits haven't been covered in his paper. "I hear you," swooned Nolan, before adding, "his heart is in his headlines," and demonstrating why he never made it in print journalism himself.

Zinger of the week? There wasn't anyone shining on the Blame Game

Welcome this week to the first in a series reflecting upon the comedy zingers that pepper the Blame Game as liberally as a blocked grinding mill.

I've decided to call it, catchily enough, the Blame Game Comedy Zinger of the Week that's Just Been. Problem was, there was so much to choose from, it was hard to find any one that shone. At least I think that's what the reason was. How about this little topical cracker about a notional Give My Head Peace Christmas "Da" doll, which when you pulled a cord said "break the b*****ds"? Just like what Gerry Adams did the other week! You couldn't make it up. At least not if you wanted to stay in a writing job. Or who could fail to remember the industrial levels of hilarity mined from simply having a transvestite comedian (the actually very funny Andrew O'Neill) in the same studio as comedians who weren't! Weren't transvestites, not comedians that is. No, after much deliberation, I settled for a couple of bee-related zingers. Behind closed doors at Sinn Fein, there's "more Bs than a Beehive in a honey factory", might have had the shinners on the satirical ropes. But the stinger-related zinger of the week has to be: "With all that honey he (Winnie the Pooh) eats, he has a very rare bloody group: B Positive."

Neil Delamere laughed like a drain pumped full of nitrous oxide, so there's the proof. The search is on for the next Blame Game zinger, in what I predict will be a series more occasional than my late grandmother's small table collection.

Dunbar revels in roaming the land in search of real Behan

Brendan Behan was a boorish, alcoholic, violent wannabe IRA bomber. All the things I'm fairly certain that Adrian Dunbar isn't. Which was just part of what made Brendan Behan: The Roaring Boy such compelling viewing on RTE the other night.  Dunbar is a lifelong admirer of the rambunctious writer.

"Where do you begin with Brendan Behan," he asked, as he began his journey, geographically and emotionally, on the 50th anniversary of the great, complicated playwright's death. Dunbar's journey took him to Paris and New York in search of the spirit of Behan. Dunbar was, unsurpisingly, an engaging guide through this part-travelogue. part-biography. Great interviews with the likes of actress Kathy Burke, talking about her Irish Father who indoctrinated her with the Quare Fellow and, who thanks to the power of Behan's writing, began "falling in love again with the idea of being Irish". For lovers of fine prose, well-pulled porter, or well-made programmes, it was a real TV hug in a mug, if the mug in question was laced with more than a little Jameson's of course. It's how Brendan would have wanted it.

Switch on

More deranged horror than Britain’s Craziest Christmas Lights (Ch 5), more surprising than Jeremy Paxman doing an NITB voiceover; I’m currently addicted to Season 5 of the Walking Dead. It’s ostensibly about zombies, but really it’s about the “monsters in all of us”. But sure you TV smarties already knew that. All that and Egg from This Life as an all-American action hero. Perfect.

Switch off

Can you think of anything worse than the One Show when it’s got that awful bald cockney bloke who usually does that other awful programme about benefit cheats on it? How about the One Show with comedian Sarah Milican and, um, “singing sensation” Olly Murs on the couch. That actually happened this week. Next week: comedian Nigel Farage and singing sensation Peter Andre.


  • A review of BBC Northern Ireland’s The Blame Glame, which appeared in the Belfast Telegraph’s print editions and made reference to the transvestite comedian Andrew O’Neill, was incorrectly illustrated with a photograph of the Belfast businessperson Andrew O’Neill, who is unrelated to the performer (TV View, December 5). We apologise to Mr O’Neill for the error.