I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized The Goggle Box

The Goggle Box

David Blake Knox
Armchair Nation: An intimate history of Britain in front of the TV, by Joe Moran, Profile Books, 352 pp, £16.99, ISBN: 978-1846683916 Irish television was formally launched on New Year’s Eve, 1961 and in 2012 RTÉ celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with a range of commemorative programming. As part of its celebrations, it also commissioned a history of the station from one of its own. John Bowman had spent almost all of the previous half-century working for the national broadcaster, where he was widely perceived as one of its few front-of-camera intellectuals. For many years, he had also presented a weekly radio show in which he played recordings from the station’s sound archives. Within RTÉ, he was seen as a person of integrity, but also as a loyal and dependable staff member. From the viewpoint of the station’s management, he must have seemed the perfect choice to cast an informed – yet discreet ‑ eye across five decades of Ireland’s television history. Bowman’s brief, one presumes, was primarily to consider RTÉ’s role as a semi-state organisation. His emphasis throughout Window and Mirror: RTÉ Television 1961-2011 tends to fall heavily on the institutional aspects of the station – for me, its least interesting dimension – and, in general, he avoids delving too deeply into the impact of its programmes on Irish society. That is perhaps just as well. Bowman seems happiest when working his way through the written minutes and memoranda left behind by successive RTÉ Authorities and finding evidence of long-forgotten skirmishes with various politicians, clerics and senior civil servants. On the rare occasions when he tries to assess and explain the popular appeal of the station’s shows to Irish viewers, he seems to have strayed far from his comfort zone. Joe Moran’s Armchair Nation lies at the other end of the spectrum: it is a perceptive, witty, provocative and consistently entertaining read. Moran treats popular television with understanding, respect and a degree of affection, but his underlying purpose is, at least, as serious as that of Bowman. His goal is to determine some of the cultural effects ‑ both profound and ephemeral ‑ that this extraordinary medium has exerted upon the British public since the BBC first provided a TV service to a few hundred viewers in November of 1936. There had been earlier attempts at launching the new technology. In 1925, John Logie Baird demonstrated his invention at Selfridge’s department store in London…

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