Thursday, October 05, 2006

Who Talks Like That?

Last night, BBC Northern Ireland broadcasted 'You Thought You Knew... Belfast City Hall' fronted by Sunday World journalist, Jim McDowell.

BBC Northern Ireland apparently believes Mr McDowell to be a popular and accessible front-man, as he's appeared on several recent TV shows. Perhaps the corporation considers him to represent a certain type of local, working-class personality generally absent from TV screens. Mr McDowell certainly adopts the persona with some aplomb, complete with faux-working class growl, reminiscent of the exaggerated Belfast accent one normally finds on beer commercials.

When trails for this programme aired during the week, I found myself asking the question, 'Who actually talks like that?' I was heartened to hear Gerry Anderson say the same thing on BBC Radio Ulster yesterday as he humourously mocked McDowell's less than dulcet tones.

The programme itself presented a rather superficial overview of the (mostly unionist) history of Belfast City Hall. Mr McDowell swaggered around the marble corridors like an uncouth dolt, sounding more and more like Honey Monster as the programme continued. Even Andersonstown News editor, Mairtin O'Muilleoir seemed infected by the monster-speak, as he started talking in a similar accent when McDowell descended to interview him. The DUP's Sammy Wilson, sporting the usual bad haircut, appeared like some king spide dispensing wisdom from Robinson's Bar, circa 1979.

The entire display created a kind of vapid smokescreen which seemed designed to lull the viewers into a false sense of camaraderie; one where we could laugh along with city fathers without reference to sectarian politics, rest our weary elbows on the rough-hewn table on which the Ulster Covenant was signed and consider a future of Catholic mayors and gay weddings. Sure, weren't we all there? And wasn't it a laugh?

'You Thought You Knew... Belfast City Hall' was like flicking through a rather insubstantial, glossy magazine. It gave the vague impression of being part of a conspiracy designed to fool a generation into believing there is no such thing as history, with Mr McDowell as its mawkish poster-boy.

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