Nothing To It?

It was 1987 and I was studying for my Inter Cert.

One welcome diversion from the cramming was Civics. While not an exam subject it was on the school timetable as easy filler; a weekly opportunity to shoot the breeze with a teacher known as Bob (a moniker logically based on his initials). Bob’s role was career guidance and broad-based advice based on vague notions of what we wanted to do after walking out the school gates on that final day. Subject choice for the Leaving was also discussed and endlessly analysed. Given the grim economic times the spectre of emigration loomed for many while the rest of us gradually formed a tenuous bond to those skimpy colour coded leaflets and austere career directories.

Later on that year RTÉ got in on the act. The time was pretty prime – Monday evenings at 6.30pm just as we had our tea (or dinner for the urban-dwellers) and straight after News and Newstime. The name of the programme was Nothing To It?, the question mark recalling the doubts conjured up by Alfred Hitchcock’s Three Investigators‘ business card. In retrospect it could be considered as symbolising the muddled desperation of Irish youth. The programme was written and directed by Gerry Stembridge, later of Scrap Saturday fame.

The premise was simple but devastatingly effective. Three people sharing a chronically untidy Dublin flat played by Michael Murphy, Veronica Coburn and Pauline McLynn. None of them had a clue of what they wanted to be when they grew up – instead they relied on their imagination to conjure up a random career on a weekly basis. Each situation was played out like a miniature drama which was loaded with caricatures. Nobody was safe – from anodyne civil servants to corrupt and sleazy gardaí – taking in journalists, bankers, politicians, computer programmers and even caterers along the way. We were also treated to such joys as interview techniques (culminating in a surreal piece with an all-picture no-sound McLynn) and stern sanctimonious “advice” from agony aunt Agnes Day.

I recall the complaints starting pretty quickly (primarily via Mailbag) and continuing as the series rolled on every week. The boys in blue were certainly not impressed, although Garda Patrol had never done them any favours in the PR department. The final episode could only have had one outcome – our trio deciding to take the boat to England – and was played out with grim inevitability and a deeply cynical parting shot from McLynn’s Agnes Day.

“I suppose there are some young people the country is better off without”.

This barbed comment prefigured Brian Lenihan Senior’s tactless “We can’t all live on a small island” quip by about two years.

Like many RTÉ shows Nothing To It? was never repeated. It did get a five minute feature on Network 2’s @ last tv back in 1997 which can be seen above. Looking back 25 years later it still seems as subversive and funny as ever.

(by nlgbbbblth)

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12 thoughts on “Nothing To It?

  1. fústar says:

    This is one of those shows I manage to remember with affection, while failing to remember anything very specific. Just recall being very taken with the overall milieu. The squalor and the aimlessness. A rare (possibly unique?) appearance for 2000 AD in an Irish show there. As someone who was reading the galaxy’s greatest comic voraciously at the time, such things are appreciated. Nice touch having the gardaí getting off on the (“120 years in the iso-cubes for you, punk”) uber-fascism of Joe Dredd.

  2. God, I loved this show. Absolute Flann O’Brianistique absurdism/Dadaism at its best. No wonder my career path has been so surreal.

  3. Paul C says:

    Similar experience here. Can anyone identify the theme song?

  4. nlgbbbblth says:

    Fantastic track! Glad somebody could identify it.

  5. acutia says:

    I recall the final episode was very affecting. Some echoes of those last scenes, their sadness and bitterness, has popped into my mind many times over the years since then, It’s poignancy still jars with me when put beside the recent transformation of the Eighties into an imagistic time-scape of dodgy American movies and crappy UK pop bands for stylistas and marketeers to remix for ‘new’ trends.
    As far I can remember it, this series and the film “Clash of the Ash” were the only two times Irish TV or film we had then addressed the 80s world I lived in.

    • nlgbbbblth says:

      Thanks for your comment Acutia. Yep – that final episode is loaded with poignancy,. I’ll be writing a piece on Clash of the Ash at some point over the next few weeks. Must get round to putting it on YT too.

      • acutia says:

        Back when file-sharing kicked it for real, I went through my long lists of things to track down for a rewatch and “Clash of the Ash” was probably to only Irish item on it, but never I succeeded in sourcing it. So I definitely would be interested in a YT upload and look forward to your comments.

  6. Anna Carey says:

    I have no memory of this whatsoever! Which is a shame, because it looks brilliant.

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