Last Night's TV - Undercover Boss, Channel 4; Restoration Home, BBC2; Should I Test My Genes? The Price of Life, BBC2
Rude awakening for women on top
Wednesday 06 July 2011
I imagine quite a few people feel a bit shy at the idea of entering an Ann Summers sex shop but it was a bit surprising to find Vanessa Gold among them, a deputy managing director for the chain who went back to the shopfloor in the first of a new series of
Undercover Boss. Strictly speaking, it should have been her sister Jacqueline, who's actually the true boss of Britain's best-known dildo merchants, but her public profile made an incognito appearance impossible so, on a drizzly day in Blackburn, it was Vanessa who stood on the threshold looking as if she was about to be sick. The cover story for the regular staff was that Vanessa (alias "Julia") was the subject of a documentary about a woman going back to work after a career break, an explanation that offered roughly the same degree of coverage as an Ann Summers Ahoy Boys Sexy Sailor costume. But nonetheless everyone gamely pretended that Vanessa was exactly who she said she was.
If she was bashful about some of the products she was selling she quickly discovered that her customers weren't. "I'm after a decent Rabbit that's not too big and has a G-spot stimulator," explained a sturdy-looking women. "Have you got any?" Vanessa blushed and went to hide behind the counter, but then they got news that Jacqueline was coming on a flying visit and she was dispatched to tidy up the tubes of Cock Rub. "She's got a big nose, hasn't she?" one of the shop staff whispered to her as the CEO walked away, suggesting that whatever they thought was going on they hadn't yet rumbled that they were being filmed for Undercover Boss. After a raucous night at an Ann Summers party, Vanessa went to shadow a successful manager who'd turned round an Exeter store. There, a teenage customer guilelessly shared her enthusiasm for the only form of sexual restraint that was on offer in the programme: "I'm obsessed with bondage," she said. "I love my ball gags."
I'm not sure that Vanessa learnt anything that she wouldn't have done with an ordinary store visit, but for the less than startling lesson Undercover Boss always supplies, which is that minor employees are actually human. The bullet-line findings for Jacqueline were that the stores were getting a little shabby and a little vanilla, the sense of naughtiness Ann Summers once supplied having been dissipated by its high-street presence. Oh, and that keeping most of your staff on part-time contracts because it keeps labour costs low is a good way to demoralise your most talented employees. The programme ended, as usual, with that faintly nauseating section in which gulled workers are invited to head office, spend a couple of terrifying hours convinced they're about to be sacked, and then weep with relief and gratitude when they're given some treats instead for helping to buff up the company's image. Aux armes, citoyens.
In Restoration Home, BBC2 has taken a neglected property that might otherwise fall into dereliction and converted it for a new use. To be specific, it has taken The Restoration Man, an almost identical blend of architectural history and building makeover that Channel 4 ran last year, and modestly rejigged it so that Caroline Quentin can move in instead. Quentin actually has some real experience to bring to bear here, being something of a serial fixer-upper herself. But not much of it was deployed in this first episode, in which a young couple set about converting a Somerset church into a home. Quentin turned up to yodel cheerily at the converters from time to time, and channelled Kevin McCloud's speech rhythms to inject some spurious tension ("If Paul and Laura don't succeed we may lose another of our precious buildings for ever"). Apart from that it was left mostly to an owlish architecture enthusiast and an over-excitable archivist, who dug up historical facts about the money-pit in question.
Greatest pleasure here was Paul, a resiliently cheerful type who appeared to have taught himself every skill necessary to convert a Grade II-listed church (barring stained-glass restoration) and who blithely brushed aside anxieties about flooding (the 1968 high-water mark plaque being fixed worryingly high on one of his interior walls) and his partner's tendency to turn up just as the concrete or the glue had set and point out the flaw he'd missed. Paul's optimism and good humour richly deserved success, and, one hopes, a sustained period without unusually heavy rainfall.
Adam Wishart has made excellent programmes that patrol the shifting border between medical advances and ethical norms, but Should I Test My Genes? The Price of Life turned out to be a little disappointing. This was partly because its subject matter – the application of our increasing knowledge of the genetic code – was recently covered in BBC3's So What If My Baby Is Born Like Me? But also because Wishart seemed to have succumbed to a mild case of Documentarist's Solipsism here, that first-person style that invariably seems to hint that the subject is important mostly because it's happening to the director. Fair enough, I suppose, given that his own family history of cancer was the starting point for his investigations of genetic screening, but the shots of him looking pensive in the rain were still a misjudgement. Did he shout "Action" first and then adopt the glum expression, I kept wondering. And how did his face change when he thought he'd got enough existential dilemma in the can?
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