IT WOULD be hard to review the past week’s television without referring to the Olympics. They have dominated the news, certainly at the BBC, which has the broadcasting rights for them.
A GB bronze medal for synchronised hop-scotch would probably make the ten-o’clock news, and the winner — sorry, second runner-up — qualify for the interview. “How do you feel now?” asks the BBC person, sticking a microphone in the breathless victim’s face. “Amazing!” We learn that they never expected it, can’t believe it’s happened, and, omg, it’s amazing!
Bicycles frequently made the Olympic news and were the subject of Inside the Factory (BBC2, Tuesday of last week). This series takes us inside the gates of some of Britain’s leading factories. The Masterchef presenter Gregg Wallace was salivating over a folding bicycle. His fellow presenter, Cherry Healey, matched him for his wide-eyed enthusiasm.
Their subject was the Brompton, favourite bike of the commuting set: a light-weight bicycle that can be sneaked into a rush-hour train and yet opened up to get you from final station to office. Wallace followed the process of its manufacture. No robots, no production line: just skilled human beings with things like spanners in their hands. This was digital production, in the literal sense of the word.
Channel 5 has a deserved reputation for quality documentaries on social and domestic issues. On Benefits: Costa del Dole (Thursday of last week) was a good example: edited testimonies and a voiceover commentary. “Costa” refers to the setting: three British seasides, where sand, sea, and holidaymakers disguise serious housing problems and unemployment.
The subjects were two men in their fifties, Gordon in Fife and Gary in Jaywick, Essex, and 46-year-old Caroline, a single mother with three children, living in Bridlington. Gordon had left his job to care for his mother, Gary had been made redundant; we don’t know how Caroline was homeless, and had been unemployed for ten years. The local council, however, was on her case, and a friend had temporarily taken her and the family into her flat.
Gary was desperate to get a job. His splendid Mercedes stood outside the bungalow that he shared with his partner, Jeff. He missed the comfort of a regular income (and decent wine). Eventually, his persistence won and he got a job as a community-care worker.
Gordon was permanently optimistic. He assured us that there was light at the end of the tunnel, but it never seemed to be gainful employment. He seemed happy enough looking out over the North Sea with his bag of chips.
Caroline and her family were finally offered a suitable house by the council. The last we saw of her, she was on the phone applying for a grant to cover the cost of new carpets.
The programme was full of humanity, emotion, and even excitement, as Caroline had to dash to the council offices to collect the house keys before they closed, or have her furniture spend a night on the pavement. What was inevitably lacking were solutions. As people sometimes feel at the end of a sermon, “Yes, but what are we supposed to do about it?”