Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Dead-End Job: Nick Robinson Has a Nice Way with Ordinary Folk, Writes Rachel Cooke

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Dead-End Job: Nick Robinson Has a Nice Way with Ordinary Folk, Writes Rachel Cooke

Article excerpt

The Street That Cut Everything


What's that sound? Ah, yes. Plinkety-plonk. Plinkety-plonk. Of course. It's the oh-so-ironic soundtrack - cue bouncy strings and jaunty glockenspiels - of yet another reality-show-cum-documentary in which ordinary people make themselves thoroughly disagreeable for the benefit of television cameras. Admittedly, this one, presented by the BBC's political editor, Nick Robinson, was wearing a serious disguise, asking the question: how would city dwellers survive if their council services disappeared for six weeks? But, in essence, we have been here before. Like Wife Swap, Come Dine With Me and all the rest, this was Lord of the Flies in suburbia, with email in place of the conch, and nasty, moaning grown-ups in place of the bullying schoolboys. William Golding has a lot to answer for, if you ask me.


The city in question was Preston, a place whose chief claim to fame - as far as I'm concerned - is its excellent brutalist bus station by Keith Ingham and Charles Wilson. Sadly, though, we never got to see the bus station. The action in The Street That Cut Everything (Monday 16 May, 9pm and 10.35pm) was restricted to a single boring cul-de-sac and the occasional public loo (I will return, clothes peg on nose, to these loos shortly).

Robinson never explained why Preston had been chosen to take part in this experiment but, so far as the council went, its involvement was a masterstroke. A week in and all was forgiven. It's amazing how a few bags of rotting rubbish and some nice piles of steaming dog turds can push to the back of the mind such things as silly logos, excessive street furniture and glossy free newspapers. As for Robinson, I'm not sure what this film did for his brand. There were times when it felt to me perilously close to a piece of anti-cuts propaganda. On the plus side, however, he has a lovely way with regular people, which is surely rather surprising in one who spends so much time in Westminster - land of robots, weirdos and splitters of semantic hairs.

The film as a whole, though, failed because what happened once the council had turned off the street lights and removed the dustbins was so entirely predictable. …

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