Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

But not for viewers in Northern Ireland.

Armando Iannucci used to do an excellent routine in which — remembering his childhood — he’d impersonate a BBC continuity announcer detailing the array of delights set to be broadcast that evening. I can’t remember the exact details, but I …

Mon, Dec 21, 2009, 23:09

   

Armando Iannucci used to do an excellent routine in which — remembering his childhood — he’d impersonate a BBC continuity announcer detailing the array of delights set to be broadcast that evening. I can’t remember the exact details, but I think he described unseen episodes of Star Trek featuring John Coltrane interspersed with in-depth interviews between Fidel Castro and James Dean. That sort of thing. Then, after raising expectations to breaking point, the imaginary announcer would say: “But not for viewers in Scotland”. A trailer  featuring Andy Stewart bawling at a frolicking haggis would then manifest itself before the young Armando.

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“Alex Maskey! Do you get it? Do you?”

He had it lucky. Most readers will now have access to several hundred channels on their televisions. Who cares if the stunningly unfunny May McFetridge is occupying the space that BBC London (say) has allocated to Noam Chomsky? You can always switch to BBC 4 or Sky Movies or the ferret-stuffing channel. A few older, more Northern punters may, however, remember the enormous disappointment when, during the three-channel 1970s, some science-fiction epic or raunchy inner-city drama failed to come the way of “viewers in Northern Ireland” because the people of Ulster insisted on watching f**cking motor f**king sports all the f**king day long. “And now, in place of coverage of our Lord’s second coming, we have go-kart racing from Downpatrick.” If it wasn’t f**king motor f**king sports it was the feeble comic stylings of some witless cretin who would barely get a job cleaning the lavatories in an English — or even Welsh — television station.”How’s about ye! See yer wee woman from the Shankill? Maisie ye call her. Gawd she’d make ye want to boke.” Shut up! Why  do you think being Northern Irish is funny in itself? Do a joke!

In short, we ached for the likes of Andy Stewart.

Some excellent television programmes have, of course, come from Northern Ireland. Indeed, you could argue — with absolute sincerity — that BBC Northern Ireland and UTV together delivered the most cutting dramas, the most incisive current affairs programmes and the most thrilling action shows of the last hundred years. Like Fermat when announcing his proof, I do not have space to list the evidence here, but I will do so in a future post. You can count on that, readers.

I do, however, have a teeny, tiny issue with Northern Irish comedy programmes. Ms McFetridge is on my television as we speak and the grey pall of non-humour emerging from the device is so thick and fetid that I can barely breathe. What year is it? Is there anywhere else in the world where such a singularly awful drag act could find work? Surely, even the comedy troupes of Turkmenistan have got beyond this now.

The tribunes of Northern Irish TV comedy remain, of course, the team behind the jaw-droppingly extraordinary Give My Head Peace.  This ghastly sit-com, now happily deceased, offered a terrifying practical demonstration of the delusions that define the province’s unlovely comedy culture.

1. Being Northern Irish is, in itself, funny.
Saying “’bout ye” or  “Ulster fry”stands as a joke.

2. Simply mentioning any well-known local politician deserves a laugh.
Whatever the set up, “Alex Maskey” will work as a punchline.

3. High culture of any sort is also inherently hilarious.
Ballet or “modern art” will always raise a laugh.

4. The English wear bowler hats and say “jolly good” all the time.
“Oh, I say! What do you mean, Uncle Andrew?”

5. Americans wear cowboy hats and say “howdy” all the time.
“This here little country ain’t big enough to park ma Cadeeelac in. Yee ha!”

6. Being Northern Irish is, in itself, funny.
Yeah, I know we said this before, but it really does explain all you need to know about this horrific, horrific movement.

Oh, and, since you ask, I was raised in South Belfast.

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