Archive | Documentary RSS feed for this section

BBC1…Pound Shops Wars

6 Feb

The most common question asked at a PoundWorld?…”How much is this?”

With this we are introduced to new documentary series looking into the world of Pound shops. Anyone who has paid even the most casual attention to the range of shops on the high street could not have helped notice the emergence of these brand of uber discounters.

Poundland, PoundWorld, PoundStretcher and even in this ultra-discounted sector there is is a sub sector for those who find £1 a bit of a stretch, the 99p stores

Today we introduced to the £1 bra (accompanied by a raft of the inevitable and incredibly dreary puns!). PoundWorld launched  these as a new product range and two questions immediately spring to mind, will anyone buy it or how did they make it so cheap.

To answer the first question we have to take a segway to the 1989 film Field of Dream, where the hero is inspired build a baseball park by his belief that build it and they shall come and in the film against all odds he built it and they came.

The world of pound shops is somewhat similar, price it cheap enough and they will come to buy it. In the case of the £1 bra, with the help of some publicity from the titillating tabloid press involving a trampoline, PoundWorld sold an incredible 100,000 in ten days and over the rest of the summer sold over 700,000.

So how do they do it? The answer is China. Cheap materials, cheap manufacturing costs and all that is left is to price them low and stack them high is the formula the propels this phenomenon.

It is a somewhat sad indictment of what our society has become, so resolutely consumerist, consuming because it is there and cheap not because we have to. If the consumerism is our new religion these shops may not be the cathedrals of the religion they are more like the missionaries pushing and spreading the consumerism deep into the furthest reaches of society.

 

BBC3…Tough Young Teachers

4 Feb

The teachers were definitely young but tough? I am not so sure.

Every documentary I have ever watched about teaching simply reaffirms my belief that one of the wisest things I could have done was to avoid teaching as a profession.

Teaching is often said to be a noble profession and the satisfaction of bringing the best out of you proteges can be richly rewarding of that there is no doubt.

However plant yourself in a a modern comprehensive in the middle of  one of Britain’s cities and often teaching can rapidly change into something not too dissimilar to being a warden at a young offenders correction centre.

In Tough Young Teachers on BBC three we saw some extremely fresh faced teachers taking up the challenge of teaching classes of secondary school pupils would in reality were only a few years younger than they were.  Young kids, and particularly young boys its goes with out saying have short attentions spans and are prone to long bouts of hyperactivity, and for the young inexperienced teachers this proved particular daunting for many of the teachers.

There was the case of Walid, who even when he was at his calmest seemed like he had overdosed on a family sized bottle of fizzy pop. He was boisterous, noisy and disruptive and was clearly demanding, and it seem taking, a lion share of the teachers attention to the detriment of his colleagues.

He however does come across a bright pupil, sometime in less than honourable ways, such as when he brought his mum who isn’t fluent in English along for the Parent Teacher meeting and obviously had no choice but to step in as an interpreter. Needless to say his Mum left the school none the wiser.

We did witness an impressive transformation when he was taken by his young teacher (himself only 22 years) on a school trip to Jamie’s Farm, away from school in the rural open spaces he seemed to thrive and engage in what he was doing. We have seen such transformations in many documentaries about young people, but the truth is such opportunities will always be an exception.

Most teachers will need to achieve that engagement in much less idyllic locations, namely the classroom and to do that is what makes teaching really tough.

Channel 4…Benefits Street. Are kids fair game?

20 Jan

Is Benefits Street using Child Poverty for entertainment?

Benefits Street has been one of the most talked about programmes on TV this year.  Largely in part because of its relentless focus on the some of the least attractive recipients of the welfare system. The sort of people guaranteed to drive middle England apoplectic with rage and have the readers of the Daily Mail spluttering into their cups of tea in fury.

I presume most of the participants in the programme have consented to appearing in the programme, the resultant programme may not be what they expected but it is ultimately with their consent (although I am a bit unsure how they got consent from resident drunk Fungi , who in addition to his love for the amber liquid was revealed to be illiterate).

