Last Night's Television:
How The Other Half Live, Channel 4
Sharon Osbourne: A Comedy Roast, Channel 4
They all showed a touch of class
Friday 09 April 2010
There's something more than a little uncomfortable about our growing appetite for class tourism: The Secret Millionaire, Rich, Famous and Broke, Tower Block of Commons. It all smacks less of social education than a squirmy attempt to show off. Want to feel better about yourself? Why not give away some of your millions in front of several million viewers. Or, if you've got no millions, why not watch someone else give theirs away?
At least last night in How the Other Half Live, the only thing unequal about giver and givee was opportunity. Cal was introduced as a single mother struggling to make ends meet, but she also held a bachelor of science, a masters degree, and her bar certification. The one thing she lacked was the necessary apprenticeship to work as a barrister. All this, remarkably, has been achieved at the same time as bringing up a beautifully behaved daughter, Iris, and working at Ladbrokes to pay the bills, or some of them at least; the phone rings constantly with creditors checking on their loan repayments. The pair of them live in Gloucestershire, in the first house they've ever lived in. Before that, it was a caravan. Cal used to belong to a community of new-age travellers, something that may or may not have had a bearing on the lack of pupillage availabilities.
A few miles away, on the other side of the wealth divide, were the Abingdons. David's a "marketing guru" worth nine million pounds. His children, George and Rebecca, held suitably Darwinian views on their circumstances. "Being born poor is luck," they observed. "But you can change that very easily by working hard." This didn't last long. After one meeting with Cal and Iris, they were already questioning their education. "It's all been proven wrong!" exclaimed an exasperated George, a four-foot radical discovering social injustice.
It didn't take long for the conspicuous giving to start. Hopefully, Cal's hard work makes it slightly easier for her to stomach. When a cheque for £4,000 arrived in the post, her immediate reaction was to refuse it. Her daughter, however, had other ideas. "Why can't we spend some on the things we really need?" she asked, logically enough. "They must be well rich!" She was right, obviously: they are. And Cal decided to keep the money, taking Iris shopping for a new school uniform and some clothes that weren't, for a change, second-hand.
The next opportunity came when the Abingdons visited, very sweetly bringing along a guitar for budding musician Iris. "What's it like living in a horsebox?" asked George, innocently (he was talking about the caravan, not the house). The potential for awkwardness was, of course, enormous. Iris helped dispel it with enthusiasm. "This is my room. It's small but I LOVE it," she gabbled before anyone had the time to think the worse of it. Even more enthusiasm, though, was reserved for her visit to Rebecca's. Initially baffled by the house's size ("so you each have your own bathroom?" she wondered), excitement overtook when she entered Rebecca's elaborately furnished bedroom. Before long she was riding the rocking horse and inviting herself round for sleepovers.
Alas, there were no such redeeming moments in the final, inevitable, charity-fest. Both families got together for Cal's birthday. The Abingdons had got her a card, but something bigger too: a career. David had created a role in his company specifically for her, liaising with law firms on a salary of 20 grand. Childcare and work wardrobe are covered too. It is, as Iris observed, a stroke of luck, not just for her mother, but for David too. Once she gets her pupillage, she's going to be able to command a lot more than that.
Still, probably not as much as Sharon Osbourne did for her appearance on Comedy Roast, Channel 4's latest comedy offering. Based on an (apparently) successful US model, the UK version sees a parade of utterly uninteresting "celebrities", faux-insulted by a panel of comedians in a kind of This Is Your Life for the Big Brother generation.
Anyway, last night was Osbourne's turn. Presumably, her casting had more to do with her availability than her suitability; there can be little other explanation. No one, bar no one, needs to hear another word about her, even if it is from the pleasingly snarled lips of Jack Dee.
It's a shame, really, since some of the gags weren't bad at all. Patrick Kielty gave a particularly enjoyable turn. Who knew he could be so vicious? Even Gok Wan, who surely ranks close to Sharon Osbourne in the overexposure stakes, was pretty good. No, the problem isn't the jokes. It's their subject. Given the level of venom each episode's victims have to tolerate, it seems unlikely that the show would attract anyone but the desperate or the egotistical. Both of which, frankly, I could do without.
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