Last Night's Television: Famous, Rich and Homeless, BBC1
Ugly Betty, Channel 4
Thursday 25 June 2009
In an anonymous warehouse in London, five celebrities – looking as edgy as miscreants in a headmaster's office – are being briefed on what they can expect when they're hit the streets. "You're 13 times more likely to be attacked," they are told. "People are going to try and urinate on you... people are going to spit on you." Blimey, I thought. I know that Hardeep Singh Kohli and Les Battersby aren't to everyone's taste but that's going a bit far surely. But this, it appears, is not a prediction of public attitudes to the famous. It's a simple statement about what the homeless can routinely expect. The celebrities turn a little paler, suffering, I guess, a particularly sharp version of that regret one often feels for a "yes" too casually given three or four months earlier. When Famous, Rich and Homeless was still just a prospect it must have seemed quite an interesting one – live the life of a down-and-out for just 10 days, for a reality format that aims to raise public awareness of their plight. With the reality looming things looked very different.
Motives appear to have been mixed. Annabel Croft seems to have thought of it as an opportunity for personal exploration, Kohli presented it as altruism and Bruce Jones, who played Les in Coronation Street, was apparently looking forward to confirming his prejudices about "bone-idle arseholes". But if Bruce supplied the programme's coarsest prejudice he also delivered the best description of the loneliness all the participants were about to endure. As a people carrier trundled around London, preparing to eject them into the night with nothing but a sleeping bag he looked apprehensively out of the window: "I feel a bit like Robinson Crusoe," he said, "surrounded by a million Fridays. And not one of them's going to speak to me." As Rosie Boycott ferreted through bins in Islington for bedding and Bruce bedded down in an underpass, Jamie Blandford, black sheep of the Churchill family, headed for the car-park of an upmarket hotel, suspiciously insistent that the television crew should give him some privacy.
I don't know if Blandford was hoping to repair his reputation as a parasitical waste of space, but if so his plan spectacularly misfired. "The Churchill family seem to be quite good in time of war and this is my war with concrete," he'd smugly announced beforehand, but the first shot hadn't even been fired when it became clear that his only strategy was surrender. Unabashed about cheating on the first night, he demanded a second night in a hotel as well. "If I'm to be a productive participant in this programme then I need to get some rest,"he said crossly, and when the programme-makers gently pointed out that sleeping on the street was something of a sine qua non, he ran for home. Good riddance said John Bird, the conceiver of this exercise in empathy generation. Good riddance murmured all of us, with just a passing regret that the Marquess hadn't been chained to Hyde Park railings for at least one night before being allowed to scuttle back to Blenheim. The others were made of sterner stuff, or rather just stern enough to find out how fragile they were. With astonishing speed the street broke their self-esteem and their preconceptions, leaving them weepy, fearful, angry and demoralised. And they knew that it would all be over in a few days' time. It seems to have changed Bruce's mind about the homeless – and I think it has a good chance of doing it for armchair participants as well.
Ugly Betty is back for the third series of the eponymous live-action cartoon – still full of ambition, still mysteriously untransformed by the experience of working on a fashion magazine. The format has been modestly refreshed by having Daniel move to edit a lads' mag, but fans alarmed at the prospect of too much novelty shouldn't panic. Just as the first ever episode ended with Betty humiliatingly roped in to a sexy photo-shoot, this one did too. I think I've had this feeling of déjà vu before.
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