Belfast Telegraph

TV View: True North an engaging tale of a dignified species on the brink

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

By Joe Nawaz

True North is probably the best thing, by several furlongs, that BBC NI has ever done – and no, I haven't forgotten about the Blame Game. The very best thing about this remarkable series is that with every episode it challenges the very notion of there being one truth about the nature of the north of this island.

Be it horse whisperers, magic-believers or residents along a sectarian interface, throughout its two series, it has projected a searching beam of illumination onto a particular sub-section of our surprisingly diverse society.

In doing so, it puts very human flesh onto the bones of lazy supposition about all manner of folk who populate these six counties of ours.

It was a particularly timely repeat then – in light of recent international tensions and moronic attacks on the Somerton Road synagogue – for the episode that looked at that endangered local species known as the Belfast Jewish Community. Far from being rabid pro-Israeli, Palestinian-lynching sorts (well, not obviously so) the Last Minyan told a simple story of the trials and tribulations of the endearingly resilient Belfast Jewish community and their struggles to just keep going.

Film-maker Aaron Black returned to the ageing community he grew up amongst, to find them struggling even to make up the 10 men or Minyan needed for a prayer service.

What was striking about the programme was the prevailing sense of communal and cultural attachment, rather than any massive "religiosity" (as their new rabbi Rabbi Singer called it), that drove the Belfast branch of the Jewish Diaspora to maintain their synagogue.

Outgoing rabbi Brackman was leaving with regret because there wasn't the facility to school his children according to Judaic tradition in Belfast. The incoming rabbi said his children wouldn't marry in Belfast, and by implication, his tenure would be short because of the extremely relaxed nature of religious observance amongst the Jewish community here. And really that was a huge part of the charm of the programme.

That this long-standing Belfast community was so determined to maintain those badges of identity that made them so unique, but did so in such a good-natured and near-fatalistic way. Affable removal man Alan Matthews was the star of this show, as he affectionately struggled for supremacy with his 91-year-old dad (we're like Steptoe and son, he deadpanned).

When he was escorting elderly John with some haste, so that he could make up the 10 for the Minyan, was one of many lovely little scenes ("you're a real mensch John").

And the council meeting where the elders (and they were all very much elders) were going through the applications for the position of new rabbi, was the epitome of Jewish comedy, as they fretted over an array of issues, such as the sexual orientation or number of children that each prospective candidate had.

One prospect caused particular concern: "I remember watching him on television and I was most unimpressed. He struck me as being a nut!" In the end, Aaron Black, like other film-makers across the True North series, let the subjects speak for themselves without trying to contextualise their situation. The result – another welcome reason to celebrate the complexity of our northern existence beyond the usual tired old tropes of Titanic and George Best.

My only gripe – it was a bloody repeat. Series 3 please, and soon. There's longstanding Chinese, Hindu and Muslim communities here for starters, and what about those 7th Day Adventists?

Myopic Beeb misses the point while quizzing gorgeous George

Love or loathe George Galloway (and let's face it, there's no middle ground with ole George), you couldn't help but be scundered by BBC NI's rather low-heat attempts to grill him the other day.

It came off the back of those noted champions of free speech the DUP complaining about the old rabble-rouser coming over to talk in the Ulster Hall. But really, in spite of Galloway's boiled ham dressed as ludicrous camp gangster get-up, it showed just how bereft we are in terms serious probing journalism here. There's certainly a struggle to transcend beyond the binary themunsusuns analysis of political affairs.

But then again – perhaps poor Tara Mills had nothing to grasp on to as her attempts to accuse George of destabilising our own "delicate" peace process by dissing Israel petered out like an indoor firework.

It certainly made one query – for just a second mind – that famed BBC impartiality, when, with a little circular irony, they've also failed to notice the people protesting outside Broadcasting House these past few weeks about their reporting on Gaza.

On the Walter-Mitty display on Newsline the other night with not-so-gorgeous George, it looked like it was genuine incompetent myopia rather than the Beeb bowing to a particular political agenda mind.

Hard man Bear tops a grisly list

So the Radio Times has named posh wee-drinker Bear Grylls as TV's top adventurer.

Well it's hardly a crowded market is it? As evidenced by the fact that the long dead Steve Irwin managed to make number 4 on the list, and the hard-as-a-crème-egg-left-in-the-sun likes Ben Fogle and Kate Humble also ranked.

Really, we all know that the only two TV outdoorsmen worth their own personally excavated salt are Grylls and Ray don't-wipe-with-those-leaves Mears.

Petting farmyard animals really doesn't cut it alongside using your own bodily fluids as a means of rehydrating.

Looking forward to the Radio Times TV's top 10 gay bakers.

Switch on

Utopia (Channel 4): The best things about top TV drama Utopia ending this week was that it a) left the possibility of a third series and b) gave fans like me a chance to go to 4OD and watch the whole thing from the beginning again.

Switch off

Terrible comedy: I was going to say something about “people’s clown” Robin Williams’ tragic demise. But the world and his estranged wife got there first. So in tribute to the late comedy genius, I’d instead recommend not watching any terrible comedy on television this week. Plenty to choose from, and it’s what he would have wanted.

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