Jeremy Clarkson morphs from arrogant oaf to nice guy quiz master
Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? UTV/TV3, all week
The Great House Revival RTÉ 1, Sunday
The Hardest Harvest RTÉ1, Wednesday
ISTILL remember the first time I saw Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? in 1998. The questions were so simple, I wondered at the lunacy of whoever came up with the idea and how it made it into production. Multiple-choice questions, three lifelines and only 15 correct answers to win a million quid. Who could fail?
Then I realised the genius of it. The problem with multi-choice is not that it helps you identify the correct answer, but that the other three possible answers make you doubt yourself. Many, many times over the years, I have seen contestants squander lifelines getting someone else to validate what they already knew.
Chris Tarrant was a genius choice for host, because he provided space for the contestants, and not always to help them make the correct choice. With no time limit on answering, they instead ploughed through relative eternities of self-doubt while everyone at home on the couch wondered what class of gobaloon they must be not to know that Derby County are known as the Rams? Oh, wait – maybe that’s Swindon…
The problem with the format was not that too many people won the million, but too few. In the 16-year run of the show, only five people took home the top prize (six if you count the coughing major, Charles Ingram, who received a suspended prison sentence for deception after he was found cheating), and viewership dropped. To balance the agony of loss, we also have occasionally to witness the joy of winning, and we didn’t see it often enough.
It ended on British television in 2014, but to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its debut, it returned this week over seven nights, only with Jeremy Clarkson in the question-master’s seat. I’m no fan of Clarkson, and even though I also write about cars, I never was a fan of Top Gear. On the few occasions I saw it, I hated the set-up, with Clarkson as the alpha male, Richard Hammond as his lickspittle toady, and James May, easily the most erudite and learned of three, the butt of their insults.
Watching someone being bullied and forced to just suck it up is not my idea of fun, and the very mention of the word ‘banter’ gives me chills. That’s why I was surprised to find myself warming to Clarkson in this new role, designed as a one-off but successful enough, one would have thought, to merit a longer run.
Yes, he was more impatient than Tarrant, but in an environment where, by definition, he was forced to play second fiddle, much of his braggadocio was neutered, to the point where he actually seemed empathetic. I wouldn’t be phoning him any time soon to be his friend, but where I’ve never before given him the benefit of the doubt that he might actually be a nice person, I’m now at around 50/50.
Bede Tannock is a man who could do with winning Millionaire. The Australian architect bought derelict Ballinafad House in Co. Mayo and set about spending €500,000 on the initial restoration of part of the 110-room, 70,000sq.ft property. We followed him and his partner Sandra on The Great House
Revival, a new RTÉ show presented by Hugh Wallace of Home Of The
Year fame. Bede’s dedication to the task was inspirational. In the room that will now serve as a wedding reception venue to generate revenue to fund further works, he lifted the parquet floor and cleaned every wooden tile by hand before re-lay- ing them, and the result after sanding and varnishing was exquisite.
The jury was out on whether he was a committed preservationist or an obsessive, but there was no doubting his commitment, which was inspirational. So, too, for the second time, was The Hardest
Harvest, which this week followed Howth trawlerman ‘Big’ John Hayes to Mozambique, where he spent a fortnight with fisherman Django and his family. Django and his workmates use small boats with dodgy engines to head out to sea, but much of the waters have been overfished by factory trawlers. After six hours spent hauling in a net, there was just a handful of fish, worth about €1.50. How people survive like that is beyond our comprehension, but they do.
And what this proves is that all of us, whether we want to win a million, or restore an old house, or just provide for our families, dream. Big or small, it makes no difference. Dreaming, in its undistilled sense, is what keeps us awake.
Australian Bede Tannock’s dedication was inspirational Howth fisherman ‘Big’ John Hayes in Mozambique The Hardest Harvest Presenter Jeremy Clarkson seemed empathetic for a change Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? The Great House Revival