Tag Archives: RTE

Coe-opted

When I was growing up, Shay Healy was as ubiquitous as anyone in gainful employment in Ireland could be; he seemed to have a hand in almost everything musical in the country. He and Phil Coulter looked to have Irish popular music carved up in their own duopoly. Not much of Healy’s work from those years is remembered now – except, of course, the 1980 Eurovision winner he wrote for Johnny Logan – and that’s not too surprising given his work was almost quintessentially ephemeral, written and performed for a living.

To give Healy his due though, he and his work had an edge and wit that was lacking in most light entertainment emanating from the official culture of Ireland in the 1980s. He also never took himself too seriously, even if he did have the semi-legendary attribute of indirectly causing Charlie Haughey’s downfall. His interview with Seán Doherty on Nighthawks in January 1992 elicited the claim that other members of Haughey’s cabinet knew about Doherty’s phone-tapping while justice minister. Haughey was gone within weeks.

One song I do remember introduced me to the man who is now the head of the London Olympic Games Organising Committee. I was too young to remember the Moscow Olympics but three years later I heard “If I Were Sebastian Coe” and its jangly pub-rock was sufficiently catchy to lodge the middle-distance Olympic champion in my conscience. It was so impressive that I was a bit surprised to discover that Sebastian Coe was not some crusty old dignatory but a fairly young man with a few years on the track ahead of him. The song is an amusing ditty, with the inevitable Steve Ovett reference, and the title and refrain demonstrate a command of the subjunctive mood rare in pop music. As Healy explains on his own YouTube channel, Coe himself was not too impressed at the tribute:

I wrote “If I Were Sebastian Coe” in 1983 as an homage to Seb, one of the greatest middle-distance runners of all time, whose frequent jousts on the track with fellow Briton Steve Ovett were the stuff of legend. I sent a copy to Seb and he said he would sue me…I hope Lord Coe, Olympic supremo 2012 has a better sense of humour…

Quite.

(I first saw the video for this song on Youngline, an RTÉ youth programme of the day, and a precursor to Jo-Maxi. I have a very dim recollection of Youngline, though it also provided me with my first ever glimpse of The Jam around about that time. I always imagined it to be short-lived but I had in fact only caught the tail-end of it. It ran from about 1978, in which year U2 made their first ever TV appearance on the show. Well, we won’t hold that against it.

(by Oliver Farry)

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Irish people on holiday

One of the more startling discoveries from RTÉ’s Home documentary series (2007) was an illuminating look at Irish summer holidays from the late 1960s. Fr Peter Lemass presented a report from Ballybunion and talked about people leaving their “factory, farm or kitchen” and coming to the seaside resort to enjoy all the good things it had to offer. However this relaxed and carefree buzz is quickly killed when the tone changes to one of concern. He wonders out loud:

“Do Irish people tend to let down their hair a little too much when they come on holiday?”

Such earnest concern about morality is also reinforced by the parish priest – Fr Murphy – as he sternly dishes out advice to prospective holidaymakers from the presbytery’s garden.

Not one commandment but the whole lot!

(by nlgbbbblth)

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The Calor Housewife of The Year

In the minds of many a thirtysomething, there is a clear distinction between the Ireland of our childhood and the Ireland of today. We can afford to chuckle indulgently at such historical faux pas as Flahavan’s Tracksuits and institutionalised homophobia, because they belong to a different time. Came the modern age, and these things were swept away. We, mere children at the time, are not implicated. It was all so unimaginably different and all so long ago.

A look at the chronology says different, however. Ireland did not enter modernity at the same time as we entered our teens. Indeed, as we approach middle age, there are many respects in which it still hasn’t entered it now. Many of the most egregious effusions of embarrassing old Ireland died a slow rather than a sudden demise, to the degree that it can often be hard to find the exact date of death.

This much I can confirm. As late as 1995, there was such a thing as The Housewife of the Year Award. It was actually on the telly. Not in the dim and distant past, but in the mid-90’s, a time when we were drinking lattes and you could buy condoms without even having to have a prescription from a doctor or anything.

