Review: Pack your pin-stripes for the European front

If you saw the opening of True Brits (BBC 2), you might have worried that the evening schedule had been invaded by daytime presenters. Like Richard and Judy and Anne and Nick, the Foreign Office mandarins espied here seem to spend their entire working day on sofas. The confusion was reinforced by the fact that they, too, are paid handsome sums to witter on ceaselessly about things of no interest to anyone at all.

The FO - an incongruous acronym for a ministry that trains its staff to be polite - has overcome its legendary camera shyness. It can't be a coincidence that this conversion took place on the road to Maastricht. Opening doors has given the mandarins a chance to prove that diplomacy is not all a matter of plush upholstery and cushy cuisine (though the fromage selection on their chartered plane did seem to be a notch up from the cheese on the bucket-shop shuttle).

The series beamed in at ministerial level, focusing on Tristan Garel-Jones during the British presidency of the Union. As he and a team of chiselled, pin-striped flunkies whizzed round Europe, one cast around for signs of humility and esteem for others in our official face abroad. A stop-over in Rome offered an early chance to take a reading. 'He's miles away,' said our minister, after chewing the fat with his Italian opposite number. 'He's on another planet. Zimmer frame, really.' And the flunky, a non-smoker but well stocked with his boss's favourite cigarettes, agreed.

Never mind that our minister's effort to communicate with the allegedly decrepit space cadet in his own language yielded a solitary word of Spanish: 'Comprendo.' On the evidence of this film, though this will doubtless be disproved by subsequent episodes, a knowledge of foreign tongues is not part of the British brief. In one sequence rich in comedy, in which our chinless negotiator hammered out a statement that everyone could agree on, two meticulous Danes argued with each other in English about the various legal implications lurking in certain of our verbs. In another, less frantic, episode, True Brits might find time to ask whether Britain's false sense of superiority is founded on the fact that everyone speaks our language, literally if not metaphorically. If our chaps had to talk to one another in Danish about Danish verbs, Britain would never have got involved with the foreigners in the first place.

Garel-Jones, who resigned his post once Maastricht, limping and bandaged, had got through a hostile Parliament, is meant to be one of his party's most ardent Europeans, but even he talked dismissively of 'all this Euro claptrap that the Belgians and these other people have been peddling for years'. There was probably a clause in his agreement, thrashed out over several late-night soirees at the Savoy Grill, that delayed the broadcast until he was safely spending more time with his family.

The claim for True Brits is that it has gained unprecedented access. While the newly accessible has nothing quite as crowd-pleasing to show of itself as the Royal Family famously burning sausages on the barbecue, it's still a glimpse of something hitherto unseen. How much of a glimpse it is, though, is hard to assess. We saw Garel-Jones tut-tutting at the PM's tasteless choice of conference chairs, which will doubtless dig a deeper chip into Mr Major's classless shoulder, but that was just a minor indiscretion. Before Edinburgh he talked of 'showing Gonzalez (the Spanish PM) a bit of ankle,' and one suspects that this series is performing the same modest act of titillation on its audience. And most titillating it is, too.

The executive producer of True Brits is Edward Mirzoeff, who has previously gained intimate access to those tabloid superstars, Torvill and Dean and the Queen. The Disorderly House of Windsor (C 4) cited the access granted for films like Mirzoeff's as the principal cause of the first family's decline. 'Elizabeth R' might as well have been called 'Elizabeth PR', so flagrant was its sales pitch. This was a tidy rehearsal of the reasons for not buying the product.

Thomas Sutcliffe is away

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing