Mary's Silver Service, TV review: Portas shows retirement has a silver lining


Will Dean@willydean
Thursday 05 June 2014 09:06
Just the job: ‘Mary’s Silver Service’
Just the job: ‘Mary’s Silver Service’

Call me old-fashioned. Heck, call me what you like, but when I'm 91, or even 71, I imagine the last thing I'd feel like doing would be a bit of late-life professional catering. My dream retirement may involve a greenhouse, a pipe and a wobbling stack of Grishams but others' might involve, well, going back to work. Presumably until you're taken out of the office in something mahogany. Your call. As my granny (94), often reminds me, there's nowt so queer as folk.

Phyllis, the undisputed star of Mary's Silver Service (Channel 4), is three years younger than my gran, but keen to get back into the swing of work, regardless. She's just one of a raft of over-65s recruited by Mary Portas, Queen of the High Street (ex-Queen of Shops, Frocks and Charity Shops). Portas's thesis, is that Britain – a country globally famous for its glut of job vacancies – has 10 million retirees "with a lifetime of skills we're missing out on". Which, in Portasland, can only mean one thing – it's time to set up a "pop-up employment agency" for over 65s.

Before any under-30s complain that it might possibly be the 850,000 out-of-work 16-24-year-olds or the 2.2 million unemployed 18-65s who might need a nudge into work, well... that's not quite as much fun, is it? Anyway, Channel 4 has catered for that group with sensitive programming like The Fairy Jobmother, Benefits Street and Skint (all right, all right, and Jamie's Kitchen and others). But the point is that lots of people retire at 65 and many of them find they don't like not working very much. Some, like Grace, one of Mary's recruits are depressed, others are lonely and others like Shirley Valentine, 78, just want an excuse to "get washed and dressed every day". Well, you can't just move to Greece, can you?

So, with hardly any ado, Mary waltzed in to the pop-up employment agency that seemed to have popped up of its own volition, off-camera and got to work. As the Courteeners' "Not Nineteen Forever" played, Shirley and pals got to work finding potential recruits and clients.

Their first potential gig was a Great Gatsby-themed office party in London. As such, a wave of retirees with experience in food and drink were found. They included the aforementioned Phyllis Morgan, who'd been cooking all her life, had just found out she had skin cancer and wanted to get stuck in. She was wonderful. Though at one point did confuse a fridge for an oven, but that didn't detract from the quality of her pineapple upside-down cake. Also recruited was Salim Khoury, who was previously head barman as the American Bar at the Savoy, one of the finest cocktail bars on the planet. So, yeah, he probably knows how to mix a drink or two.

Salim was also part of the team who pitched their newly formed catering ensemble to the events company. Thankfully, for the sake of a functioning narrative, they were willing to take a risk on a completely untested new catering company. A choice no doubt not-at-all influenced by the presence of TV cameras.

Nevertheless, it was a success. People over 65 aren't completely useless. Fancy that.

I'm not quite sure what the conclusion Mary wants us to draw is. There's no default retirement age any more, and employees who choose not to retire have legal protections. And Phyllis, aside, most of Mary's recruits were relatively recently retired and skilled in their fields. So, you suppose Mary's case, then, is to convince people who think they're "on the scrapheap" that they're not. Which is noble enough.

But, if I find myself serving drinks to office workers aged 78, then I'll certainly know who to blame.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments