"Do you cry a more vintage kind of tears at Glyndebourne?" Grayson Perry asked in the first of his lovely series All in the Best Possible Taste. He was in a Northern club at the time, having just watched a particularly tear-jerking performance by a local singer, and the answer his question was inviting was "No".
That's been an assumption all the way through his exploration of Britain's taste tribes – no taste can confidently lay claim to superiority, only to a comforting sense of identity. He explicitly reiterated this credo at the end of last night's episode, when he addressed an assembly of those he'd met in the course of filming: "There is no such thing as good and bad taste," he declared.
What was odd, though, was that this was the first episode in which you could just see a tremor of taste deference in Perry. His character – open, funny, generous – has been a big part of the success of these programmes. It's impossible to think of another Turner Prize winner who could fit so disarmingly into so many different social spaces, particularly given that he arrived with avowedly anthropological intent, to probe and analyse their definition of what is finest in life. You genuinely felt that he wasn't judging anyone. But in last night's episode, I think his own aspirations showed.
It happened when he was being shown a bedroom in Frampton Court, an 18th-century house owned by the Clifford family. Perry clearly loved it: "The curtains are slightly frayed," he said in slightly dazed tones, "the windows are made with old glass with bubbles in it. Everything is perfect." By which he meant that nothing had the vulgar perfection of the brand-new and shop-bought. That, he concluded, was one core feature of upper-class style: the patina of inheritance that transforms every scratch and tear. That sofa isn't tattered and past its best, as it certainly would be regarded in a middle-class home. It's handed down.
He shook off this momentary frisson of cultural cringe pretty quickly. For one thing, he acknowledged that such an inheritance could be oppressive. The heir to Berkeley Castle, for instance, lives happily down the road in a house that would have fitted perfectly into last week's episode on middle-class taste. And when there isn't enough money to maintain the facade, genteel distress can take on a biting edge. The occupants of another grand pile lived, in some of its quarters at least, as if they were in a bleak kind of social housing. There was a lot of lino and Formica: a great deal of function and not much in the way of softening form. The master of the house, we learned, had to go into the local leisure centre for a hot bath because it cost too much to fire up the boiler first thing in the morning.
The tapestries that resulted from these excursions were perhaps the most pointed of all those he's made. One showed a toff at bay, dragged down by the dogs of Tax and Changing Taste as his parvenu usurper couple looked on, echoing Gainsborough's Mr and Mrs Andrews in their pose. The other depicted his Hogarthian figure dead on the pavement after totalling his Ferrari, a scene that made you long for a recommission in which Perry might address himself to the taste of footballers and oligarchs, the new aristocrats of money. If you didn't see the series it's what catch-up television was made for.
Now that we've reached the third episode of True Love, I think it's safe to declare that Dominic Savage's experiment in improvised drama has conspicuously failed. Last night's drama, in which Billie Piper's teacher fell in love with one of the schoolgirls she taught, was borderline incredible. The words have been drably insufficient, the imagery and soundtrack wildly excessive. Next time he should just write it.Reuse content