The fact that the Housewife of the Year, or to give it its full, sponsored title, the Calor Kosangas Housewife of the Year, existed at all will probably be enough to blow certain under-25 minds, and to confirm the view of The Young (which has always been the view of The Young, since the dawn of time), that The Past was fucked up. Lest the Young get any ideas that they were born into a brave new world, I remind them that today, in 2012, The Angelus on TV is still a thing.

I feel sorry for the Young. There they are, with their asymmetrical haircuts and their long-term unemployment, ignorant of most of the cultural shorthand that now dominates Irish popular culture. As we once were, they are maddened by the persistence of certain patently outmoded and reactionary cultural phenomena. And yet, not only will these embarrassing relics of the past not die, but their elders (i.e. us) insist on bringing more of them back from the grave. Because there is apparently nothing, from The Riordans to Tuberculosis, that cannot become a focus of thirtysomething nostalgia. Did you know it’s been almost a dozen years since the big foot and mouth outbreak? Let’s start a facebook petition to “Bring it Back”!

I now understand why some cultural entities just won’t go away. Surely all the people who bought Ireland’s Own when I was young are dead by now. The current audience probably started reading it ironically in the mid-90’s and eventually got to like it. Suddenly, its longevity becomes less mysterious.

The Calor Housewife’s tearaway younger sister, The Rose of Tralee was saved (ironically) by Father Ted. The “Lovely Girls” episode was such a pitch-perfect parody that it seemed to breathe new life into the competition that inspired it. The single, vital ingredient, camp, has saved the Rose for generations to come. It hasn’t changed, but the way we watch it has. The Rose will run and run, because Irish people love it when we can find an easy rationalisation for not changing anything.

I am not so sure the Calor Housewife can be as easily salvaged for the delectation of the sophisticates we have now become. The makeover would need to be fairly radical. But there are still options. I suggest that the competition go one of two ways: the Etsy route, or the Domestic Goddess one. The Domestic Goddess model will appeal to advertisers after that Desperate Housewives/Sex & The City market, and it has the benefit of making explicit the assumptions of the original competition: that wifely duties are primarily focussed on sex and cooking. Admittedly, the sex part was more to do with procreation back in the Calor Housewife’s heyday, but a move towards raunch would be but a small adjustment in the interests of long-term stability. Women will still be forced into narrowly defined and impossible to fulfil roles, and that’s the important thing. You have to change if you want to stay the same.

The Etsy route may not have the same broad commercial appeal, but a niche might still be carved out by an indie-soundtracked night of competitive kookiness, wherein a dozen giggling Zooey Deschanel haircuts are interviewed by Dathaí Ó Sé about their about their quirky personal styles. I would probably watch it.

Whichever approach is chosen, a token house-husband will be required to provide liberal cover for the event. Because at the end of the day, no matter how much you rebrand, there are conceptual problems with the Housewife of the Year. It was won and lost via three rounds. The first, competitive cooking, is more popular than ever. The last, a party piece, or “turn”, can be quite easily glammed up in the style of a Simon Cowell production. But the third event is, er, problematic. It was an interview with Gay Byrne. Surprisingly, given his alleged retirement a decade ago, Gay Byrne is not the problem. He is available for work. The problem is that the interview was explicitly focused on the contestant’s wifeliness.


The contestant would be asked how she met her husband, how many kids she had with him, and how she managed to look so glamorous whilst still looking after them all. Admittedly, Gay Byrne was never known for his progressive attitudes towards the role of women. But there is something about a competition for housewives that has a cooker as its star prize that resists attempts at modernisation. Witness this 1995 attempt (which, by the way, appeared on the same page as a profile of Martin Amis) to salvage the competition for right-thinking Irish Times readers:

“These were no bimbos…since the phrase ‘housewife’ and phrases like ‘I’m only a housewife’ are rapidly disappearing from the vocabulary, I’m told by a spokeswoman for the organisers that they will be reconsidering the title of this event”

Alas, it never happened. In fact, the competition never took place again. Because here was the problem: It was the Housewife of the Year Award. You had to be a wife, and you had to be in the house. And, though it was never explicitly stated, you had to be a mammy. Ideally, you wouldn’t be anything else. As Ireland changed, there were complaints, in the event’s dying years, that too many women working outside the home were taking part. And, in a surprising denouement, competitive housewifery became perhaps the only professional sport to be ruined by the rise of amateurism. It lost its soul. It’s never coming back.

