Viewing scenic places on TV in recent years has had one drawback: your tour guide is inevitably some celeb, demanding as much attention as the scenery they’re talking about. Billy Connolly, Michael Portillo, Michael Palin – the list goes on. In ADRIAN DUNBAR’S COASTAL IRELAND (CHANNEL 4), the Fermanagh boy is front and centre.
Last week he told us he was going to Ulster, “where I’m from”, and started with Malin Head which, he assured us, was “steeped in history”. Eh? Surely everywhere has a history, and what does ‘steeped’ mean anyway?
Back at Malin Head, Adrian is explaining that in 1805, Britain built a lookout tower there, to check on Napoleon in case he came invading. During the Second World War, the authorities had huge ‘EIRE’ signs on the landscape, so pilots would know where they were (and, presumably, wouldn’t drop bombs on a neutral state).
But Malin Head is remembered more for its links with Marconi, for it was from there that the first morse code messages were sent out.
Then it was on to Inishowen and Grianan Fort, which, as Adrian tells us, clasps together Donegal and Derry. “It was a place of refuge or ritual” Adrian explains, standing in the middle of the ancient circular fort, looking thoughtful in his brown cap.
From Donegal he catches a ferry across to Magilligan. When he started to talk about Magilligan beach and the British army my ears pricked up, waiting to hear about the British Army attack there on civil rights marchers led by John Hume. But no. Adrian was using a stick to make lines on the sand to explain how the British army here began measuring out the land and creating ordinance survey maps. They also committed murder on Irish place names, but Adrian skipped that bit.
Then he headed to Ballymoney – “a place I’ve often wanted to visit but never had the time”. It seems motor bike racing is one of Adrian’s weaknesses and he’s positively starry-eyed to meet motorbike king Michael Dunlop, who comes from motorbike royalty. His father, his uncle and his brother (I think I’ve got that right) all died in motorbike crashes. Adrian wondered if Michael ever worried about his own safety. “It’s one of the choice you make in life. You just have to take it on the chin.”
We skipped on then to the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, to Portrush and then, of course, to the Giant’s Causeway, which Adrian’s guide did his level best to make wonderful. Personally, I think Dr Samuel Johnson nailed it on this one: “The Giant’s Causeway is worth seeing, but not worth going to see.”
Adrian Dunbar is a nice man, and I’m not saying that just because he featured in a radio play of mine a long, long time before he became famous. But even Adrian’s niceness couldn’t disguise the Channel 5 documentary style – superficial and sometimes confusing information about the places visited, crashing music to keep viewers awake.
I suppose even celebs have to refresh their bank accounts from time to time. Mercifully, we don’t have to switch on and watch them.