Tuesday 12 December 2017

Engineering a twist to titanic legend

Titanic: The Mission (C4)Ireland’s Greatest: James Connolly (RTE1)

GIVEN the ongoing Titanic mini-industry of books, documentaries, underwater expeditions and, of course, James Cameron's box-office juggernaut of a film, you'd imagine the decks of the sunken behemoth have been swabbed dry by now. Not so.

Titanic: The Mission manages to find a new twist: each week a team of four builds an iconic section of the ship, using more or less the same methods employed 100 years ago.

Straight off, there's an element of toys for big boys (and for the one big girl on the team, engineer Yolande Akinola) about the series.

At first sight, it reminds you of one of those self-indulgent spin-offs the Top Gear blokes make from time to time -- though it's mercifully free of the booming macho posturing that invariably typifies anything involving Jeremy Clarkson or Richard Hammond.

And the people involved here are a thoroughly likeable bunch.

Aside from Ms Akinola, who designs energy efficient buildings; there's aerospace engineer and rollercoaster designer Brendan Walker; Black Country industrial artist and metal worker Luke Perry, and the most colourful member of the team, East London welder Dave Wilkes, whose speciality is working at dizzying heights.

A mountain of a man with prodigious facial hair and 300-plus tattoos, Dave looks like he's just walked of the set of a Mad Max movie.

Last week, the fearless foursome reproduced a 30-foot section of steel bow to scale at the Belfast shipyard from which the Titanic launched; this week's task was to recreate the ship's massive bow anchor at one of Britain's few remaining steelworks, Forgemasters in Sheffield.

At the time, the Titanic's anchor was the biggest in the world. It weighed 16 tonnes and was secured by 1,200 feet of chain with links the size of a man's torso.

It's still visible on the bow deck of the wreck. On dry land, however, there's nothing to commemorate its historical ties to Britain's industrial heartland.

The anchor was forged in the landlocked town of Netherton, in the English Midlands. Bland shopping outlets stand on the site of the original steelworks.

When the original job was completed, 20 Shire horse pulled to the train station.

Dave Wilkes and his colleagues didn't just create a replica of the anchor (which now stands proudly in the centre of the town), they also restaged the procession.

It was a moving moment for the locals, and especially for a 101-year-old woman who was present at the first parade.

The men who forged the Titanic's anchor had no protective clothing bar flat caps and leather aprons, but even with modern safety equipment, pouring huge quantities of molten steel, bubbling at 1,800 degrees centigrade, into moulds is terrifying work.

It's also an astonishingly beautiful sight, an indoor fireworks display of raging reds, yellows and whites. Riveting stuff -- pun very much intended.

Still on history and we're at the midpoint in the search for Ireland's Greatest.

Following on from Dave Fanning's breathlessly hilarious championing of Bono last week, it was the turn of Joe Duffy to big up James Connolly, who is at least historically important enough -- and deceased enough -- to merit inclusion.

Whatever about the merits of Ireland's Greatest as a series (zero, in my book), this was a polished and engrossing film that did much to put the frequently neglected Connolly in the context of the country's history.

Duffy, one of the most intelligent presences working in RTE, proved here to be an engaging and passionate host.

It makes you wonder why RTE doesn't put him to better television use. The Montrose suits really should sit down and talk to Joe.


Titanic: The Mission ****

Ireland’s Greatest: James Connolly ****

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