That though only applies to the adults, todays episode focused on the children of the residents of James Turner street. In doing so it took on a more worrying dimension. The kids are in homes that are portrayed as ranging from mildly dysfunction to a point where you are wondering where the hell are social services.

Ultimately the question is even with the assumed consent of their parents it is right to put these kid’s situation at home on the Network TV for the public’s entertainment? It is no surprise the programme has been dubbed by the rest of the media as benefit porn.

 

Channel 4…Benefits Street. Was the law being broken?

8 Jan

Benefits Street… Benefit Voyeurism gone wrong.

When I watch programmes like Benefit Street I feel it is has a clear demographic in mind. The demographic is one of people who are convinced that being on benefits is simply a pathway to criminality, dysfunctional behaviour and a disdain for all civilised social norms.

The Channel 4 documentary which visited James Turner Street, Winlsow Green, Birmingham would have done little if anything to dispel that impression, and plenty to re-enforce it.

So rampant were the suggestions of criminal activity being undertaken, that you would be forgiven for thinking this was just one long re-enactment on CrimeWatch. From  scenes which depicted what seemed like the illegal cultivation of marijuana, through to scenes purporting to show the proceeds of shop lifting, the breaching of  Anti Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) and obtaining money under false pretences, the show wallowed in the criminal aura given off by people it followed in the documentary.

Setting aside the wider question of why the programme failed to show a balanced view of what living on benefits might be like, a more immediate question that came to mind was if the actions they were filming were actual criminal activities, or evidence that criminal activities had taken place, aren’t the producers or film crew legally bound to inform the police as to what they had witnessed and filmed, and did they?

 

 

 

 

ITV…Utopia. Mandela may be dead but Apartheid is still alive…In Australia.

24 Dec

Nieghbours, Bondi beach, Sydney Opera House, the lucky country,an easy going straight talking people. This is the image most of the world has of Australia.  Behind this sunny facade lies a very dark secret, a secret that most Australians profess to be unaware of.

The secret is the shocking treatment of Australia’s indigenous population. John Pilger, an Australian born-journalist, who has lived for many years in the United Kingdom returned to the country of his birth to film this documentary on the treatment of Australia’s first peoples.

It was a hard hitting documentary, and an unusual but welcome scheduling on ITV1 where documentaries are increasingly a very rare sight.

The title of the programme intentionally serves to highlight the glaring inequalities that exists in Australia. Taking it’s name from the town of Utopia, a poor desolate township inhabited by indigenous Australians, bereft of almost any of the facilities we take for granted in the rest of the developed world. The name is like a never ending cruel joke reinforced by the fact that the government appointed white district commissioner despite living in a smallish bungalow enjoys a staggering 18 air-conditioners while the residents of Utopia have no electricity.

In the documentary Pilger interviewed a range of Government officials on the situation with the indigenous peoples, officials who had a direct responsibility for enacting change that had been promised for decades but not delivered, the responses he got were a master class in willful negligence.

In one particular interview a prison official was questioned about what changes she planned to enact after an indigenous Australian was arrested and left in the police van in the middle of the scorching desert sunshine. The coroners verdict was that he slowly roasted to death. No one was arrested and the prison official proudly told Pilger how she has to sent her officers “cultural awareness training” in the aftermath.

We were taken to the Island of Rottnest, today home to a multi million tourist resort and spa. This has been built on the site of one of Australia’s largest indigenous Australian penal colonies, a colony that saw hundreds of prisoners perish due to the brutal conditions. Building a hotel, effectively cementing over the island’s brutal past, is equivalent in terms of sensitivity to say turning Auschwitz or Belsen into a tourist resort.

We are told how the how the the life expectancy of the average indigenous Australian is far less that his white compatriot with a third not living beyond 45.

We are told how in the Northern Territories prisons are being built to solely incarcerate indigenous Australians.

We are told how the Northern Territory imprisons indigenous Australian at a rate  six times greater than that of black people during the  days of apartheid in South Africa.

We see evidence of how the Australian government and press conspired to paint a picture of widespread child abuse having occurred in some communities, suspended civil rights and proceed to arrest many adults and remove their children, a scandal which was ultimately exposed as a cover for a land grab.

