Magazine article The Spectator

Our Island Story

Magazine article The Spectator

Our Island Story

Article excerpt

Victoria's Empire (BBC1, Sunday) is the BBC's new Palinesque travelogue series in which comedienne Victoria Wood goes from exotic location to exotic location chatting to the locals, making wry observations and being mildly funny. But there's at least one thing that's very, very annoying about it.

The annoying thing -- and I don't know whether this is a problem Wood herself has or whether it's something which has been imposed on her by the BBC's political-correctness-enforcement department; a bit of both, I suspect -- is the way it keeps apologising for being white, middle class, middle-brow, post-Imperial and British.

For example, in a scene where Wood goes to visit the ghats of Calcutta, her expert guide happens to be English. Her voiceover anticipates the viewer's reaction thus: 'You might think that the last thing I needed here as a chunky white woman amidst this shiny, wet brownness was a chunky white man standing alongside me telling me what was what.' Her apologia continues: 'But although Toby looks as out of place as I do he has lived here for more than 20 years and he married an Indian girl so he does know what he's talking about.' Let us count the ways in which this voiceover passage is so objectionable.

1. Its length. Commentary ought to be pithy, incisive, illuminating -- or at the very least to contain a decent joke. This speech has none of those virtues. Its sole purpose is squirming self-justification and the fact that it has not been cut is sadly indicative of where the BBC's priorities lie -- right-on values above artistic integrity.

2. Its cultural assumptions. How many of us were actually sitting there going: 'Oh Christ. NO! I don't believe it. She's actually got a WHITE man to show her round the ghats of Calcutta. How culturally insensitive can you get?' Outside liberal, metropolitan, employed-by-the-BBC circles, very, very few I would imagine. Yet the more the BBC (or Wood) make such silly, PC cultural assumptions on our behalf, the more people will be brainwashed into assuming they are the proper way to think.

3. 'Chunky white woman/chunky white man'. This feebly self-deprecating joke is there mainly to act as a distraction from the gag-inducingly PC nature of the voiceover. Its weaselly dishonesty makes the voiceover all the more reprehensible.

4. 'Shiny, wet brownness'. Ah, yes: the erotic possibilities of dirt-poor, emaciated Indians washing themselves down amid the turds and floating dead bodies of the Ganges. I don't think so, Victoria.

5. Phew, at last. The explanation as to why Toby is, after all, qualified for the job. …

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