(by Fergal Crehan)

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RTÉ’s Greatest Themes

This LP was released by our national broadcaster in 1987 to celebrate 25 years of television and 60 years of radio. It was marketed by that old reliable, K-Tel, on foot of a vigorous advertising campaign. The premise is pretty straightforward – one side devoted to television, the other to radio. In both instances selections of themes are played with panaché by The RTÉ Concert Orchestra.

The 15 minute suite of television themes serves up a feast of nostalgic thrills for anyone aged over 30 who grew up on a diet of one/two channel television. Most of the memorable ones are present. For the children we have Wanderly Wagon and Bosco while the Wesley Burrowes triptych that is The Riordans/Bracken/Glenroe is present and correct.

Sports fans will be delighted with the theme to that Saturday afternoon staple Sports Stadium (1:40pm – after The Wonderful World Of Disney/Daktari/The Invisible Man – take your pick) and the evergreen stomper that is James Last’s Jägerlatein a.k.a. The Sunday Game.

Current affairs are represented with News and Newstime, Today Tonight and 7 Days. The first two are reasonably groovy. Hats off to the orchestra for their stirring rendition of To Whom It Concerns – theme for the world’s longest-running chat show, The Late Late Show.

Here’s the first part of “Television Themes Down The Years”.

A competent cover of the Dallas theme tune follows. For those of us who grew up in Ireland during the 1980s, Dallas on a Saturday night was a ritual. Usually watched after a bath while drying one’s hair by the open fire.

Side 1 concludes with The American Connection – a medley of three classic cop/private eye shows. Hill Street Blues is reprised towards the climax.

The flipside is a different story and is likely to be of more interest to those of more advanced years. It’s all about the radio. Music On The Move is nicely funky and is taken from the Chappell library. Other melodic choices include Living With Lynch and the Irish Hospitals Trust while Hospital Requests‘ use of a Gershwin melody is oddly sentimental. My favourite remains Tico’s Tune which soundtracked The Gay Byrne Show for all those years.

Two traditional compositions conclude the LP – dramatic and expertly honed versions of An Chuilfhionn and The Raggle Taggle Gypsy (made famous by Planxty).

Full tracklist

Side 1
01 Television Themes Down The Years
(a) 7 Days (b) The Palatine’s Daughter – The Riordans
(c) Here Comes The Wagon – Wanderly Wagon (d) Today Tonight
(e) To Whom It Concerns – The Late Late Show
(f) Eireodh Mé Amárach – Glenroe (g) Strumpet City (h) Bracken
(i) Thrilling Spectacle – Sports Stadium (j) Murphy’s Micro Quiz-M
(k) Tolka Row (l) Bosco (m) Mart And Market
(n) Classical Action – News And Newstime (o) The Shadows
(p) Jägerlatein – The Sunday Game
02 Dallas
03 The American Connection
(a) Hill Street Blues (b) Magnum P.I. (c) The Rockford Files

Side 2
04 Radio Themes Down The Years
(a) O’Donnell Abú (b) O’Donnell Abú
(c) Fish And Sticks – Music On The Move
(d) The Wibbly Wobby Walk – The Town Hall Tonight
(e) A Fair Day – The Kennedys Of Castleross
(f) The Old Turf Fire – Round The Fire
(g) Someone To Watch Over Me – Hospital Requests
(h) Perpetuum Mobile – Question Time (i) Le Jet d’Eau – The Foley Family
(j) The School Around The Corner (k) Three Little Words – Living With Lynch
(l) When You Wish Upon A Star – Irish Hospitals Trust
(m) Tico’s Tune – The Gay Byrne Show
05 An Chúilfhionn – Nordring ’78
06 The Raggle Taggle Gypsy – Nordring ’78

In an ideal world the original versions of all these themes would have been compiled with extensive sleevenotes in some sort of fancy box set. However this highly enjoyable interpretation from the RTÉ Concert Orchestra is probably as much as you’ll ever get.

I’ll leave you with the second part of “Television Themes Down The Years”.

