Come Dine with Me

by John Boland

Irish Independent, April 14, 2012

The saddest remark I heard in ages came from Holly Sweeney in the first instalment of Celebrity Come Dine with Me Ireland (TV3). Telling the camera what she did for a living, she said: “People would know me best from being the ex-girlfriend of Rory MclIroy, the professional golfer”. And a little later, when introduced to her hostess for the evening, she volunteered: “I’m Rory McIlroy’s ex-girlfriend. That’s why I’m here”.

The meaninglessness of C-list celebrity has seldom been so poignantly expressed and I fervently wished that Holly, rather than promote herself as the discarded love interest of a famous sportsman, would get out of the whole media-fame racket there and then while she still had most of her dignity – or, indeed, if only to avoid sharing a dinner table with the likes of preening publisher Michael O’Doherty, whose self-love on this opening programme knew no bounds.

This largely manifested itself through sneering condescension, though it was bracing to observe how most of his utterances turned out to be hostages to fortune, reflecting worse on himself than on his intended targets.

“You’re shitting yourself tonight, aren’t you?” were his charming opening words to hostess Madeleine Mulqueen (from the Rubber Bandits video, if you must know). He had already scrutinised her bill of fare for the evening and declared it “a losing menu, it has loser written all over it” – clearly unaware that participation in shows such as this was strictly for losers anyway.

“I’m making an effort to be likeable”, he told the camera, “and if that isn’t good enough for them, fuck them”. Plainly it wasn’t good enough for former rugby international Shane Byrne, who, after putting up with O’Doherty’s insults about his drinking capacity and his mullet (“Your hair! What the fuck!”), confided to the camera: “I’d do anything to get him in a ruck. It wouldn’t last long”.

I’d pay good money to watch that but nothing would have paid me to endure the week’s other four instalments in this series.

As a republican with a small “r”, I was initially put off by Return to Farmleigh (RTE1), in which Miranda Guinness, Countess of Iveagh, made a nostalgic visit with her sons and daughters to the aristocratic estate which had become her home when she married brewery heir Benjamin in the early 1960s.

This was because, at the outset, Ann Marie O’Callaghan’s film seemed as if it were going to be unduly reverential, but it soon found a more equable tone and gradually became a poignant chronicle both of a couple who did their utmost to contribute to the country in which they found themselves and of their offspring’s childhood and young adulthood in blissful surroundings.

It was rendered even more poignant by the fact that Miranda died from cancer at the end of 2010, just after filming was completed, and you looked at her stricken face trying to recognise the vibrant young woman who featured in the newsreel footage of race meetings and other public functions from the ‘60s and ‘70s, decades in which the Irish media had embraced her as somehow one of our own, despite her posh accent and enviable lifestyle.

Long before her death, though, the family had been sundered by her divorce from Benjamin, who died at the early age of 55 and who was recalled here with affection, both by his ex-wife, by their children and by Garret FitzGerald, who was a family friend. And another sundering happened when the house and grounds had to be sold, though both mother and sons seemed very happy that the Irish state was looking after it so well.

The film was far more touching than I’d expected.

Keelin Shanley is a fine journalist and Eddie Hobbs is a trenchant commentator but both are wasted in The Consumer Show (RTE1), which has returned for a new season. In this week’s opener, most of the programme’s 25 minutes was devoted to payment protection insurance, which was undoubtedly of interest to those who’ve scammed by shady practices but which meant absolutely nothing to the majority of viewers who hadn’t even heard of PPI or its pitfalls.

A concluding segment on a family in Passage West who were trying to buy as many Irish products as they could was more interesting, but I failed to see why the family, who’d been extensively interviewed in their Co Cork home, had then to be brought up to the Dublin studio for a chat that was both brief and cursory and that added nothing to what they’d said earlier. Is RTE made of money?

In a self-lacerating Prime Time (RTE1), Donogh Diamond dealt with the leaked findings by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland arising from the Fr Reynolds libel debacle, while in the studio Miriam O’Callaghan didn’t try to counter the withering verdicts of journalists Patsy McGarry, Ger Colleran and Stephen Price.

Colleran thought RTE “full of hubris and arrogance” in its delayed pussyfooting over something that should have been dealt with speedily and decisively, while McGarry echoed what I had immediately felt on seeing the ‘Mission to Prey’ film almost a year ago. “It beats me”, he said, “how the programme ever, ever got on air”.

Panel

Saving the Titanic (RTE1) was a silly title for a film that should have been called Saving the Titanic for Long Enough to Enable Passengers to Get Into the Lifeboats. Otherwise, though, this was an engrossing dramatisation of what the engineers, electricians and stokers achieved in the bowels of the doomed liner.

Ciaran McMenamin was arresting as the brooding Fred Barrett, who miraculously survived his below-decks ordeal, and David Wilmot was affecting as the chief engineer who perished. And working with a limited budget, director Maurice Sweeney managed to convey the terror of the situation and the heroism of these forgotten men. A genuinely absorbing film amid all the current commemorative overkill.

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