Television Review

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The Independent Culture
POLITICIANS NEVER SEEM to mention class any more, except to point out that we're all middle-class, so it isn't really an issue. But Britain has a long and proud record as the most class-ridden nation on Earth, the country that gave Marx and Engels all their best ideas, and it's a part of our heritage that many are still struggling to preserve.

This was exemplified in Rural Rides (Sat C4), an odd hotchpotch of a documentary presented by Elinor Goodman, Channel 4 News's excellent political editor. Goodman set off with her horse from the great wen to see whether discontent is still seething in the fields and hedgerows a year after the Countryside March. Pursuing controversies over land ownership and the right to roam, she went to the Borders to meet the Duke of Buccleuch. This very amiable plutocrat spoke of the economies of scale possible for a large estate owner: "If you have several farms together, it is much more possible to adjust the boundaries to shoot individual tenants." It took a split- second of peasant terror to cotton on that he was actually talking about suiting them.

In Hertfordshire, a farmer sat in baronial splendour talking about all the people he would have to sack if he didn't get a subsidy. In Gloucestershire, at the scenic village of Minchinhampton, inhabitants had run a victorious campaign against expansion of the football club at the nearby and decidedly less pictur-esque town of Carterton. Now they were fighting plans for new homes in the village, arguing that they would be better built at Stroud, because "It's like a set for a film of Nineteen Eighty-Four".

However keen you are on rural conservation, it was transparent that these were really arguments about class, the privileged asserting their right to keep out the less fortunate. Still, the less fortunate may be better off in towns. Goodman interviewed a man purporting to be a drug-dealer who explained what a great market the countryside is - thoroughly bored teenagers, and no competitive pressure on prices. This is presumably in contrast with the kinds of territory covered by John Peel in Sounds of the Suburbs (Sat C4), where bored teenagers can get their chemical thrills at attractive discounts.

I can't help feeling that, what with Home Truths on the radio and his weekly column in the Radio Times, Peelie is a tad over-exposed these days. Then again, I may just be suffering from the "Yeah, loved them before they went commercial" syndrome that he has done so much to foster. In any case, after a whimsical opening in which Peel free-associated on the Trossachs, this first programme was a snappy piece of socio-economic analysis. Peel visited Lanarkshire, tracing the conditions that gave birth to Keir Hardie, Robert Owen and the Soup Dragons. Despite the title, there was precious little music to be heard. Instead, Peel wandered through grey housing estates, pausing to sample the local cuisine - deep-fried Mars bars and Buckfast tonic wine - and to observe the blank spaces where the Ravenscraig steelworks or a coal-mining village had once stood. Comparing this with the Cotswold idylls on Rural Rides, it seemed pretty obvious that we haven't finished with class yet.

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