We find out that the UN high commissioner on Human Rights has repeatedly censored Australia on the “entrenched racism” in its treatment of indigenous Australians

In all a picture was painted of at best a very dysfunctional relationship between a government and a people it should serve in the way it serves others, and at worst a brutal systematic purposeful campaign that may lead to the extinction of an ancient people.

If there was a problem with the documentary, it was too long, and there was a lot of sermonizing, the facts of the situation on their own were screaming out the message that needed to be told.

If you missed it you can catchup on ITV Player.

 

 

 

BBC3…Chaos and Craic at the Nev’s Call Centre.

18 Dec

The workplace that looks so improbable that you know it can’t be fiction is back.  Nev Wilshire and his boys and girls of the Swansea call centre were back tonight for a one-off Christmas edition.

The Swansea based call centre is chaotic enough during normal times of the year, and with Christmas it doesn’t seem to have brought a break in the constant undercurrent of barely contained disorder that pervades the place. Sadly though once you have got over the initial shock of “are these people really running  a business in this place”, it becomes pretty mundane and to be honest a bit boring.

You still had most of the ingrdients that made it a cult hit when it first hit our screens all those months ago, but the WTF factor has well and truely disappeared.

There were glimpses of what it was like back then,  when we saw grizzly call centre veteran Griff amble in off the street into CEO Nev Wilshire’s old office asking for his old job back, and a loan of eight hundred quid as well. Did Nev bat an eyelid? Nope he gave him both his job back and the money.

Griff had left the call centre to pursue a job as a stand up comedian, but that didn’t work out for him. They do say a lot of comedians are manic depressives in real life, if that were true then I expect Griff to have sell out shows at the London Apollo soon, because a more miserable man I have rarely seen.

He spent most of the episode railing against Christmas and being really surly around the office. In one scene he was called into a manager’s office and reprimanded about his behaviour. His defence was that he was the Christian Ronaldo of the call centre, and his creativity was being constrained. “Would you ask Ronaldo to cut down on the step-overs?” ne asked, no came the reply but we would ask him to cut back on the diving.

There were other elements that had made the Call Centre must-watch TV like the office romance between  Johnny and Jodie, who had hoped to keep it secret but were rumbled when the the gossip column of the staff newspaper dropping hints about it and soon it was all over the call centre. Like all things Call Centre related it was transient and before the end of the programme they had both gone their separate ways. Again the whole thing lacked the oomph of the earlier episodes.

Lastly we got one of the old reliables perma-tanned Hayley the tea-lady who  usually seems to spend half her time at work organising social events, so no suprise that the planned Christmas party falls within her remit. That was pretty much all we got from her, none of the hyperactivity, none of pranks. She was, dare I say it, just normal.

Fans of the show might have enjoyed it, but only because it was familiar. If you were watching for the first time, you would be forgiven for wondering what the hype was about.

 

BBC4…Storyville..Hotel Folly (Folie à Deux)

12 Nov

Helen is a middle aged single mum with seven children, a successful business, a comfortable lifestyle and crucially a new relationship.

The new man in her life was John, also middle aged, and a  successful architect and property owner. In her own words they were kindred spirits, and the  meeting of these like minds was to set in motion a series of events with very significant consequences for John, Helen and their families.

It was the Summer of 2007,  the former Chancellor Gordon Brown had promised the country we apparently had seen the end of economic boom and bust, we were also made to believe that centuries of economic orthodoxy had been blown away. Jobs were aplenty and house prices were demonstrating that gravity was for wimps.

It was into this supposed era of eternal sunshine that Helen and John sold practically all they had to buy a run down 72-room historic mansion in York. The plan was to turn the mansion into a luxury hotel. It was at this point that BBC’s Storyville started a documentary detailing the couple’s plans. In the early optimistic days we see discussions with interior decor consultants, builders and project managers, where fees of £50,000 for room decorations are bandied about and borrowings of upto £2 million discussed.

Then came the Credit Crunch, the sense of eternal optimism was blown away. For John and Helen very harsh realities swept in in its place. Suddenly all bank funding dried up and they found themselves stuck with a massive carbuncle that they could not afford to  renovate, and with the housing market pretty much dead, neither could they sell it.