(by nlgbbbblth)

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A Week In The Life Of Martin Cluxton

A Week In The Life Of Martin Cluxton was directed by Brian MacLochlainn in 1971 and received its television premiere on RTÉ during December of that year. It’s a gritty and accompolished attempt at social realism which proved that we could make urban drama to the same high standard as our British counterparts. And just as downbeat too – as illustrated by John Kavanagh’s well-meaning cleric.

“This is a decaying area. Unemployment is high and the people as a result suffer immense depression. Martin Cluxton is a direct product of this environment. His problems are threefold. They are medical, environment and spiritual.”

We start with a rural scene; a group of boys walking over Galway hills with a Christian Brother in charge. We quickly learn that they are juvenile offenders and that Martin Cluxton (played by Derek King) is one of them. Two key devices are employed by the directors to drive the narrative and provide background and explanations – breaking the fourth wall (by adults) and voiceovers (by Martin). The direct addresses to the camera are made by the religious authority figures (who explain that their resources are wholly inadequate – “we are no substitute for skilled social workers”) and Mrs Cluxton explaining the difficulty that is raising children in relative poverty. On the other hand Martin’s stream of consciousness is more plaintive and demonstrates the hopelessness of his situation.

“Everybody seemed to have something to do or somewhere to go. Except me.”

The premise of the film is simple – it deals with a week in the life of a youth released from the reformatory and back to his inner city Dublin home. The cast includes a number of familiar names including Bill Foley and Laurie Morton as Martin’s parents. Virgina Cole (who starred with Morton in Fortycoats and Co.) plays his sister Chrissie while Going Strong stalwart Ann O’Dwyer is the glamorous neighbour Mrs Boyle. Fair City‘s Jim Bartley stars as the tearaway Cronin (an older sidekick of Martin’s). Hope is in short supply and as the story progresses we gradually learn that the future is going to be just as bleak and aimless as the past was.

Martin wants to become a mechanic. In a key scene he has an impromptu interview with garage owner McGreevey who appears to be reasonably disposed to him until he learns of Martin’s address in Corporation Avenue. After he leaves the businessman then berates his secretary for not checking the applicant’s background in advance. Curiously the radio in McGreevey’s office features a broadcast about socialism. This theme is further expanded in the pub scenes with Mr Cluxton engaging in dialogue with a revolutionary bar-stooler about the class struggle.

“Babies don’t get bit by rats in Foxrock.”

As the film progresses our sympathy for Martin’s plight increases. His interactions with others – family, friends, social workers, priests, brothers, unemployment officials and the man on Dollymount beach – cement his status as a teenager without hope. By the closing scenes he has made a decision. One is left with the strong impression that it was inevitable.

“You’d like to do something. Anything. It didn’t matter what. Just anything.”

A Week In The Life Of Martin Cluxton picked up its fair share of criticial acclaim upon release.
– Press Award for Best Overall Programme, Prague International Television Festival, 1972.
– Best Overall Programme, Hollywood World of Television Festival, 1972
– RAI Prize, Turin International Television Festival, 1972

It also features a beautiful jazz soundtrack courtesy of Louis Stewart.

Brian MacLochlainn went on to direct Time Now Mr T., The Spike (with Noel O Briain) and The Burke Enigma.

(by nlgbbbblth)

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This Is The End, My Only Friend, The End

[Today’s Guest Poster is Colm Tobin. Colm is not an award-winning novelist but he has done stuff like two series of Langerland.TV for RTÉ, which he wrote and produced, three series of the kid’s series Science Fiction for RTÉ (and now CBBC) as well as writing on radio projects like Irish Pictorial Boatly for RTÉ Radio 1.]

West Cork. 1994. It was all school uniforms and angst and people smelling generally of sweat. In retrospect, I realise I was basically living in a seaside paradise. But at the time I couldn’t really see beyond the misery of secondary school. What can I say? I was a teenager.

Although I can look back now and smirk and even laugh at it all, there was one true horror during those teenage years, a horror I didn’t fully comprehend until many years later – worse than the prevailing nightmare of t-squares and protractors and having to sit next to some bollocks from the rugby team in double-geography. It was the horror of being stuck in Two-Channel Land.

