Magazine article The Spectator

Television: Inside the Portland, and OJ Simpson

Magazine article The Spectator

Television: Inside the Portland, and OJ Simpson

Article excerpt

Five Star Babies: Inside the Portland Hospital won't, I suspect, have been a hard sell to BBC2's commissioning editors. Childbirth and rich people are both reliably popular subjects for TV documentaries. So why not combine them into one handy package by showing us life at the UK's only private maternity hospital? And yet, however artificial the programme's conception, any sociologists studying contemporary Britain's peculiar attitudes to the very wealthy could have done a lot worse than to tune in to Wednesday's episode.

'Parenthood: the great leveller,' began the narrator -- somehow managing not to add a hollow laugh. This sense of irony, though, was short-lived. Like most documentaries about luxury living since at least the time of Alan Whicker, Five Star Babies soon went native: presenting its tales of excess with a mixture of head-shaking wonder and straight admiration -- and generally behaving rather as Basil Fawlty did when faced with Lord Melbury. Over the years, several prestigious British institutions have come to regret letting the television cameras in. Portland Hospital, it seems safe to say, won't be one of them.

We were, for example, breathlessly informed that fine dining is offered 24 hours a day for any new mums who fancy, say, wild wood pigeon with lentil, chorizo and spinach at two in the morning. All requests for such simple add-ons as totally refurbishing and redecorating the rooms are cheerfully met, although CEO Janene Madden did confess that, despite the policy of elective C-sections, she can't always guarantee the precise time of birth -- even for people who understandably want their child to emerge at seven minutes past seven on the seventh day of the seventh month. (She will, mind you, do her best.)

The Portland's cheapest rooms, complete with what the narrator scornfully referred to as 'medical grade furniture', cost £1,200 a night. Inevitably, however, the programme preferred to focus on the people in the suites, beginning with Leon and Bella, a Chinese couple now living in London where Leon is a financial analyst. 'Happy wife, happy life,' he said resignedly, as he stumped up the best part of 20 grand.

But of course these were people for us to gaze at rather than identify with. Instead, our representatives in Portland were the below-stairs staff, whose salt-of-the-earth charms included the ability to regard their betters with a kind of twinkly indulgence that suggested there really is such a thing as good-natured, non-resentful envy. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.