Magazine article The Spectator

Television: Serial Thriller

Magazine article The Spectator

Television: Serial Thriller

Article excerpt

For keen students of China, this week's television provided yet more proof that Deng Xiaoping's decision to open the country to the West has had consequences that he's unlikely to have foreseen. He probably couldn't have predicted, for example, that one day a former Bond girl would travel the country finding almost everything 'thrilling'. Or that a bloke who made his name in a British makeover show would proudly explain to a group of Chinese journalists that 'I've got the sunglasses, I've got the big hair -- all [sic] of these things are what you'd expect from a celebrity.'

The Bond girl in question was Joanna Lumley, who began Joanna Lumley's Trans-Siberian Adventure (ITV) in Hong Kong reminiscing about her early childhood there when she had two guinea pigs called Sammy and Michael. ('Mummy taught them how to whistle.') But despite being 'thrilled to be back', she was soon 'thrilled' to be buying a ticket to Beijing where she picked up the train that in Sunday's first episode took her as far as Mongolia, with regular stops to visit the sites -- and to give the slightly bewildered-looking locals a full blast of her breathy charm.

'I love poetry,' she told a young poet whose chosen profession meant he was too poor to have a girlfriend. 'May I wear your hat?' she coquettishly asked a train conductor as they posed for a photograph together. Sadly, the pupils at a girls' school weren't enormously impressed when she revealed that she comes from 'the country of Shakespeare'. But they perked up considerably once they realised that she also comes from the country of Harry Potter.

At the age of 69, Lumley could be forgiven for wanting to abandon her heroically long-standing commitment to girlishness. Yet, if so, there's no sign of it here -- and she remains one of the few people over ten who can convincingly use 'gosh!' as a sincere expression of overwhelming surprise.

On Sunday, she did have moments of sternness. Watching a cabaret that celebrated the Cultural Revolution, she wondered if there was all that much to celebrate, what with the millions who were murdered, tortured and imprisoned. A visit to Tiananmen Square allowed her to remind us briefly of the unpleasantness there in 1989. On the whole, though, she stuck firmly to being thrilled -- even when it came to a lengthy border crossing into Mongolia. 'I do rather love the bureaucracy of borders,' she said cheerfully. …

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