"That's the Acropolips," said Stacey Dooley as she pointed at Athens most famous landmark. "Am I saying that right? Acropolips?" Not quite, Stacey, and if Coming Here Soon: Greece, Bust and Broken had been a more conventional kind of current-affairs programme, the producer would have had a quiet word with you and the fluff would have ended up on a Christmas bloopers tape.
Coming Here Soon was on BBC3, though, so this wasn't an embarrassment but a kind of credential. It testified to Dooley's most important quality as a reporter here: her representative cluelessness. She was in Greece for the first of a three-part series on the countries in most trouble with sovereign debt and it didn't sound very much as if she was aiming at the Newsnight crowd: "I'm so made up I'm here," she said as she emerged from the airport. "It's all really kicking off here... so yeah, I'm going to dig deep and find what's what."
There are things to be said for this kind of applied ignorance. Dooley got her break on television appearing in one of BBC3's most admirable exercises in popular current affairs, Blood Sweat and T-Shirts, and she's since fronted documentaries on child labour, sex-trafficking and the downside of developing-world tourism. The point of her is not that she knows more about these subjects than her viewers (as might be the case with a mainstream reporter) but that she knows as little as they do. She's on screen as a proxy, to immerse herself in a situation and testify to how startled it leaves her. "I can't believe it!" is virtually a catchphrase.
And for the kind of viewer who wouldn't dream of watching a Paul Mason report on the consequences of the Greek debt crisis it was probably reasonably informative. Dooley talked to young people in Syntagma Square, visited free clinics trying to fill the gap left by health service cut-backs and talked to one of Greece's youngest billionaires about the problems of tax evasion. She had some reporter's luck too. While she was talking to the people running a soup kitchen in an Athens square an elderly man came up and remonstrated angrily with the volunteers, indignant at a national humiliation. Later, pushing through a crowd on the street, she discovered that it had gathered because a woman was threatening to jump from an apartment window because she'd just lost her civil service job. Following that up, Dooley revealed just how draconian the budget cuts are, slashing entire branches of social welfare.
But even a complete beginner might have occasionally felt the need for a little more depth now and then. Taking a trip on a Greek train, Dooley complained about the billions spent on sustaining a loss-making enterprise but didn't seem to have grasped that not spending the billions would consign even more people to the breadlines she was so appalled by. And when the charming billionaire assured her that the government had put its house in order and there were now severe penalties for tax evasion, she didn't question his breezy confidence at all. What's the going rate for getting a tax inspector to look the other way in Greece right now? One somehow imagines that a billionaire might be able to cover it. Least convincing of all was Dooley's commentary on the street riot that broke out after a demonstration outside Parliament: "I do not understand how this kind of carry-on is going on," she said, in weepy tones. She should try watching Newsnight perhaps.
Domestic debt crisis is a staple in Country House Rescue, which last night featured a beautiful but crumbling pile in County Cork, a victim of the faltering tourist economy and stiff local competition in the crumbling pile business. Like all episodes of this series it delivered the ignoble but reliable pleasure of finding out that what looks like a dream may actually be a daily nightmare.
Twitter: @tds153Reuse content