The sheer, insane genius of 'Footballers' Wives'

Does saintly Dr Williams get his mate the Archbishop of York round to howl with laughter?
Click to follow
The Independent Online

"The other day, I was watching the popular 'telly' series, Footballers' Wives. I don't know whether any of you in the congregation today are 'fans' of the programme. If you are - and my wife Beryl and I certainly are! - you will know who I mean by Chardonnay. You remember that, after she had used a champagne bottle to murder Jason, the father of Chardonnay's mother-in-law's hermaphrodite baby which she and Kyle had passed off as their own, Chardonnay very sadly developed anorexia and died of it. You may also remember that at the funeral, Noah remarked that 'You know, if you knew you were going to die - you'd have a sandwich or summink, wouldn't you?'

"The other day, I was watching the popular 'telly' series, Footballers' Wives. I don't know whether any of you in the congregation today are 'fans' of the programme. If you are - and my wife Beryl and I certainly are! - you will know who I mean by Chardonnay. You remember that, after she had used a champagne bottle to murder Jason, the father of Chardonnay's mother-in-law's hermaphrodite baby which she and Kyle had passed off as their own, Chardonnay very sadly developed anorexia and died of it. You may also remember that at the funeral, Noah remarked that 'You know, if you knew you were going to die - you'd have a sandwich or summink, wouldn't you?'

"Life's like that, isn't it? And as I observed to Beryl in the ad break, there's a lesson to be learnt from this. When we read the Gospels, we understand that God, too, would like us to have a sandwich before we die. We don't know when the hour of our death will fall. But let's all try, with God's mercy, to have that sandwich or summink, before we die. And now hymn number 423, 'If you're trendy and you know it, come to church'."

I find it relatively easy to reconstruct the Archbishop of Canterbury's reported Easter message on the subject of Footballers' Wives. What is extremely hard to imagine is the saintly, donnish figure of Dr Rowan Williams and his wife sitting down of a Wednesday evening at 9pm and eagerly watching the programme. Does he, like me, phone up his friends in the breaks to comment on the previous 20 minutes - "I can't believe Amber's gone to a witch doctor to hex Tanya"?

Does he get his mate the Archbishop of York round to howl with laughter at the mock-Warhol portrait of Hazel, Conrad's giant dildo, Frank's zebra-print wallpaper and Noah going into a gay sex club helpfully labelled "Hot Gay XXX Sex Club For Sex"? Or do his staff merely produce a useful summary of the week's doings, ready to be transformed into a moral lesson?

As you will have gathered, I absolutely love Footballers' Wives. It is sheer genius. The beauty of it is that the whole insane edifice is set before you with a completely straight face. There is almost nothing in the plot which doesn't fall solidly into the category of "beyond parody"; there is nothing which isn't simultaneously completely incredible and utterly predictable.

Of course, when the boy star and his embarrassing Scouse wife got married, they would leave the wedding in a hot-air balloon: of course, it would come down in a safari park with lions preparing to rip out the poor girl's nuptual breast implants. Naturally, a wife with a problem husband would decide to fake her own kidnapping and bilk him of a million quid before resorting to a witch-doctor and doctoring her love-rival's sun-tan lotion with acid. It is all wonderfully inevitable and quite impossible. Nobody can act at all - the nearest thing to skill displayed is Hazel's Wilson-Keppel-and-Betty head-waggle - but they throw themselves into the sincere attempt like lemmings.

We love it for the delirious flood of narrative, with hermaphrodite babies following the Triads following murder-by-Viagra following a pet poodle turning up in a curry; we love it for the marvellous predictability. Tanya is forever holding a cigarette at a 45 degree angle; Hazel will say "Get your sorry arse over 'ere"; and Kyle will throw Jackie out for the 12th time.

But do we love it as a moral lesson, as proposed by the Archbishop of Canterbury? Well, in a way. It is a brilliant satire, not exactly on the behaviour of the very rich, but on the sort of television drama which glamorises the imagined lives of the rich. What is made ridiculous is not the indulgences of the wealthy, since no one ever lived like this, but the aspiration towards wealth.

But perhaps, in putting it forward as a moral lesson, Dr Williams was thinking of his own church. After all, one of the current story-lines is about a footballer unable to be open about being gay; the advice is "Do what you like, but keep it private." Isn't that what the Church of England tells its gay priests? The Church and professional sport are, by now, the only major organisations sticking to that line.

And certainly, one hears stories about the church which outdo any plot-line thought up by the makers of Footballers' Wives. I know of a vicar formerly in charge of an ancient, isolated parish, who habitually invited rent-boys over for dinner; after pudding, his wife would tactfully withdraw, the cocaine would come out and some amusing plate-smashing would begin. Alas, the plates concerned were from a fantastically valuable 18th-century service; and by the time anyone found out and removed him, three-quarters of the service was gone.

The church is quite good at keeping that sort of thing quiet, but when you consider the sort of things which must occasionally come to the notice of the Archbishop of Canterbury, it starts to seem a little less unlikely that he can watch Footballers' Wives with equanimity. The sort of things which a series called Vicars could quite plausibly contain would make Tanya, Amber and the rest of the motley crew blush with embarrassment.

Comments