In the Best Possible Taste, Tuesday Channel 4
Horizon: The Transit of Venus, Tuesday, BBC2
Grayson Perry's study of working-class tastes was insightful, moving, even funny
Sunday 10 June 2012
To be perfectly honest, I wasn't sure what to make of Grayson Perry until last Tuesday. I knew he was a transvestite potter, who goes to parties dressed as Giant Bo Peep. And, having spoken to him a couple of times, I know he is great fun and not at all big-headed, which can't be said of many Turner Prize-winning artists. But I did wonder if he was more famous for Claire, his alter ego, than for his art.
Now, after watching the first episode of his new series, In the Best Possible Taste, I think he may have found his greatest talent yet. He is one of those rare people who can talk about taste and class without causing offence. Taste, he says, is completely bound up with class, which is why he has divided his investigation into three parts.
In episode one, he looked at working-class tastes, and headed off to Sunderland. He started with the men, visiting a hotted-up car convention, where blokes gawp at each others' lowered suspensions. Later, he meets some Sunderland fans, who wear T-shirts saying "Fuck the Mags". (The mags are the Magpies, supporters of Newcastle.) Sociologists would identify themes of machismo in the first group, and tribalism in the second. But they would do so from the comfort of their university studies. Perry goes among them, and asks them to analyse themselves. "It's like a peacock showing yer feathers," says one of the car nuts. "It's about our heritage," says a footie fan. "We might have nothing now, but we've got generosity, and call centres." How right they are, but can you imagine Andrew Marr eliciting such clear-sightedness?
The second half was even more fun, when Perry tried to work out why working-class women love to dress up. He dons a skimpy number and joins them out on the town, even getting chatted up by a shaven-headed bloke. Like the car nuts, the women dress for each other, not for the blokes. Again, it's all about tribes and belonging, but as Neville Ramsay, the local hairdresser says, it's also about theatre, and performance, and acting out their fantasies: about wanting to look like an idealised version of themselves.
Perry envies their disinhibition. But, while fake tan and big hair are all about artifice, Perry also finds raw emotion, such as when he visits Heppies, a working men's club. Sean Foster Conley, the singer, used to work in a shipyard, and still sings the songs from those glory days.
Perry asks if a lot of working-class taste is about "wallowing in a kind of fuzzy feeling for something that wasn't that great in the first place". But, as Sean croons and sways on stage, holding the hand of an old woman in the audience, the performance is genuinely moving. "It's like an altarpiece," squawks Perry. From anybody else, that would sound preposterous. But he's right. Is it sentimental? Maybe, but as he says: "Do you cry a more vintage kind of tear at Glyndebourne?"
Not that you necessarily want to stay in the class you're born into. When Perry visits Neville's mum's house, it's altogether more prim and proper; her proudest possession is the picture of her daughter's graduation. Her daughter is already more middle class than she is, and she's pleased. But what of the perils of leaving your tribe? Perry doesn't answer that. Maybe he will. But these themes will be with us for a good while yet.
Unlike The Transit of Venus. This event happens once every 105 years, so bad luck if you missed it last Tuesday. It's when Venus passes between Earth and the Sun, and you can see a black dot travel across the Sun's face. Not that there was much to see – it was cloudy. And you can't look at the Sun anyway. But everything you could ever wish to know about the transit was in a Horizon special the night before.
It packed an awful lot into one hour. We learnt how Venus used to have water, but, having no gravity, it all got swept away. And how in the 1700s, they calculated the distance from Earth to the Sun to an accuracy of 1 per cent. And more. In fact, they crammed in enough stories and factoids to make a three-parter. It's a shame someone didn't cleanse the script of clichés. But then, maybe that's just a question of taste.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Bruce Jenner's 'Interview of the year': Suicidal thoughts, rejection by family members and new wardrobe
- 2 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 3 How to turn off/stop 'seen by' on Facebook: Disable it to make your chats seem less passive aggressive
- 4 'We're not heroes, just tourists': Swedish police officers on holiday stop vicious assault on New York subway
- 5 Buckingham Palace guard who attacked passers-by in 'most most violent piece of CCTV footage' police officer had seen walks free
MasterChef, TV review: The final climaxed in a frenzy of herbs and hyperbole
Everyday People project: Photographer Pablo Conejo placed an ad on Gumtree - and kickstarted a series of interesting encounters
Male student sues Columbia University for 'gender-based harassment' after alleged 'Mattress Performance' rape victim Emma Sulkowicz went public with claims
MasterChef 2015: Simon Wood named winner
Black Mass trailer: Johnny Depp might have started making good films again
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Katie Hopkins on LBC: Listen to caller taking The Sun columnist to task over migrant comments
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove