Feckless Terry reaches Belfast

TV Review: Wogan's Island; The Trouble With Peace
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The Independent Culture
I admit I watched the last of Wogan's Island (BBC1) with a mischievous curiosity about how Terry's brand of aerosol blarney would cope with sectarian murder. Things looked pretty promising at first: "Well there y'are again," said Terry breezily at the beginning, sounding like a hotel desk clerk after a communication skills refresher. The assumption of chummy familiarity was misplaced in my case - this was my first visit - but I let it pass. "This is our final feckless fling together," continued Terry, more accurately. Feckless, you thought? But you've reached Belfast. And while it might be possible to forget your troubles elsewhere on the Emerald Isle, it's going to be tricky on the Falls Road and the Shankill. Nearly everyone gives a feck there.

The style of the programme is basically National Geographic with a brogue - colourful local characters, glorious scenery spreads, a dash of regional industry and any upsetting conflict reduced to a non-committal two-line caption. The camera filters are rose-tinted, so that a studiously positive line is taken on any manifestation of political difference.

The camera passed a slogan painted on a Belfast wall - "When the war of freedom has been won, we promise you we'll put away our guns". Terry seemed to take this as a clear sign of hope, but to a less cheery eye it appeared decidedly ambiguous. Is it a promise or a threat and can we have a definition of "freedom" while you're at it? Similarly, the chirpy tones in which Terry reminded you that "Belfast is gettin' on with the business of rebuildin' itself", only reminded you of how it had been disassembled in the first place - with pounds of Semtex and sectarian hatred.

He couldn't keep it up throughout, getting dangerously close to a hard question during a piece on an Irish language school on the Falls Road, and including an intriguing interview about the political implications of different sports (rugby and boxing are non-sectarian, perhaps because they offer enough bloodshed already). But it was a pretty good effort all told - years of bitterness, violence and reciprocal murder reduced to a little local difficulty which everyone was trying to put behind them. Terry signed off with a jaunty Irish invocation - "May you be half an hour in heaven before the divil knows you're dead" - one not generally offered to the victims of backstreet executions.

The Trouble With Peace (C4) offered a more realistic view. Constructed from the video diaries of four members of the Loyalist community, it offered a mixed picture at best, wary hopes for peace contrasted with abiding furies. The title came from the ugly monologue of a woman whose brother had been shot by the INLA. "I want their families to go through what we've been going through," she said with a savage calm, "I hate those people, hate them. And I do wish them dead. That's why I hate peace." She was seen later delivering an unconvincing tribute to the royal family on VE day ("Princess Margaret was fantastic!), a picture of loyalty as reflex instinct.

Not everything was quite as bleak. Another Protestant nervously toured the Falls Road and was moved to find a Catholic passer-by advocating the removal of an "RUC Out" sign. (He also filmed the same school that Wogan had visited and, tellingly, had no idea what it was, because all the signs were in Gaelic. What he noticed was that it had been a Protestant church.) But even he automatically referred to the common interests of "both working class communities", as if any sort of broader identity was almost unimaginable. And he pointed out that the "peace walls" are still being built, misnamed divisions which virtually guarantee that Belfast's children will grow up in mutual incomprehension. "If the kids can't start playing in the streets with each other," he asked, "what hope is there?"