Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Second-Class Mayle-Man

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Second-Class Mayle-Man

Article excerpt

Byline: VICTOR LEWIS-SMITH

Nigel's Place in France Channel 4

HAVING last week attended a performance of The Producers, where I was left breathless by the faultless performances, the hilarious script, and memorably original songs, I've realised what I detest most about the musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Not just that they are melodically derivative, but that they're utterly humourless too, so much so that the only time I've laughed out loud at one was during Phantom of the Opera, when the composer unexpectedly strolled onto the stage, and the audience gasped in horror at the sight of such a frighteningly realistic mask.

And I remembered a story I'd heard about Death Row at Louisiana State Penitentiary, where two condemned men were asked if they had a final request before their executions were carried out with sterilised needles (incidentally, why do the authorities bother to sterilise them?). "Yes," said the first prisoner, I'd like to hear the theme from Cats one last time." "We can arrange that," replied the warden, then he turned to the second prisoner and asked: "What about you? Do you have a final request?" "Yeah," said the condemned man, "kill me first."

For the TV documentary equivalent of a derivative, humourless, and devitalising Lloyd Webber musical, look no further than Nigel's Place in France.

This latest series about Nigel Farrell's ongoing attempts to settle in southern France positively reeks of complacent, middleclass, middlebrow Middle England en vacances, and its portrayal of French provincial life is so thoroughly devoid of edge, wit, or originality that it makes 'Allo 'Allo look like Etre et Avoir in comparison.

Worse, the weekly epistles are delivered by a second-class Mayle-man whose clothes, attitudes, and personality were all seemingly purchased several decades ago at an M&S everything-must-go sale, and who exudes such wafts of uncompromising dullness that, if he took mind-bending drugs, I reckon he'd hallucinate grey vividly. And despite the feeble pretence that the cameras are simply observing one Englishman's death-orglory bid to set up a thriving business in the French countryside, it became clear long ago that what we're really watching is yet another media-based fiction, a risk-free rural idyll underwritten by television.

"Money is tight," the narrator informed us last night, as Farrell set about opening a bed-and-breakfast business in the Ardeche, amid frequent references to "his shoestring budget", a ruinous tax demand, and his inability to sell his former dwelling in Laurac. All of which might have been serious, had it not been for the obvious (though studiously unacknowledged) truth that he could easily have settled all his debts at a stroke with the lucrative fees he's earning from this series alone, not to mention sales of the spin-off book from the previous series. …

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