Liz Hoggard: This is what the BBC does best

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The Independent Online

"I know when my mum's crying because she gets a different coloured face," says Natasha, the angelic nine-year-old in Brian Woods's new documentary, Jobless, which goes out on BBC1 next week.

It's not been the finest week for the BBC, as it announces £6m of cuts. No one can be happy that staff jobs are threatened. But I can't help being heartened by the promise that it will concentrate on more quality drama, documentary, culture and arts.

Woods's film – a small gem about the pain that ordinary families undergo, when one or both parents lose their jobs – is eaxctly what the BBC does best. It's beautifully filmed and never worthy. Like Jason Reitman's Up In The Air, it mirrors exactly how you would feel if the rug was pulled at work tomorrow. But it would be all too easy to miss it in the Radio Times – it goes out in the graveyard slot of 10.35pm.

The documentary is a companion piece to Woods's Evicted (2007) and Bust (2009) – both of which looked at the impact of major life changes through the eyes of the children. It gets you to watch the unwatchable – who needs a downer about unemployment on Tuesday night? – but also leaves you moved and inspired. Decent relationships can pull through adversity. Women sometimes come out of the recession as empowered breadwinnners. It's amazing how perceptive – and grown-up – children can be.

A multi Bafta-winning factual filmmaker, Woods takes us behind the jobless satistics and gets under the skins of his real-life subjects. His work is detailed, painterly. He understands kids have a wonderful naive wisdom. As eight-year-old Hannah says: "We don't tell people about mummy and maddy losing their jobs, because they'll just tell their mummies and then mum will get embarrassed." It's the direct antithesis of car-crash docu-reality TV, such as Wife Swap and Tower Block of Commons, where everything is speeded up in the blender.

Because Woods cares about ordinary working-class people, who have advanced up the career ladder (often without formal college qualifications) to earn a pretty decent living, only to have it taken away overnight. There's not a celebrity in sight. But this is proper edge-of-your-seats drama.

As he explains: "The bottom line is there are three key secrets to making any film – drama or documentary – watchable: casting, casting and casting... The film is only as good as the people who generously agreed to be in it; that it succeeds in giving us an insight into this painful world is all credit to them."

Back in the day with observational documentaries such as 40 Minutes and Modern Times, we were allowed a proper narrative arc that paid ordinary people respect on TV. We've lost it. No wonder when programme-makers have to compete with marathon sport and dancing on ice.

But maybe that can change. Shows with "public-service value" don't have to be dull or unwatchable. Yesterday on the Today programme, National Theatre artistic director, Nick Hytner argued persuasively that in a climate of X-Factor and Come Dine With Me, the BBC have every excuse to aim higher: "I believe, unfashionably, if it's good enough they'll watch."

Tune into Jobless on Tuesday night and prove him right.

The amazing grace of Nana Mouskouri

God bless Nana Mouskouri. The Greek songbird has offered her country her pension (she served as a member of the European Parliament for five years in the 1990s) to help end their debt crisis. But then we have always underestimated Nana.

With her horn-rimmed glasses and famous centre parting, we dismissed her as the ambassador of untainted, asexual love. But all that changed when she published her autobiography two years ago.

I met her when she was over in London – and was staggered. It's no wonder Nan is politicised. When she was five, the Nazis invaded her home town, Athens. Tens of thousands of Greeks died of starvation, their bodies bloated on the sidewalks – witnessed by the young Nana. Her father was a hopeless gambler. Her mother was depressed. Arguments between them tipped into violence.

She grew up shy, plump (as a teenager she weighed 16 stone). But she refused to dye her hair blonde, or lose the glasses. And men liked that attitude. Alain Delon, Rod Stewart were fans. Dylan wrote her a song. And Nana can be extremely brave. She performed on stage with black artists (despite death threats). In 1971, she played Belfast at the height of the IRA.

As for that fairytale marriage – her husband became so convinced she was having affairs, he attempted suicide. By 1972 they were divorced, a great taboo. For the next 30 years she appeared to lead the blameless life of a single woman. But actually she was having a passionate affair with her French artistic director, André Chapelle, seven years younger. Although it only started after her marriage ended, her children never met André until they were grown up.

At 75, she's finally found peace – by throwing open the closet and confronting all the skeletons. Never underestimate a woman in a kaftan.

Top tip next time you decide to dine out

Ninety per cent of us say we always leave a tip after we've finished a meal at a café or restaurant. But only 20 per cent of us are brave enough to check the money is actually going to waiting staff, according to the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, which launches a campaign this week to get customers to ask "who gets the tip?" next time they go out.

Since October, employers can no longer include tips as part of the national minimum wage. But look out for the weasel words: "Service charge added." Even if you put an extra tenner on your credit card, it is often more likely to go towards fixing the furniture, or the manager's next holiday, than being shared out as part of the waiters' "tronc".

Personally I know the problems. You're giggly and half-cut by the time the bill arrives. And don't get me started on blind dates where you don't want to look mad (or jeopardise the waiter in front of the manager). But remember we can ask for the service charge to be cancelled, and leave cash on top as as the tip. It's our money and we have a right to know what happens to it. Cut back on the red wine and do the right thing.

* How on earth does Lady Gaga eat dinner? Full credit to milliner Philip Treacey for giving us a surrealist eyeful this week. But anyone else ever managed soup with a lobster on their head?

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