Thursday 17 October 2019

A little funny and quite a lot sad

A Little Bit Funny (RTE1, Sunday)
Hope Springs (BBC1, Sunday)

Regrets? Comedian Sil Fox has had a few. No, make that more than a few. Actually, make that quite a lot, and some of them made their way, rather unexpectedly, into A Little Bit Funny.

I say rather unexpectedly because A Little Bit Funny, a series of bland and blindly adoring profiles of veteran Irish comedians -- a couple of whom have shown themselves to be even more convinced of their own greatness than the series is -- is not the first place you'd look in search of probing self-analysis or painful soul-bearing.

Fox, however, who was born in Thomas Street in Dublin's Liberties, followed his late father into the tailoring trade and gave up a steady job as the manager of a hat factory to become a full-time comedian, provided a break from the norm.

What he had to say about himself was sharply at odds with the relentlessly upbeat, gushingly positive tone of A Little Bit Funny.

Reflecting on a life spent playing pubs, clubs and hotels the length and breadth of the country, and in the process having to spend many evenings away from his wife and children, 'Mr Comedy Himself', as he used to be advertised, cut a rather melancholy figure.

His heyday was in the 1970s, playing to raucous, tanked-up audiences on the thriving chicken-and-chips cabaret circuit, usually second or third on the bill behind bigger names like Joe Dolan or Dickie Rock.

Fox, by his own admission, was never a top star and, after 50 years on the go, is never likely to become one. Despite Marty Whelan's narration about him being "a television favourite", Fox's fortunes in that medium were also mixed.

He co-hosted a TV series called Cabaret with his friend Sonny Knowles and was the warm-up man on many programmes, including the long-running gameshow Play the Game. But Gay Byrne, he remarked, with the slightest twinge of bitterness, never once asked him to appear as a guest on The Late Late Show.

"I don't think I'd do the same thing over again," he said. "There's too much of a price to be paid. When you look back on it, it wasn't worth it." A little bit funny, but mostly sad.

Once upon a time, the BBC used to produce really good Sunday-night drama series. The hope that it will do so again some day springs eternal. Until then, we have Hope Springs.

Alex Kingston, who used to play Dr Elizabeth Corday in ER and must be having a few regrets of her own these days, plays the leader of a quartet of sexy women who relieve an imprisoned gangster of £3m and hightail it to Barbados.

Or at least they would have hightailed it to Barbados if there hadn't been a problem with their passports, which forced them to hole up in the titular hotel in rural Scotland, where a fire broke out, burning all their money.

Hope Springs is rubbish by committee. Three writers worked on it and they've come up with a cross between Widows and Monarch of the Glen.

One of the quartet says: "Last week we're bleedin' millionaires, now we're stuck in Jockland forever!" Well, not quite; just for another six weeks. But it will feel like forever.


A Little Bit Funny * *

Hope Springs *

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