How to be Bohemian with Victoria Coren Mitchell BBC4TV review: Class envy gives this look at a literary elite more bite

The programme featured a collection of clever-clogs commentators, many as eccentric in dress as yesteryear's bohemians

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The Independent Culture

You couldn't wish for a better combination of subject and presenter than How to Be Bohemian with Victoria Coren Mitchell.

In this, the second part of three, she moved her story on to the early-20th-century bohemians, her lip often curling with disapproval at all the saucy stuff they got up to. It's not that she's a prude (she once worked at the Erotic Review, after all), it's just that she's the sensible sort who shudders at the idea of swimming nude in a cold stream every morning, as poet and activist Edward Carpenter is supposed to have done: "I like to remain fully clothed even in the bath."

Coren Mitchell had also gathered about her a superior collection of clever-clogs commentators, many as eccentric in dress as yesteryear's bohemians and all with something insightful to say. The best discussion was provoked by our presenter's admission that she doesn't really warm to the Bloomsbury Set: "I find them annoying and I think that's because they had money." A A Gill and Will Self could see where she was coming from. "You [the wealthy] are insulated from the effects of your countercultural behaviour," said Self. "it's just bohemian Downton Abbey, isn't it?" But Grayson Perry wasn't so sure: "Then again, are we awarding creative points for being poor here? Or are we awarding creative points for being creative?"

The work is the thing – or it ought to be. Yet since bohemianism is all about making an art of your life and giving life to your art, we could get away with recounting the gossip too: Vanessa Bell's open marriage, Augustus John's rumoured fathering of 99 children, and Eric Gill's incest.

The bohemians lived such salaciously interesting lives that Coren Mitchell might simply have presented a chronology of who was shagging whom and when (with perhaps a diagram) and passed it off as an arts documentary. It's to her credit that this also presented a persuasive, if unfashionable, argument about where morality and social convention fit into our appreciation of art, matters which for many critics are usually by the by. Only the try-hard soundtrack let it down. An instrumental version of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody"? Really?

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