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Sunday 17 December 2017

Why I just can't buy into Feargal's show

Pat Stacey says Retail Therapy is a schedule filler masquerading as prime-time TV (BBC4) FEARGAL QUINN'S RETAIL THERAPY (RTE1) Sidekick Stories HHIII Feargal Quinn's Retail Therapy HIIII

There were at least half-a-dozen good ideas for interesting and entertaining documentaries kicking around inside Sidekick Stories.

Sadly, none of them made it to the surface. This is a pity, because any one of them would probably have been far more appealing than Sidekick Stories ended up being.

The story of Matthew Corbett, for example, would have made for a riveting hour all by itself. Having spent 25 years with his hand stuck up Sooty -- a job he inherited from his late father, Harry Corbett -- Matthew (real name Paul) grew so frustrated with playing second fiddle to a glove puppet and squirting himself in the face with a water pistol that he simply jacked it all in.

He returned, the narrator told us, to "his first love, music". In a sad and pitiful moment, we saw Matthew indulging his first love by tunelessly strumming Handbags and Gladrags before a scattering of disinterested punters in a pub.

Sooty was one of the best-loved characters in the history of children's television, so you have to wonder what simmering reserves of filial bitterness and resentment drove Corbett to effectively scupper his own career. Alas, we never found out.

Similarly, the various ways television has portrayed the greatest of all fictional sidekicks, the long-suffering Dr John Watson, intellectual punchbag of Sherlock Holmes, would make for a fascinating film.

Edward Hardwicke, who played TV's best Watson opposite its best Holmes, the late Jeremy Brett, cheerily summed up the frustrations facing any actor who takes on the role: "How many different ways can I act listening?"

This aside, the programme chose to warm up that ancient chestnut about Holmes and Watson having a homo-erotic relationship, something of which there's no evidence in Conan Doyle's original stories or the many TV adaptations.

Sidekick Stories was little more than a rough and raggy assemblage of clips, which seem to have been chosen on the basis that they were easily available from the BBC archives, with little or nothing to connect them.

True, there were namechecks for Morse and Lewis, Ted and Dougal, Blackadder and Baldrick, Basil Fawlty and Manuel, and Doctor Who and Whoever. But several of television's most famous and enduring hero/sidekick partnerships didn't merit a mention.

Where were Batman and Robin, Robin Hood and Little John, Regan and Carter from The Sweeney, and -- perhaps the most effective television duo ever -- conscious-stricken hitman Callan and his smelly sidekick Lonely?

Bizarrely, Sidekick Stories devoted an inordinate amount of time to the male assistants who passed through Esther Rantzen's hands on That's Life. Sidekicks? Kick them to touch.

And speaking of ideas, there wasn't a single original one in Feargal Quinn's Retail Therapy, another lump of dreary RTE filler material masquerading as primetime-worthy programming. In it, the senator and multi-millionaire grocer travels around the country dispensing advice to struggling retail outlets. Last night he was helping a couple who run a shop in Finglas.

Virtually identical in format to At Your Service, but with shops instead of hotels and guest houses, it's of zero entertainment value and zero interest to anyone other than the people involved, their families and friends.

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