The Green Linnet

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Irish public broadcaster RTÉ is celebrating 50 years of television broadcasting and one of the shows being re-broadcast is The Green Linnet. The Green Linnet in question was a drab green Citroen van based on the Citroen 2CV car in which two traditional musicians toured Europe and played music on the streets to earn their keep. The van was a former mail van with an underpowered engine. The van was named after the greenfinch (which is more yellow than green), a prominent song bird in the Irish countryside. The filming took place in 1978 and the series was shown in early 1979.

Watching a few episodes and a retrospective of The Green Linnet, I realised that the programme was an unintentional proto-reality show; as the filming caught the eventual frayed nerves of the musicians living in an artificially-created environment under constant surveillance. It was a pint-sized Big Brother house on wheels.

The constricted space in the van and their general condition got progressively grottier living on camp sites and spending every waking moment together. The Green Linnet pre-dated the Dutch show Nummer 28 (which is considered by many to be the first modern reality show) by some 12 years. The breakdown in The Green Linnet  also mirrored highlights in MTV’s The Real World.

RTÉ had a history of doing pioneering work. Ireland shot its first soap opera in studios, this was Tolka Row, that focused on a couple of working class Dublin families. They then decided to shoot an equivalent show showing rural life called The Riordans. Ireland was an agrarian society at the time and so they pioneered shooting outside and on location to make it more relatable to the rural audience. The Late, Late Show is the world’s second longest running TV show in the world. It is second only to The Tonight Show on NBC in the US.

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