Issue 4-2022 small

3 April 1997 Edition

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Television: From the pits to the peaks

By far and away my televisual highlight of the week (and at least one irate phone call will result from my saying so) was the three-part Arena special on BBC2, Busby, Stein and Shankly - The Football Men, which began on Good Friday evening and ended on Easter Sunday. Written and presented by Sunday Times sportswriter Hugh McIlvanney, who was friendly with all three men, this was soccer, personal and social history rolled into one, a powerful and moving portrait of three great leaders of men, the forces that shaped them and the individuals and teams they themselves shaped.

The respective managers of Manchester United, Celtic and Liverpool were remarkably similar in background. All came from staunch working-class mining backgrounds in the west of Scotland, all three took the same escape route from the pits and ended up as footballing folk heroes. They are each remembered for their strength of character, their charisma, their doggedness in pursuit of success and the incredible loyalty among players and fans which they earned and retain posthumously.

Of the three, Stein was the most humble, Busby the one who surmounted most as he recovered and then rebuilt a team ravaged by the Munich air disaster. Shankly was by far the most outspoken. One of his nuggets of wisdom, recorded for posterity, emphasised his mining roots and his idealistic philosophy towards life: ``If a manager gets useful players and he trains them the right way, and he gets them all to do what they can do, and they're all helping each other and he merges them all together - it's a form of socialism, you know.''

McIlvanney's familiarity with and admiration for his subjects gave this series its strength and credibility - a fine example of intelligent sports coverage. One series of images of Glasgow tenement life and early footage of Celtic FC to the strains of Paddy Reilly singing The Fields of Athenry was particularly moving and evocative of the club's roots in the Irish emigrant experience. He also dealt well with Glasgow's sectarian divide.

Elsewhere, McIlvanney handled very well the tragedy of Munich and its effects on Matt Busby. I missed the first part of the final episode but hopefully RTE will pick it up as it deserves a repeat showing. But if I made a hames of my taping it was at least preferable to the experience related by a colleague in the office. He does not own a television and rang around to get somebody to tape the shows for him. One of those friends was not at home to take the call but a subsequent conversation revealed that at the time of the first call yer man's video was in the process of being burgled.

But that's football. You have to take the ups with the downs.


Lest we find ourselves getting soft on the colonial powers, the Timewatch team gave us a salutary lesson in great power diplomacy on Tuesday. Forgotten Allies (9.30pm, Tuesday, 1 April, BBC2) focused on the Karen people of Burma, who almost singlehandedly halted the Japanese advance into continental Asia during the last World War.

Unlike other Asians, who welcomed the Japanese as liberators from white imperialism, the Karen were Christians, English-speaking and hated the Japanese. They suffered terribly during the war at the hands of the Japanese but like the Redmondites who flocked to Flanders to earn Irish independence in the Great War, their ultimate aim of freedom was betrayed afterwards when the Allies, instead of recognising their claim to independence, handed power to an anti-communist Burmese state run by former collaborators. When the Karen went to war against that state and threatened to win their independence, their former allies stymied that effort when British Intelligence intervened to cut their supply lines. To this day the Karen are engaged in a bloody civil war with the Burmese Government, just another rarely noted tragic consequence of imperialist adventure.


A new RTE series based on vintage footage starts this Thursday, 3 April. Produced by Louis Marcus, The Years of Change (RTE 1, 8.30pm) is based on black and white images from the Gael-Linn cinema newsreel `Amharc Eireann', filmed between 1956 and 1964. As a social and political history of an evolving 26-County State, moving from the era of de Valera to that of Sean Lemass, it should be worthwhile. Footage included in the six-part series includes high profile state commemorations at Bodenstown and Arbour Hill (God be with the days), the welcoming of the Asgard back to Howth by crowds of 1916 veterans and, most shocking of all, students from my old alma mater of UCD instituting an annual march to Mountjoy to honour the memory of Kevin Barry. I'll write more later after I've had the chance to see a few episodes.


Film Previews

So I Married an Axe Murderer (UTV, Saturday, 5 April, 10.05pm), starring Mike Myers and Nancy Travis, is an engaging if lightweight comic thriller all about trusting your partner despite the slings and arrows and even axes that life throws at us from time to time.

Harder hitting if still witty drama over on RTE 1 later on is provided by Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing, dealing with racism in a New York heatwave (11.15pm).

But the pick of my week will be A Bronx Tale, the Tuesday movie on RTE 1, starring Robert De Niro as a New York bus driver whose son Francis Capra is seduced by the glamour of local mafia leader Chazz Palminteri.


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