Typ­i­cal of the fluff fea­tured this week was an item on why Ir­ish men are the least good look­ing on the planet, while Ir­ish women are amongst the most beau­ti­ful

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE -

After­noon TV is a strange place. In the 1960s, when tele­vi­sion first came to Ire­land, a great many more women were stuck in the house all day than is now the case. The lack of women in the work­force dur­ing that decade can be gauged by the fact that one in 20 fe­males in the Ir­ish work­place was a nun.

Men ran the broad­cast­ing ser­vice, and since those same men were out at work all day, they saw no good rea­son to show pro­grammes for house­wives or chil­dren. Teil­ifís Éire­ann opened at five o’clock on Satur­days, later on week­days.

The at­ti­tude of Ire­land’s broad­cast­ers hadn’t much mod­ernised by the time they even­tu­ally gave us day­time TV in the 1970s. The after­noon flag­ship was Go­ing Strong hosted by Bunny Carr and was as geri­atric as its ti­tle sug­gests.

And now, filling the same slot in the broad­cast­ing dol­drums we have To­day with Maura and Daithi (RTÉ1). It’s pretty point­less to crit­i­cise the frothy show or its cheery hosts. It is what it is. On the other hand, Point­less (BBC1) is a bril­liant quiz show made less bril­liant by a pair of smarmy pre­sen­ters, Alexan­der Arm­strong and Richard Osman.

Maura and Daithi per­fectly fits the stereo­type bril­liantly par­o­died by The Simp­sons with ‘After­noon Yak’. Typ­i­cal of the fluff fea­tured this week was an item on why Ir­ish men are the least good look­ing on the planet, while Ir­ish women are amongst the most beau­ti­ful.

Maura and Daithi did turn up one fas­ci­nat­ing item. A spokesper­son for the Con­cern aid agency revisited the foun­da­tion of the en­ter­prise ex­actly 50 years ago in 1968. The or­gan­i­sa­tion started out un­der the ti­tle Africa Con­cern, and the target of its efforts was war-torn Bi­afra which had split from Nige­ria, bring­ing down a ter­ri­ble wrath. Two mil­lion Bi­afrans were killed in the con­flict which flashed across Ir­ish TV screens on a nightly ba­sis. The Holy Ghost Fathers of Ire­land mo­bilised a huge aid ef­fort.

You could not go to the shops with­out be­ing re­minded of Bi­afra. That re­minder, on ev­ery counter was the ‘black ba­bies box’ fea­tur­ing a black baby. The mere thought of such a thing to­day would in­duce squirm­ing, but those boxes had an iconic place in mid-20th cen­tury Ir­ish so­ci­ety.

That place was on the counter of ev­ery newsagent, ev­ery drap­ers, ev­ery gro­cers and at ev­ery church en­trance. The fas­ci­na­tion with black ba­bies by Ir­ish so­ci­ety be­gan in the 1930s as a proud but pen­ni­less newly in­de­pen­dent na­tion fas­tened on one of the very few good news sto­ries it had to tell — that of its Catholic mis­sion­ar­ies.

It was some­thing warm and ex­otic to feel a part of. You could even say it was trendy. In a Lonely Hearts col­umn from 1933, ‘Black Baby’ from Dublin de­scribed her­self as “a girl of ex­cep­tional abil­ity, sin­cere, earnest and in­ter­est­ing”. Af­ter recit­ing a long list of per­sonal qual­i­ties, she signed off: “Re­gards her work as a stop-gap oc­cu­pa­tion un­til mat­ri­mony claims her”.

The slo­gan ‘A Penny for the Black Ba­bies’ was as much part of the lex­i­con as ‘Put a Tiger in Your Tank’ or ‘Vote, Vote, Vote for De Valera’.

Then, al­most overnight, some­time in the late 1970s, the boxes vanished from sight. The sin­cerely felt spe­cial re­la­tion­ship that the Ir­ish peo­ple be­lieved they had with the ‘black ba­bies’ be­came the love that dared not speak its name.

In the early 1960s a great wave of de­coloni­sa­tion swept Africa, and the word started com­ing back to Ire­land that maybe the black ba­bies box was be­gin­ning to seem like a rem­nant of an old-fash­ioned pa­tro­n­is­ing colo­nial­ism, how­ever well in­ten­tioned.

A road paved with good in­ten­tions had come to an end but the mes­sage took time to fil­ter down — in 1970 a grey­hound called Black Baby fin­ished a dis­ap­point­ing fifth of six run­ners at Shel­bourne Park. As the 1980s dawned, how­ever, the na­tion was ready to slip into a state of col­lec­tive am­ne­sia.

Lim­it­less (RTÉ2) is a gas, although why the na­tional broad­caster is screen­ing it way past the witch­ing hour is any­body’s guess. Although if you were to guess, you might sus­pect it has some­thing to do with drugs. Star­ring Jake McDor­man as Brian Finch, a slacker mu­si­cian whose life takes a re­mark­able turn, it be­gan life as a novel, The Dark Fields, by Dubliner Alan Glynn be­fore be­com­ing a pow­er­ful big-screen thriller star­ring Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro. The spin-off TV se­ries re­casts Cooper in oc­ca­sional cameos as a bad se­na­tor who has am­bi­tions of mov­ing into the Oval Of­fice. What dis­tin­guishes the TV se­ries from the movie is that it in­jects blasts of un­ex­pected com­edy in­volv­ing sur­real fan­tasy se­quences.

The sto­ry­line piv­ots around the cen­tral char­ac­ter’s ex­po­sure to a mir­a­cle drug, NZT, which un­locks the full po­ten­tial of his brain, turn­ing him from slouchy zero to prob­lem-solv­ing hero. Brian’s re­cur­ring dilemma is that the evil se­na­tor has a se­cret hold over him and ex­pects him to spy on his new em­ploy­ers, the FBI. A neat blend of sus­pense­ful drama and com­edy — or dram­edy, as its mak­ers would call it— Lim­it­less has great fun play­ing around with the for­mat.

So too does Patrick Mel­rose (Sky At­lantic), which also re­volves around drugs and en­joys it­self enor­mously. Can Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch do no wrong? The an­swer seems to be no. His por­trayal of an aris­to­cratic heroin ad­dict is ut­terly com­pelling. He in­hab­its the char­ac­ter. Patrick Mel­rose is very scary and deeply funny.

Mike Mur­phy, the orig­i­nal pre­sen­ter of Win­ning Streak (RTÉ1), once dis­closed that the un­break­able rule of the show is that ab­so­lutely no skill is per­mit­ted. Enough said.

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