Added to that they also found themselves enmeshed in that most middle-England of problems, neighbourhood boundary disputes. Unfortunately for them the neighbour in this case was the very powerful and very wealthy National Trust.

The film depicted Helen’s acrimonious and often surreal battles with tenants’ of the National Trust’s building intertwined with her and John’s increasingly desperate attempts to keep their hotel project going, and left you with the feeling of crawling gradually towards a precipice.

This slowly evolving documentary was filmed over five years and it documented the travails of woman with a unstoppable will to succeed what ever the cost. We learn at the end that she managed to save the hotel and settle her dispute with the National trust, but she paid a heavy price as John passed away during the filming of the programme. In a sad twist of fate his life insurance helped secure the future of what is now the luxurious hotel Grays Court, York

The Call Centre…Looks like it is real, after all

11 Jun

Last week I wondered if BBC3′s The Call Centre was real or some sort of parody. Well it turns out it is real. The main star of the show is Neville ‘Nev’ Wilshire, is the CEO of the Save Britain Money contact centre and if you have ever received phone calls out of the blue offering to help reclaim your PPI, save money on your electricity bills or home insulation there is a good chance one of Nev’s lads or lasses would be on the other end of the call.

There were more romantic woes and eye brow raising antics. Having said all that as Nev pointed out most of his staff are under 25 and ordinarily the job, cold calling tens of people every day, would be soul destroying,  so the non conventional motivation techniques may not be so strange.

Still the extent to which he goes to set up dates for his staff is still a bit worrying. This week call centre agent George was the man who Nev was out to help but dragging all the girls in the call centre one by one into his office  to ask them if they would date George is not the stuff of modern human resources.

He finally gets a “victim” , Alex, and proceeds to drag George through the call centre to meet his date and promptly embarrasses both of them in front of everyone else.

You almost get the feeling that Nev is trying to recapture his own youth through the lives of the people he employs with some of his more extreme antics, or maybe he is just misunderstood and is an all round good egg.

As for George the lesson learnt was love has to come naturally as Alex decided he was not right for her.

Channel 4 …Terror in the Skies

9 Jun

Boeing 747-400 takes off from London Heathrow ...

It is safe to say if you are of a nervous disposition, have even the mildest fear of flying or just general more comfortable with your two feet on the ground this new series on Channel 4 is DEFINITELY NOT for you.

Over the years there have been many documentaries on aircraft safety and crashes, but what was really chilling about this series is with the advent of mobile phones and other hand held devices we are now getting footage from inside the plane.  As we found out with the movie the Blair Witch Project there is nothing that freaks you out more than shaky and very grainy footage of impeding doom.

The point the documentary stressed was that flying is very safe and a lot of effort has gone into making it as safe as possible, but there remain rare events or combination of rare events that are almost impossible to predict and when these  occur they can put the plane in a very precarious situation, what some might call the “Unknown Unknowns” – what you don’t know that you don’t know!

Brendan Walker, an aeronautical engineer, took us through us a number of cases including the sticky ice that almost brought a British Airways flight from Beijing to Heathrow almost crashing in to Hounslow a suburb just outside the airport.

A scary but very informative series, if you have the stomach for it one I would recommend.

The Call Centre…It can’t be real, can it ?

4 Jun

If you are watching this “fly on the wall” documentary on BBC what’s the first phrase that comes to mind. For me it was employment tribunal!

I am not sure what the collective noun for employment lawyers is but what ever it is I can see a whole mass of them programming their Sat Navs for Swansea.

I worked briefly in  call centre and it was as far removed from this as Torquay is from Tokyo.  The interview techniques of parading would be call centre agents down the hall way and asking the staff to shout yes or no, organising speed dates to get his staff “laid”,  throwing stuff at staff who doze off in particular boring meetings, were all sailing close to the line and would certainly have had the corporate lawyer nervously fiddling with their briefs.

I suspect a lot has been exaggerated for effect. If the boys and girls of TOWIE went to work for David Brent the result would have been exactly this.

I think I will be keeping an eye on this it has the potential to be quite amusing, and has a similar style to The Armstrongs shown back in 2006.