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

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Off the wall: the cast of ‘Life in Squares’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Books And it is whizzpopping!

Arts and Entertainment
Bono throws water at the crowd while the Edge watches as they perform in the band's first concert of their new world tour in Vancouver

MusicThey're running their own restaurants

Voices
The main entrance to the BBC headquarters in London
TV & Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'
    Singapore's domestic workers routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals

    Singapore's hidden secret of domestic worker abuse

    David Cameron was shown the country's shiniest veneer on his tour. What he didn't see was the army of foreign women who are routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals
    Showdown by Shirley Jackson: A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic

    Showdown, by Shirley Jackson

    A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic
    10 best DSLRs

    Be sharp! 10 best DSLRs

    Up your photography game with a versatile, powerful machine
    Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

    Solved after 200 years

    The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

    Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
    Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

    Sunken sub

    Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

    Age of the selfie

    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
    Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

    Not so square

    How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
    Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

    Still carrying the torch

    The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

    ...but history suggests otherwise
    The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

    The bald truth

    How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
    Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

    Tour de France 2015

    Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
    Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

    A new beginning for supersonic flight?

    Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash