Last Night's TV: They're cottoning on to the real world
Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts, BBC3; Heather Mills: What Really Happened, Channel 4
Wednesday 23 April 2008
Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts is wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee television, and delivers one of this fledgling genre's most important pleasures, which is that the coffee should be nasally administered with a high-pressure hose. So when Tara, Stacey, Richard, Georgina, Mark and Amrita were sent off to India to discover what underpins the fashion bargains on British high streets, the taxi from the airport didn't take them to an air-conditioned hotel for a couple of days of acclimatisation. It took them straight to a New Delhi slum, where they will be living alongside the garment workers whose lives and jobs they are going to share. "I'm not staying here," said Amrita, "we don't have immune systems like they do." Or a fraction of their courtesy and resilience, you found yourself tempted to add, after another 20 minutes of Amrita's unimaginative whining.
In a lot of respects, Amrita is an exemplary guinea pig: a British- born Asian who blithely announced that she is indifferent to the ethical pedigree of the clothes she buys. "I think cheap fashion's great," she said brightly before her departure. "It doesn't really affect me whether it's been made by a three-year-old or a 50-year-old." I think Amrita's too young to know that three-year-olds are really rubbish at producing a straight seam, but you get the idea. She doesn't really want to know how the costs are kept down as long as she can buy two tops for the price of one. In that, she probably speaks for about 95 per cent of British consumers, and the idea behind Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts is to make that blissful ignorance a little more difficult to maintain.
Our proxies in India had a relatively gentle introduction to global economics, being sent first to a huge modern factory that produces around three million garments a month for Western markets. In sweatshop terms, this was the Ritz, a place with a modern canteen and bright, clean working conditions. But the line-management style – pretty much any movement except breathing and stitching prohibited – didn't sit well with the new arrivals. Georgina got the hump with the supervisor, Mark got ticked off for talking and Amrita had a fit of the vapours."It's like everything's closing in on you and you can't breathe," she said, before stomping out for a little cry on the roof. If the locals still harboured any illusions about stiff upper lip and imperial resolve, they were evaporating fast and presumably vanished altogether after Richard indulged himself in a foul-mouthed rant about the condition of the streets.
Not everyone made you ashamed to be British. Stacey, a shop assistant, is a sweetheart, with a cheery "namaste" for everyone she meets and Tara, a fashion student, actually earned herself a place on the production line and a skilled worker's salary of around £1.50 per day. But in general, the sharp contrast between people who can't even endure an ordeal they have chosen to inflict upon themselves and people who have no choice but to endure one inflicted by circumstances, is chastening. Morale was very low by the end of the programme, with the group getting their first taste of what a real sweatshop looks and smells like, but there were signs that some of the arrogance and self-regard was beginning to flake off and be replaced with buyer's remorse. The programme itself, incidentally, is top-quality schmutter.
Jacques Peretti presented his film Heather Mills: What Really Happened as a counterpoint to the ex-Mrs McCartney's recent tabloid monstering. He would, he promised, talk both to people who liked her and people who didn't. When it turned out that one of her positive character witnesses ("She can be a very nice person") was also the woman who was claiming they'd worked together as "high-class hookers", you began to realise that balancing this narrative was going to be uphill work. Peretti never actually got anything straight from the horse's mouth, he just got to people who'd been authorised by the horse to reveal selected details, including Heather's ghostwriter, Pam Cockerill (very vaguely pro), and the sister of Heather's first husband (most decidedly anti, and reportedly tipped the wink by McCartney's lawyers that they'd be happy for her to take part in the filming).
We learnt quite a bit about Mills's somewhat tenuous relationship with the historical record (a minor incident from her childhood had been blown up by her into a full-scale paedophile abduction), but very little about whether her claims to charitable endeavour are actually justified. And the programme ended with an oddly naive moment when Peretti showed you home movies of her as a child playing with her siblings and her father. "I hadn't expected to see such happiness," he said. "Watching these home movies, I wondered if this man really was the brutal father Heather has always claimed he was." Given that everyone smiles in home movies, the footage had all the evidentiary weight of an unsigned Christmas card. You sensed that a straw was being clutched at.
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