Last Night's TV: Snog, Marry, Avoid?, BBC3; Upstairs Downstairs Love, Channel 4; Identical Triplets: Their Secret World, ITV1
You can kiss if you don't make up
Tuesday 24 June 2008
As a child I was keenly aware that a great big slice of television was not intended for me. The news, for example, which my parents watched with rapt attention night after night even though the stories were always the same: war in Northern Ireland, war in Vietnam, war at British Leyland. That same feeling of disenfranchisement descended on me, for the first time since 1969, as I sat through Snog, Marry, Avoid?, billed as the world's first "make-under" show, in which Jenny Frost – a former pop star with Sugar Girls or Atomic Kitchen, I forget which – introduced a pair of young women "hiding under layers and layers of slap" and in urgent need of styling advice. No part of this primetime programme, I realised forlornly, was intended for the likes of me, although happily I have a 15-year-old daughter, so I was at least able to enjoy it vicariously. Eleanor loved it.
The idea behind Snog, Marry, Avoid? (although "idea" might be pitching it slightly strongly) is that pictures of women whose fashion and personal grooming enthusiasms would look down-market on an 18-30 holiday are shown to random men on the street, who decide whether they would wish to snog, marry or avoid this person. The notion that men should be encouraged to cast such judgements on women they've never met is more than a little unreconstructed, of course, but Gemma from Kent, whose style icon is Jodie Marsh, and Tamsin from 'uddersfield, whose father treated her to breast enlargements and could hardly come from a more aptly named town, didn't seem to feel patronised. Instead, they were appalled that almost all the blokes vox-popped gave them a big thumbs down.
They were duly thrown at the mercy of a "computer" called Pod, a daft contrivance that made my teeth itch but which Eleanor thought was perfectly fine. Pod told Gemma, in a silly metallic computer voice, that she looked like a drag-queen with a hangover, which actually hit the nail on the head. Gemma insisted that "I would rather give up my home than my fake tan", but was persuaded to remove all her make-up, ditch the peroxided hair extensions, and wear something that didn't expose quite so many acres of thigh. Inevitably, she looked significantly nicer at the end of this, and had those men in the street now wanting to snog her. The same thing happened to Tamsin. Which I suppose was a triumph of sorts. Eleanor thought so, anyway.
Upstairs Downstairs Love told the true story of another metamorphosis, although Hannah Cullwick, a Victorian servant, was made of sterner stuff than Gemma and Tamsin. Her employer and subsequent husband, a barrister called Arthur Munby, tried to gentrify her, but Hannah was having none of it. She had been raised to scrub floors and sweep chimneys, and thought ladies were idle. When Arthur kept up the pressure, she eventually had a nervous breakdown, and left the marital home to live out her days in Shropshire.
Arthur continued to visit her, but their separation and her decline were desperately sad, because it had been Hannah's working-class brawn and dirty fingernails that had appealed to him in the first place, when he first set eyes on her in a London street in the 1850s. He had what can only be described as a fetish for the horny-handed proletariat, to the extent that, while other Victorian gentlemen collected butterflies, he collected specimens of callouses. According to her diaries, Hannah was quite happy to indulge Arthur's fetishism, and indeed it gave her an erotic charge too. Theirs was an improbably romantic liaison, lasting more than 50 years until her death in 1909. A month later, he followed her to the grave.
In his will, Arthur decreed that their letters and diaries could not be read until 1950. He knew that love across the class divide was incendiary stuff – for those of you old enough to remember the original Upstairs, Downstairs, think Lord Bellamy falling head-over-heels in love with the parlourmaid Ruby – and I suppose it might also have had ramifications for their relatives. One contributor to the programme likened their relationship to a cross-racial romance in England in the 1950s in terms of its power to shock. It's always reassuring to be reminded of the huge social and cultural strides we have made; although anyone who thinks that a class-based apartheid is entirely a thing of the past in Britain wasn't at Royal Ascot last week.
The theme of identity was taken up in a different way in Identical Triplets: Their Secret World. I sat through this for an hour, eventually to be told by the narrator, John Thomson, after all kinds of experts had been on to talk about the identical triplet phenomenon, that "we've discovered that they're alike and unalike in many ways". It was a conclusion that didn't quite repay my investment of time, and after four solid evenings of football on the box, left me pining for a penalty shoot-out.
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