Last weekend, and somewhat to my surprise, I became a late convert to Tommy Tiernan.
Down though the years I never cared for his televised stand-up routines, which were too edgy, too abrasive, indeed too aggressive for my snowflake sensibilities. Comedy, of course, notoriously divides audiences, but there was something in this guy’s persona that just made me feel uneasy.
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I didn’t warm to him, either, when he went through a period of telling everyone how he was giving up comedy altogether, and nor was I persuaded when he reinvented himself as an interviewer who chose to wing it through encounters with guests whose names and identities had been withheld from him in advance of their appearance on the studio stage.
I thought it a pointless gimmick and one that precluded him from asking the kind of questions that would have arisen if he’d permitted himself the luxury, indeed the basic requirement, of researching his subjects, as almost all interviewers do.
And yet last Saturday night’s The Tommy Tiernan Show (RTÉ1), though keeping to the same flying-by-the-seat-of-his-pants template, worked brilliantly. I’m not sure why, but I got the sense of someone who was older and wiser and more content with himself – and perhaps more mellow, too, as had been suggested by his lovely understated turn as Erin’s dad in the recent season of Derry Girls.
And though he obviously knew who Paul McGrath was the second he saw him, Tiernan clearly had to search his memory in order to elicit responses from the shy football hero about both his glory days and his personal demons. This he did with immense tact, and the result was the most revealing and affecting encounter I’ve seen with McGrath, who responded with an articulacy that has often deserted him in other interviews.
Even better was his chat with 19-year-old autism campaigner Ciara-Beth Ní Ghríofa, about whom he knew nothing, but who again responded winningly to his teasing out of her personal problems.
She was a lovely young woman anyway, and had lots of engrossing things to say about her “mission to prove to the world that autism doesn’t define a person”. But it was her interviewer’s palpable engagement with her, I suspect, that enabled her to feel so at ease and to react with such spirit, charm and good humour.
So it’s Saturday nights with Tommy Tiernan rather than Ray D’Arcy. If the next few shows are even half as good as this opening instalment, I’m not complaining.
Line of Duty, as if you didn’t know, came to the end of its fifth season on BBC1, with Adrian Dunbar’s stalwart Ted Hastings looking even more befuddled than usual when interrogated on charges of being the most corrupt anti-corruption cop of all. His accuser was played by Anna Maxwell Martin, a striking addition to the cast, though overdoing it with her smirking malevolence.
Anyway (spoiler alert for latecomers), Ted’s trusty sidekicks, Steve and Kate, saved his Ulster bacon from getting fried, Kate coming up with the episode’s best line when she told a horrible female cop: “We’re witnesses, not suspects. Now stop making a tit of yourself and piss off.”
In truth, it wasn’t the best season of Line of Duty, but everyone was hooked anyway and The South Bank Show (Sky Arts), hosted by Melvyn Bragg, went to the trouble of spending an hour with Jed Mercurio, the creator and showrunner of the series and of last year’s smash hit, Bodyguard, too.
The son of Italian immigrants and a former doctor, the now 52-year-old first made a television name for himself in Cardiac Arrest and cemented his reputation in Bodies – both series intent on showing a darker side of the NHS than you get in the long-running Casualty.
“So much medical drama is so fake”, he told Bragg and went on to bemoan that “standards in public life have decayed”, with “incompetence the norm” in most public institutions. And so, with Line of Duty, he wanted to do something that was “groundbreaking” about the police and not the usual “drama of reassurance” about cops.
He had conceived anti-corruption boss Ted Hastings as a bumbling time-server, but when Adrian Dunbar auditioned for the part, Mercurio opted for Dunbar’s strengths both as an actor and as someone who, with his Catholic background in the North, was an interesting outsider. The result was a career-making role for Dunbar.
In the second instalment of Ireland’s Favourite Folk Song (RTÉ1), former Ireland footballer Niall Quinn argued the case for Shane MacGowan’s ‘A Rainy Night in Soho’, first released in 1986. How is that a folk song? Indeed, if you’re being that loose with the term, why not ‘Fairytale of New York’ or ‘The Sick Bed of Cuchulaiinn’, both of which are much finer songs?
In the new season of Cloch le Carn (RTÉ1), tribute was paid to bestselling author and cancer campaigner Emma Hannigan, who died at the age of 45 in March 2018.
Cookery expert Rachel Allen recalled her friend being “into girl power way before the Spice Girls”, boxer Katie Taylor thought her “the most humble person I ever came across” and novelist Cathy Kelly regarded her a “soul sister”.
Clearly she was much-loved and the programme conveyed that love.
Sex on Trial (Channel 4) told the troubling story of Connecticut student Nikki Yovino, who accused two fellow students of raping her and then backed down when the police told her there was exonerating video footage of the event. That, though, was a lie, so what’s the truth? We didn’t find out.
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