After applying the principle of the blind date to personal growth (Faking It), domestic relationships (Wife Swap) and the deserving poor (The Secret Millionaire), the production company RDF has now turned it on the servant problem in Personal Services Required, in which three people seeking work spend time with two sets of prospective bosses. And strictly speaking, it isn't personal compatibility that is at issue here, but whether the modest desire of the applicants to retain a scrap of human dignity can be successfully married to the lunatic demands of their prospective employers. Take Gabriella, for example, a professional headhunter who you might have thought could have privately sorted out her own staffing needs, but who had unwisely elected to share her vulgarity and affectations with the British public.
Gabriella was looking for someone who was "willing to please", a routine-enough requirement in a situations-vacant advert. The problem lay in what it would take to please Gabriella. She wanted her bathroom taps in showroom condition, light switches that would make a forensic scientist weep, perfectly made beds and a pristine house. And all the cooking and ironing done. And a pick-up service for her mini-me daughter ("She's a lovely child, but she's quite demanding"). In between doing all that, she also wanted her employee to trail behind her in a chauffeur's cap while she trawled the local shops for overpriced bits of kitsch. Andrew, a nicely spoken young man who had decided to build his passion for ironing into a long- term career, laboured mightily to please Gabriella, but drew the line at the chauffeur's uniform. "I don't want to look like a complete fool, and furthermore I don't want to make her and Danny look like complete fools, because I can't imagine anyone being impressed." Gabriella, who presumably could, looked a little crestfallen.
Vivienne, another of the prospective housekeepers, didn't even make it past two hours in Gabriella's house, the difficulty here being that Vivienne turned out to be looking for servants to boss around as well. What Gabriella had in mind by "housekeeper" was an indentured slave with the self-esteem of a pithed frog. What Vivienne understood by the term was a kind of domestic Field Marshal, commanding an army of tweenies and under-stair girls. Vivienne would have done this rather well, having had five servants in Kenya before she fell on hard times. But you knew the match wasn't going to work from the moment Danny asked her what she'd like to drink and she specified Indian tea, in tones that suggested she was bending over backwards by not insisting on a particular plantation. Vivienne lasted a little bit longer with the couple who ran a deluxe dog hotel, even making scrambled eggs for one of the hairy guests. But then she blew it by singing while she worked. This was no tragedy, really, because I doubt that Vivienne's notion of the job description (no floor-mopping and no toilet cleaning) would have meshed with the doggy couple's very broad definition of general duties. Asking another candidate, Wendy-Anne, to clean around the dogs' swimming pool, the lady of the house added an unnerving footnote. "I warn you, what you see on the ground isn't mud, it's from where we've taken a pig swimming, and pigs are rather... loose." Wendy-Anne understandably hesitated when it was suggested she might jump into the same pool to give a dog a swimming lesson.
The programme's equivalent of the reveal comes when all parties meet up for job offers to be made and accepted or turned down. The doggy people decided they wanted Andrew, but he didn't want them, despite the fact that they were offering £29,000 a year. And Wendy-Anne wisely decided to turn down the prospect of being Gabriella's drudge for a figure that was probably below the minimum wage. Whether RDF will find its probationary period extended, I don't know, but you have to wonder about the long-term prospects of a series where the best you can hope for in the way of emotional uplift is the spectacle of the economically disadvantaged signing over their lives to the economically privileged.
In Tribal Wives, Yvonne, a single working mother with a slightly glum demeanour, went to live with the women of the Himba tribe in Namibia, to see whether their traditional way of life could lift her Western blues. Yvonne threw herself into the experience with a rather winning energy, only occasionally daunted by diarrhoea and a diet of maize-flour glue. And, naturally, she claimed to have been transformed by her experience by the time it came to go home again. Since the traditions she witnessed included the distressing sight of a weeping 14-year-old girl being dragged off for a forced marriage to a 20-year-old man (it's called child rape in our culture), I found it difficult to believe that she'd learnt much from the experience other than a deep gratitude that she didn't have to live like that for more than a month.Reuse content