Thursday 17 September 1998
Dee-dee Dobel, the Conservative in question, turned out not to be just any councillor. Unlike most blue-rosette types, she still lives in a genuine manor and calls her dog Maggie, the way nostalgic Stalinists call their cats Joseph. Also, she had somehow ended up bearing the name of a Broadway showgirl; there must be a performance gene to explain her comfort on camera.
The film worked hard to talk up the differences with her hosts, juxtaposing Dee-dee's passion for the flute with one of the traveller's leering taste for dissonant electric guitar. She also had the expected qualms about hygiene. "Brushing hair in the kitchen is something I'd never do at home," she fumed. This, of course, is not an issue for the travellers, being less groomers than piercers. Zana, Dee-dee's neighbour for the week, had roughly double the usual complement of orifices in her head, and, through the home-made holes, she looped pieces of jewellery. (Her father is a vicar.)
And yet, somehow, the anticipated conflict never quite materialised. It's true that the mutual stereotyping, incomprehension and clash of values were as strong at the end of the week as at the start. Behind her back, the travellers demonised their guest as "venomous", "a bigot" and "fanatical", which is going it a bit, even for a Daily Telegraph reader, while she made no real attempt to understand their wishy-washy repugnance of bricks and mortar. But although both parties were always confiding to the camera that they weren't getting on, the camera struggled to produce any supporting evidence, apart from when Dee-dee was mischievously locked into her truck on her last morning (and I wouldn't be at all surprised if the culprit was a desperate producer).
In its own modest way, this was a remarkable film, if only because it proved that the camera's influence can be conciliatory rather than inflammatory. In one set-to Dee-dee had with a lovely man called Chris, she ended up in tears and he ended up tenderly hugging her. The steel rods of ideology keeping them a fixed distance apart had crumpled on impact.
Close up (BBC 2) followed two po-faced Russian artists on a tour of British taste in painting. The composite result of their MORI-assisted researches was a hideous blue-green lakescape, foregrounding figurines of Churchill and an ideal family. Everyone they had met on their travels hated it, apart from Norman Rosenthal, the high priest of the Royal Academy, who thrust his mug at the picture and concluded, "I think it's a good joke". And, in a slightly laboured way, so was the film itself.
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