I have wonderful neighbours. Really, you couldn't ask for more. They fulfil two of the most important of neighbourly criteria. That is (1) they live next door and (2) you'd never know it. I rarely see them. When I do, we exchange fleeting pleasantries, a smile here, a nod there. When I locked myself out, one of them made me tea and offered me a sofa to sit on. In return, I bought her some chocolates.*
Something (or, more accurately, Channel 4's Love Thy Neighbour) tells me that the residents of Grassington in the Yorkshire Dales require rather more. So much so, in fact, that they're auditioning them. Over the next six episodes, 12 families will compete against one another for the chance to move into a cottage in the town worth £300,000 . They'll be paired up and, week by week, will try to outdo one another from the comfort of their B&B rooms.
But there's a twist. Of course there is. The population of Grassington, we're told, boasts around three times the national average of over-65s. Nudge-nudge, wink-wink. It's a solid Tory seat. To be a local, you've got to have at least three generations buried in the graveyard. And so it is that our contestants, their identity revealed, are a rather more modern bunch. Take Steve and Nicky, who are – reader, prepare to be shocked – not married. Not only that but Nicky has – wait for it – three children. From another relationship! Competing with them for the villagers' affections in week one are Simone, Phillip and their three sons. Currently living in Epsom Downs, they are – unlike virtually every resident of Grassington – not white. "However will they fit in?" runs the reasoning.
The answer, as it turned out, was rather well. Indeed, Channel 4 appears considerably more prudish about their contestants than anyone in Grassington. "What do you think the locals will make of a black family?" asked a silent interviewer, repeatedly, of the sweet-looking ladies drinking tea and manning shops. Everyone agreed they'll stand out. No one appeard to find it a problem. Oh the relief producers must have felt when they found a man who says "coloured".
Once the novelty had worn off, the two couples spent the week winning potential neighbours over. After an introductory session at the local pub, the pair "hit the campaign trail". Phillip, a wannabe Tory MP, set about establishing a mock MP's surgery, a strategy that seemed (to me) almost guaranteed to lose him votes. Shows how well I'd go down in rural Britain. With at least two visitors, Phillip's surgery still out-did Nicky's drinks party (which got none); their variety show proved even more popular. A whole 10 acts participated. Steve, a tight T-shirt-wearing carpenter, won a few fans among the ladies of Grassington. Alas, 'twas not enough. Next week, a same-sex couple hoping for a baby with the help of IVF will compete against a "single mum and life model". It's not subtle, this.
Midway through Comic Relief: Famous, Rich and in the Slums, I imagine our "well-known faces" were rather wishing they were in Kilimanjaro. They're not, not this year – they're in Kibera in Kenya, and it is, by any account, fairly bleak. Kibera is home to several hundred thousand people, all of whom live there illegally, which means no electricity, no government-provided sanitation and little health care. One in five babies born don't last past the age of five; up to a thousand people share the same public toilets, which flow into the streets in open sewers and are emptied into the water from which the city drinks. Our celebrities – or "well-known faces", as they're rather quaintly termed – had to immerse themselves, individually seeking out jobs and raising money.
And so it was that Lenny Henry, Samantha Womack, Reggie Yates and Angela Rippon found themselves housed in shacks and hunting for work. All, to their credit, did rather well: Henry selling samosas by the side of the road, Yates clearing out the public toilets. Rippon, displaying characteristic good sense, declined an open avenue in prostitution, and found a teaching job instead. Along the way, inevitably, they got a tiny taste of the discomfort that characterises daily life here. It was nothing, really, in the scheme of things, though it was more than enough to make for compelling viewing.
A shame the same can't be said for Working Girl. Kaycie Yates is a perma-tan twentysomething who doesn't think women should work. Or so she said. It's a stance that doesn't prevent her from asking her mother for money at every available opportunity. Currently living in a flat paid for by the council, with her salon habit funded by jobseeker's allowance, she is a layabout of villainous proportions. Perhaps they should send her to Grassington.
They didn't, more's the pity. Instead, she was dispatched to the workplace. She lasted barely a few hours in job number one, and so it was off to a second, at Edinburgh's Hotel Missoni. In among the scrounger-shaming were a few scattergun attempts to offer relevance. One of Yates's ancestors was a domestic servant. Ergo a career in hotel work is inevitable. It's a bizarre mishmash of formulas, and not one that pays off. But for Yates, at least, things are looking up. A brief stint in hospital resulted in a transformation so dramatic as to suggest a personality transplant had occurred. As it turned out, Yates made a jolly good waitress. Who'd have thunk it?
*Incidentally, I’m selling my flat. East London. 2 bed. Any takers?