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Tuesday 26 September 2017

An evening of sparkling television

THE CURSE OF THE HOPE DIAMOND (C4) PRIME TIME INVESTIGATES (RTE1) THE FRONTLINE (RTE1)

Bathe the Hope Diamond in ultra-violet light and a peculiar thing happens. When the light is switched off, the world's largest blue diamond -- a 45.5 carat sparkler that sits behind bullet-proof glass in Washington's Smithsonian Natural History Museum -- glows a spooky red.

All blue diamonds do this, apparently, but the Hope does it for longer than any other: a full minute. Sadly, this eerie business can be boringly explained away by science. It's all to do with the levels of boron in the diamond's crystal structure (he said, knowledgeably) and how the atoms react to ultra-violet rays.

Far more fun is the titular curse, which is said to cause anyone who possesses the diamond untold bad luck. A 17th-century French explorer called Jean Baptiste Tavenier supposedly plucked it from the eye of a Hindu icon in India and sold it to Louis XIV, the so-called Sun King.

It stayed in the French royal family up until the Revolution, when it was nicked by burglars. Marie Antoinette allegedly wore it around her neck . . . and we all know what happened to THAT part of her anatomy.

Like Marie's head, the diamond disappeared, but later turned up at various points, and with various alterations to disguise its origins, in the hands of King George IV (who was technically guilty of receiving stolen property), banking family the Hopes (who gave the diamond its name), jeweller Pierre Cartier and filthy rich American socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean, who rather splendidly had it set in a pendant, so she could show it off around the neck of her Great Dane, Mike. The fact that several of the owners suffered tragedy in their lives -- all due to a mixture of personal excess, financial collapse or plain old bad luck -- fuelled the myth of the curse.

In 1949, the Hope was bought by New York diamond merchant Harry Winston, who donated it to the Smithsonian. Audaciously, Winston -- who didn't believe in the curse -- sent it to the museum through the regular post.

Appealing as the idea of a Hindu god taking a terrible supernatural revenge upon those who dare to sully a sacred gem is, it's all a load of old hooey dreamt up by Pierre Cartier to jack up the diamond's mystique.

Mind you, try telling that to the poor postman who delivered the Hope to the Smithsonian. In quick order, he became seriously ill, his wife dropped dead and their house burned to the ground.

From the story of the Hope sparkler to a story that doesn't exactly sparkle with hope: Prime Time Investigates' excoriating account of the shabby treatment meted out by the Government and the HSE to people struggling to look after a loved one suffering from Alzheimer's disease, with barely a scrap of official help or even basic human compassion.

Barry O'Kelly's frankly shocking indictment of our so-called health service was an exemplary piece of current affairs broadcasting, but also one hell of a tough watch.

The theme was carried over into Pat Kenny's ever-excellent The Frontline. There were more stories of official dereliction of duty here, yet the image that sticks most stubbornly in the mind today is Minister for Older People, Aine Brady.

Her blank, indifferent face and arrogant, sharp-voiced attempts at self-justification suggest you could hammer a six-inch nail into the back of a politician's head and they still wouldn't get the damned point.

By the end of the evening, I imagine faces all over the country were glowing deeper red than the Hope Diamond.

STACEY'S STARS

THE CURSE OF THE HOPE DIAMOND ***

PRIME TIME INVESTIGATES *****

THE FRONTLINE ****

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