Thank you, Dr Alasdair McDonnell, for drawing attention to the dearth of TV programmes that feature Northern Ireland in a positive light.
And thanks also for reminding us that the BBC, in particular, ought to be doing something to remedy this great wrong, as they have the benefit of a mandatory licence fee.
I dutifully pay my TV licence, but frequently wonder why the ordinary people of Northern Ireland are more or less invisible in the programming schedules.
It can’t be because we don’t have enough talented actors.
We have an abundance of local talent so there wouldn’t be any need to hire non-Northern Ireland actors and a busload of voice coaches.
It can’t be because we don’t have enough competent directors, producers and production crew. There are three authors, five musicians and one producer in my family alone.
It can’t be because Northern Ireland is short of acclaimed playwrights and there’s surely no end of beautiful scenery and suitable locations here. So what’s the problem?
Just think of the money the BBC spends on formulaic shows about selling houses, buying houses and decorating houses.
Just think of the money the BBC spends on sending top reporters to far-flung locations just so they can read out a short bulletin ‘from the scene’. Just think of the money the BBC pays presenter Jonathan Ross for little more than a bit of sexist banter with his squirming guests and the uncomfortable stereotyping of his in-house band.
Yes, I know this part of the world is synonymous with sectarian hatred and bloody mass-murder. But for every ruthless killing there were a hundred acts of kindness.
And for every miserable bigot there were a hundred love stories. And for every scowl and swagger there were a hundred tender kisses.
So why can’t we set the Troubles to one side for a little while and make some programmes about ordinary people? You know the ones who got up and went to work every morning instead of filling stolen cars with adapted fertiliser?
You know the ones who were either falling in love or falling out of love, instead of falling out of a hedge with a revolver hidden up their sleeve?
God knows, I laugh my head off every time May McFettridge appears on the telly in her blue and white hat and granny frock.
But wouldn’t it be lovely to see a drama starring some wise women of a certain age? Oh, be still my beating heart, but wouldn’t it be a wondrous thing if someone made a film of my all-time favourite novel, The Maiden Dinosaur, by Janet McNeill.
The opening scene could feature Sarah Vincent (52) and her little circle of fossilised school-friends having tea and cakes in a cafe near the City Hall. Oh, bliss and rapture!
God knows, I loved every minute of Five Minutes of Heaven, starring Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt; a flawless piece of drama in every sense. But I’d also love to see these two fine actors starring in a gentle, seaside love story set against the magnificent north coast.
Can’t you just imagine the gravelly accents of these two home-grown stunners as they fight over some local beauty? And maybe a dramatic kissing scene in Dunluce Castle or a break-up scene as the waves crash onto Portstewart Strand?
Well, I can: I’m currently writing the novel. If no one else is available, I’ll also write the screenplay.
Yes, a shameless plug for myself here; but for almost 10 years now I’ve been writing non-political, non-sectarian love stories set in Northern Ireland. I’m published in 17 countries around the world, including the US and Russia.
I get letters from all over the globe thanking me for showing my readers the hidden side of Northern Ireland.
Yet I’ve never had a letter from the BBC asking me for the TV rights to one of my novels. (Years ago they turned down my comedy radio play about Irish dancing.)
And I’m only one of a number of authors who have scant interest in portraying the maiming and murder of innocent men, women and children for political ends.
There are other things happening in this place, you know?
There are thousands of stories right here, right now, just waiting to be told.
And there are hundreds of good actors, good writers and experienced crew just waiting for the phone to ring.
I’m sure any one of us could come up with an idea that would cost less to film that Jonathan Ross spends on one of his fancy suits. So come on, BBC, what are you waiting for?