Television Reviews: Beg To Differ and The Travel Show
Byfield had satisfied herself that she wasn't exploiting anyone by calculating that her weekly benefit only cost each working viewer 0.3 pence a year, and she illustrated what this miniscule sum might otherwise buy you - a tiny shard of Mars Bar or a four-inch square from a daily newspaper. This was unwise, I thought - as both looked better deals than Byfield's self-satisfied philosophising. In any case she does seem to want a job... as long as the job in question is presenting Beg to Differ, a television spin-off from The Big Issue which was described in the opening episode as "the show that gives a voice to Britain's underclass". This partly means soundbites from groggy men - ("11 men kicking a bag of wind about - it's a load of shite it is," slurs James. "Spare me the price of a cup of tea," mumbles Douglas) - which offer a service to any viewers who forgot to get shouted at on the way home. But it also means longer reports in which homeless reporters follow up some conceit - in last week's episode, for instance, a man tried to rebrand homelessness in line with Cool Britannia; the focus groups suggested hygiene might be the big obstacle to widespread public acceptance so the reporter went into Boots to buy a bag of mixed toiletries. "Tough on grime and tough on the causes of grime," he said before setting off to give grooming advice to Birmingham's down-and-outs. One man looked curious when offered after- shave, but lost his temper when he was told he wasn't allowed to drink it. This week, Byfield touted a designer's version of the cardboard box shelter round potential consumers (who pointed out that an inflammable purple foam igloo might attract the wrong kind of caller) and Peter Jones asked Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for tips on how to cook discarded food. Fearnley-Whittingstall mashed up a fruit smoothie with the help of a six-foot length of wood wrapped in polythene and ice begged from a fast-food outlet.
These items are entertaining and tangentially informative about life on the streets, but as a whole, Beg to Differ suffers from a certain confusion about whether ordinary life is an oppressive deception from which the homeless are lucky to escape or a basic human right unfairly withheld. The title suggests the former - these are free spirits not casualties - but the items themselves argue otherwise. In terms of sheer visual style and coherence, the best thing in these first two programmes has been a short item called "Objects of Desire", in which homeless people nominate their own desideratum. Last week, in a beautifully filmed 40-second slot, Sam Lyons spoke longingly of a photo-card, a sign of identity which is also a badge of employment, while this week Stan Burridge hymned the homogenising power of the business suit. Both pieces had a simple candour which was missing from some other contributions and both reminded you that for quite a few homeless people differing is not all that appealing. "Beg to Be the Same" might be a more honest title.
In an entertaining edition of The Travel Show (BBC2) Juliet Morris ended up in Almaty - capital of Kazakhstan and something of a challenge to the cliches of shopping opportunity and scenic splendour. Not since Andy Kershaw visited North Korea and discovered the only souvenirs available were blue plastic washing up bowls has there been a less appealing pitch for the tourist pound. "Almaty is not beautiful, but it feels very real," concluded Morris bravely - which was as good as saying "Don't go!" Reality, one feels, is something that the average Travel Show viewer cannot bear very much of.
Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigourfilm
Bannatyne leaves Dragon's DenTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Why I'm on the brink of burning my Israeli passport
- 2 War is war: Why I stand with Israel
- 3 L'Oreal cuts ties with Belgium supporter Axelle Despiegelaere after hunting trip photographs
- 4 World Cup 2014: Robin van Persie appears to give his bronze medal to eccentric Netherlands fan moments after being handed it by Sepp Blatter
- 5 Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country
Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons' employment, say government advisers
War is war: Why I stand with Israel
7/7 memorial defaced on anniversary of 2005 attacks with ‘Blair lied thousands died’ graffiti
Australia facing international condemnation after turning around Sri Lankans at sea
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
Socialist Worker called to apologise over ‘vile’ article saying Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple's death is ‘reason to save the polar bears’