John Boland's week in TV: Edna O'Brien remains fearless while Twink takes an hour-long selfie

Twink or Edna? This week RTÉ chose the former as the Irish female cultural icon of our age, while the BBC opted for the latter. You can guess which programme was the more absorbing.

Edna O’Brien: Fearful and Fearless was in BBC1’s occasional ‘Imagine’ strand, presented as usual by Alan Yentob and featuring an extended interview with the now 88-year-old writer, backed up with plaudits from such admirers as John Banville, Eimear McBride, Andrew O’Hagan, Fiona Shaw and Bob Geldof.

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The latter got things off to a somewhat dubious start with the sensationalist claim that the Clare-born author “shagged all the great rock stars, that’s for sure”. But was he really that sure or was he just making merry with the media’s decades-long portrayal of O’Brien as a “scandalous woman”?

It was hard to tell but otherwise Geldof was in fine form as he extolled the virtues of an uncompromising writer, whose novels have courted controversy since The Country Girls in 1960 and whose forthcoming 19th novel, Girl, concerns the teenage victims of Boko Haram in Nigeria – a subject that Geldof felt was “absolute grill to her mill”.

O’Brien herself was in fine form, too, as she spoke eloquently to Yentob of her unforgiving rural upbringing and her marriage to the dark and controlling Ernest Gébler, with sons Carlo and Sasha offering their own poignant recollections of what their mother had to go through in the fallout from that marriage.

And though we heard about her subsequent party lifestyle in her Chelsea home, with gossip columnists delighting in the Who’s Who of those in attendance (among them Marlon Brando, Jackie Onassis, Michael Caine, Paul McCartney and Princess Margaret), she told Yentob it was “not as much as the legend would have it”. And Sasha noted that she “never really found anyone” she wished to live with. So instead she opted for isolation, which was, she felt, “a good thing for writing and a drawback for living”.

Now, after decades of being reviled and belittled in Ireland, she’s being honoured in her native country for daring to tell the truth about the lives of women, with Dublin City Council choosing the Country Girls trilogy as its book of the year and the Abbey Theatre celebrating her on stage.

And this BBC profile was a fine and engrossing tribute to an admirable woman and a remarkable writer.

What, though, to say about Twinkling Through the Years (RTÉ1), in which entertainer Adele King (Twink to you and me) took the viewer through what she described as the “rather alarming 58 years” of her career.

Mind you, she didn’t seem remotely alarmed at fronting what amounted to an hour-long selfie, with no encomiums, or indeed any contributions, from anyone but herself, though that seemed to suffice for the show’s RTÉ commissioners.

And so we got an endless array of musical and comedy sketches she’d done for The Live Mike and other RTÉ shows from the 70s and 80s – sketches that may have amused some viewers at the time, but that were now so dated as to be entirely lame and merely reminding us how wretched RTÉ light entertainment has always been.

At one point she wondered about “Twink’s biggest fan” and concluded “That would be Twink then” but on the evidence of this show – which, for reasons that escaped me, she presented in a pinny while making a pretend celebratory cake – she wasn’t making a joke.

Along the way, she mentioned she had two daughters, but we learned nothing about them or about anyone or anything else in her life, which was probably fitting because, after all, this was Twink’s show with Twink as the only possible source of interest.

At the very end, she did bring on Paddy Cole, but that was only to reminisce about her gigs with him in Las Vegas, about which she said “Fun? Don’t get me started”. No, Twink, please don’t.

Teen sensation Coco Gauff crashed out of Wimbledon 2019 (BBC1), leaving the wildly partisan spectators nearly as bereft as the Beeb’s pundits, even though John McEnroe had sensibly cautioned against expecting too much from her. Near the start, match commentator Nick Mullins was screeching “She’s 15! She’s 15! I have to keep telling myself!” Then she fell apart, while Nick presumably went off and licked his wounds.

But help was at hand because Serena Williams opted to team up with Andy Murray in the mixed doubles, and so all the pundits’ loyalties transferred there instead, their fond chuckles greeting every one of Andy and Serena’s high fives and fist bumps.

Gentleman Jack (BBC1) ended its first season with a swooningly romantic hilltop scene between Anne and Ann, but the liveliest moment in this last of an overlong eight-episode run came courtesy of Sofie Gråbøl (Sarah Lund in The Killing) as a mischievous Danish queen offering some sage advice about affairs of the heart.

The mining subplot, though, had been a bit of a snooze and I’d grown a bit weary of Suranne Jones striding determinedly through fields, courtyards and palaces.

Stranger Things (Netflix) is back for a third season and though I’ve only dipped into it, I’ve enjoyed how the main characters have turned into adolescents, with all the hormones, desires and fumblings inherent to that stage in human affairs.

But I didn’t enjoy the first episode of The Last Czars (Netflix), which couldn’t make up its mind whether it was dramatising the fate of the Romanoffs or telling you about it. And so the solemn observations of academic pundits kept interrupting the stilted re-enactments by wooden actors.

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