Two-Channel Land consisted mostly of RTÉ 1 and Network Two, kids (Yes, it was temporarily rebranded Network Two, presumably because some RTÉ suit had been holidaying in Florida and saw some telly in a hotel). It was a precursor to Four-Channel Land which, some say, still survives to this day. Now, I’ve never seen a map of Two-Channel Land but in my head it’s the general area outside the Pale. I’m sure it was actually much smaller though and located in the general area around my house.

So, that’s about 100 channels on our TV set that were devoted to varying shades of grey static and subtly shifting textures of white noise. Good God, when I think of it… And we were well out of range of any BBC/S4C/morse code signals too. You’ll hear no Peter Sheridan-style anecdotes from me about being stuck up a chimney delicately positioning an aerial while your Da shouts up instructions from the living room. The only signal you’d ever receive on our roof was the “Colm, get off the fucking roof” signal my Dad would send up from the garden.

Anyway, I digress. I realise I’m entering “I used to go to school over stones in my bare feet” territory here… I’m just trying to put in context why The End, when it started, was just about the best thing that ever happened to my televisual world.

For those of you who can’t remember – The End aired on Network 2 from 11pm to 2am on Friday and Saturday nights. I only know this because Wikipedia remembered it for me. And for someone living in Two-Channel Land this show was the equivalent of a visit from outer space. Friday nights consisted of a range of mostly British sitcoms and cartoons interspersed with wonderfully odd studio-based madness hosted by Barry Murphy. It was basically Barry and whoever he could pull out of The International that night, from what I can tell. This was the kind of thing that happened, which I watched over and over, and was basically the genesis of Apres Match.

And then you had this sort of thing – Peig, the first ever cartoon series produced by Brown Bag Films – a spoof of the book, which I so happened to be studying in school at the time. Believe me, on a Friday night, after a week of Irish classes featuring the catalogue of drownings and cliff falls that is Peig, this was a rather wonderful antidote. It also featured a talking pig called Humongous. What more need I say?

And then there were re-runs of amazing British sitcoms that were a bit before my time, like The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin, the wonderfully surreal 70’s sitcom starring the outrageously talented Leonard Rossiter.

The End on Saturdays was a treat too – hosted by Sean Moncrieff, still one of my favourite broadcasters. I seem to remember an amazing bit where they played back random, drunken messages from the public but can’t find any evidence of it online. I also vaguely remember it turning into a chat-show of some sort but, like Brown Bag’s Peig, my memory is getting the better of me. Sure I’m an old woman now with one foot in the grave and another on the edge. Sure all I’ve left now are me memories.  Maybe you lot can help refresh them?

And wouldn’t it be great if RTÉ saw fit to throw open Friday or Saturday nights to something weird and wonderful like this again?

(by Colm Tobin)

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Andy Ruane, Popped.

It was 1994, and our country’s hopes were as high as our waistbands.

We were pre gap year culture, pre Britney, pre duck-face profile photos. Miley Byrne was rearing a nation, Dustin the Turkey was landing number one hits, and Pat Kenny was but a vague noise sporadically emanating from the metropolis one’s aunts used solely for Christmas shopping. It was as good an era as any to be thirteen. It might yet prove to have been the best.

Thirteen’s a funny age. Your mind is still officiating games of House and Tip The Can, but your body is Judas, dragging you towards conscience and clumsiness and wanting to do funny things with the gawky dreamboat you found disgusting only five minutes before. On one hand, you still want to play with toys, and watch irony-free cartoons, and pretend to be Marty McFly. On the other hand… well, you don’t want to know what the other hand is doing.

Which is why thirteen-year-old ears are perfect for pop music. Pop music combines primary colours and primary urges better than any other mood-delivery system, and our mid-nineties RTÉ execs didn’t miss a trick. Saturday mornings meant eating Frosties in front of the television, from which blared an energetic ginger called Andy Ruane whose sole reason for being was to tell you which pop star was hottest in which provincial pockmark. His domain was The Fanta Roadshow, a travelling disco which uncovered the real issues of the day through the medium known as “rave dancing”.

