No one upstages Francis Brennan, not the sights, not the guests

Francis Brennan’s Grand Tour of Vietnam review: If you ever sat through someone else’s holiday snaps, you’ll know the feeling

On Francis Brennan’s tour, anyone not found laughing is an automatic pariah

On Francis Brennan’s tour, anyone not found laughing is an automatic pariah

 

One of the images used to promote Francis Brennan’s Grand Tour of Vietnam (RTÉ One, Sunday, 8.30pm) is a choppy, photoshopped likeness of the flamboyant Irish hotelier and At Your Service star, smiling out from beneath a Vietnamese rice picker’s hat. It’s somewhere between a Benny Hill joke and the packaging of a 1970s sauce bottle.

It’s also the kind of picture that many white tourists in South East Asia will take for a laugh, or a tingle of the exotic, then hopefully remove before any accusation of cultural appropriation. But no, there the image is again, on every backpack handed to each of the 12 guests chosen to accompany Brennan to the surprise destination, Vietnam. And there it is again, emblazoned on the side of their tour bus in Hanoi. RTÉ’s giddy travel show finds other cultures amusingly strange, and they don’t care who knows it.

Brennan, you already know, is a bit of a character. Fastidiously groomed, tart-tongued, larger than life, theatrically expressive, it is his job to lead the tour – the third such voyage so far – without drawing too much focus from the main attraction. But the guests, whom we are continually reminded are paying their way, have been recruited to be characters too.

Among them, we meet a “single mum of five”, Fionnuala, rarely shown below the threshold of delirium; an entertaining married gay couple from Offaly; a young bubbly Francis super-fan who, we are assured, will say anything (this episode’s classic: “What’s the wi-fi code?”); and two cousins, Benita and Fr Richard. The latter is a voluble camp priest fond of wearing ethnic garb, such as an African dashiki. But this role has already been taken, thank you very much, and Brennan is noticeably cool towards him – the programme even shows his off-handed greeting twice.

Maybe they’re just trying to generate some drama. Otherwise, there is such mandatory gaiety around the whole expedition, from the oh-no-they-didn’t! nudges of the voice-over (Wi-fi codes! Weighing scales in a hotel room!) to instant scrummages over any available double entendre (“I’ll give you a rub of mine if you need it!”) that it very quickly looks like a chore. The sights themselves, a pedestrian trail of mausoleums and pagodas, go by in an orientalising blur: of Thang Long Water Puppet theatre, for instance, the voice-over instructs: “Think Punch and Judy in a swimming pool.”

Like that image of Brennan, of course, it’s all harmless, just a bit of a laugh. Anyone not found laughing is an automatic pariah, like finicky off-duty garda George, who can’t stand the cuisine or the chaos of the traffic. “It’s going to be a long trip,” sighs Brennan. If you’ve ever had to sit through someone else’s holiday snaps, you’ll probably know the feeling.

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