Ruane was the thirteen-year-old’s civil servant. As the Roadshow’s master of ceremonies, he whipped local music tastes into Top 12 charts, coaxed schoolyard anecdotes out of floppy-haired wallflowers, and pitted uncoordinated hopefuls against each other in rave-dancing showdowns that must have reminded adults of marionettes in a washing machine. Meanwhile, sidekick Mary Kingston prowled the host town for gregarious kids with exhaustive local knowledge. It was like…bullets of wisdom and pertinence coming at you in seizure-tempting waves of ‘90s graphics. Like graffiti that sternly reminded you to Just Say No. Like Mr. T advising you to respect your mother.

This actually happened.

The best bit of the show was the Soap Box. A platform for kids to tell the truth about their towns without fear of reproach from parents, teachers, or the parish priest, it was raw and honest and gave me and my burgeoning social conscience hope for the future. A handful of young ‘uns, from 6th class whippersnappers to lofty second years, would tell the camera the best things about their community: “There’s lots to do!” “We have a great GAA club!” And then, defiantly, the worst things: “There’s nawthin’ to do!” “There’s far too much alcohol!”. Yes, rural thirteen-year-olds in the year 1994 were inordinately down on alcohol. Dismayed by it. Hurt by its very existence.

Anyway, Saturday mornings meant waking up to Andy Ruane and his deftly-controlled mayhem and haphazardly-tucked t-shirts. He was part of our lives, an adult who wasn’t really an adult, a rapscallion who’d definitely let you onto the lifeboat before him. Then one day, in my little south County Galway town, the news broke that the Fanta Roadshow was coming to us. It was coming to the local hotel “niteclub”. We were going to get our very own fifteen minutes, presided over by our very own Andy Ruane. Mary Kingston would stalk our highways and byways, and find prudent youngsters who’d tell her about our folklore and geological features. Our own ambassadors would tell the country exactly what the real issues were in south County Galway. That the GAA was great and there was too much alcohol.

We were in heaven.

Every tween and teenager turned up to the Fanta Roadshow when it set up shop. The “niteclub”, a massive function room that usually couldn’t reach capacity (and probably hasn’t since), was jammed. Girls swayed timidly in oversized synthetic shirts, whilst young bucks threw shapes of the most desperate flamboyance, attempting to rave-dance their way under said shirts. My friends and I secured a spot near the stage, so we might be broadcast screaming our approval when the camera did one of its many, many sweeps.

It was especially exciting for me, as my cousin, to whom I was very close, had been chosen as one of the town’s ambassadors for the Soap Box. He had recorded his spot earlier in the day, and I might have joined him now to pry into the experience, but I didn’t want to lose my premium dancing location.

The noise was immense. The tension, if harnessed, could have given Ardnacrusha a week off. Andy Ruane was preparing to take the stage.

And…

And…

And he wasn’t nice. Not even a little bit. He was shouty and bossy and stressed and not at all one of the gang. Years later, I understood. They tell you never to work with children or animals, and in a cast of teenagers, Andy Ruane had to work with both. But in 1994, it was a shock to discover he didn’t really care about our anecdotes, or our issues, or even our rave dancing. All he cared about was, unforgivably, doing his job.

“Move over there! You, stop that! Get down out of that, you little… Shut up! SHUT UP! Only scream when I tell you!”

We were stunned.

The illusion of the excitable, sensitive, trustworthy Andy Ruane had shattered, and we couldn’t rave dance the magic back. Sure, we screamed on cue for the camera. Sure, three intrepid show-offs took part in the rave dance competition. Sure, we helped count down the charts from twelve to one. But the whisper took off around the hall and nothing could stop it. From every downturned mouth, from every dismayed head, there came the hushed mantra…

“The ginger bastard.”

My cousin had reason to be the loudest of them all. His Soap Box contribution was a deadened reading from a prepared script. He said that the GAA facilities were top notch and that there was far too much alcohol in the town. The Fanta Roadshow didn’t particularly care whether he thought either true. When the show was broadcast, we were all mortified for him. His acting was atrocious, because, well, he wasn’t an actor. A drink might have loosened him up, and it wouldn’t have been out of character for him to have asked for one.

The Fanta Roadshow was never quite the same after that. I still watched, but I declined to attend the next time it swung into town, and I never trusted a TV personality again. When a friend told me, years later, that she met Ray D’Arcy and that he wasn’t dazzlingly pleasant, it ruffled nary a feather on my poor, plucked head. Well of course he wasn’t dazzlingly pleasant. Why would he be dazzlingly pleasant in a world where Andy Ruane could turn out to be a short-tempered, supercilious git?

Thing is, when I look back at old Fanta Roadshow clips with my jaded adult eyes, it’s obvious that Andy Ruane was dead right to have little interest in the featured teenagers’ anecdotes, because they were mind-numbingly shit. It’s a sad truth that teenagers very belatedly realise how boring they are. Thirteen years of self-centred helplessness, widened by hormones into a microcosm of similarly graceless eejits, is not fecund ground for growing great stories or shrewd ethics . No wonder Andy Ruane was so bad-tempered. Having to repeatedly broadcast the same feckin’ story of how some braying kid’s cake fell over in Home Economics class would make anyone depressed.

(by Lisa McInerney)

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Clash Of The Ash

Clash Of The Ash was written and directed by Fergus Tighe in 1987. It was shot on 16mm with a running time of just over 50 minutes and won Best Irish Short at the Cork Film Festival that year. Some months later the film was broadcast on RTÉ 1 where it made quite an impression on my teenage self – primarily because it contained a lot that I could identify with.

Phil Kelly (played by William Heffernan) is the anti-hero; a restless teenager imbued with natural hurling ability and a strong aversion to studying. The location is not fictitious but instead it’s the very real Fermoy in County Cork which is a welcome touch. Like much of 1980s smalltown Ireland it’s a claustrophobic place that drives people away but inexplicably retains a strange sort of hold on them. The latter is exemplified by Gina Moxley’s character, the tempestuous Mary Hartnett who has returned after a stint in London. The other members of their gang are languid Martin (Vincent Murphy), uptight Willy, and mousey Rosie who carries a torch for Phil.

Control and the expectations of others are what Phil fights against. Kelly Senior wants him to take on a job in the local garage while his nagging and snobbish mother has her sights set on him getting a good Leaving Cert. Meanwhile on the sports field the coach Mick Barry (Alan Devlin) has high hopes that his star player will make the county minors and by extension a job in the bank.

“The GAA looks after its own”.

There is a keen build-up to the upcoming match against local rivals Mitchelstown. But Phil isn’t happy. He prefers to train alone (running down a hill backwards and belting a tennis ball around a handball alley) and just can’t apply himself in school. He has little interest in what his well-meaning father can arrange for him and clashes with his mother about late nights and “cavorting with gurriers”.

“It would be more in your line to think about the Leaving Cert”.

Music plays a key part in Clash Of The Ash. Phil wears a Cramps t-shirt, has a Rum, Sodomy and The Lash poster stuck to the bedroom wall and spins Dirty Old Town on the turntable. Mary complains about sharing a house with NME hopefuls The Saints and Scholars while it’s revealed that Martin is talented musician but lacks the motivation to take it to the next level. In a pivotal sequence the gang borrow Willy’s father’s car and drive into Mitchelstown to see The Big Guns play the local nightclub. An exercise in pint stealing means a clash with angry punters and an increase in tension with Murphy (Phil’s nemesis and hurler on the opposing team).

The ill-feeling between the two players explodes during the crucial game. It proves to be a turning point in Phil’s life.

Clash Of The Ash takes place in a world of Silk Cut posters in shop windows, radio clips of Michael Lyster reading soccer results, interminably boring Irish classes and lessons in how to skip mass effectively. The television in the pub is tuned to RTÉ’s Closedown (national anthem), the Sunday Press costs 50p, the dole is paid on Tuesdays and the bank is seen as an ideal career choice. While drifting down the river Martin wistfully remembers a time when local trains still ran and flattened ha’pennies so wide that they could be used to buy penny sweets from the almost-blind shopkeeper. However the sense of claustrophobia is ever-present and the drift towards emigration an inevitable outcome.

The moral: when others try to run your life then escape becomes necessary.

As Mr Kelly states (when offering advice on how to dig properly):

“It’s all about balance”.

(by nlgbbbblth)

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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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