To the Manor Born: Charlotte Raven on an All-Action Reality Show That Exploits Everyone Equally
Raven, Charlotte, New Statesman (1996)
When I was a little girl, I went to a wrestling match with one of my crazed Cornish aunts. The thing that scared me, much more than the antics of the men in the ring, was the women, whose faces were contorted in what seemed like genuine hatred for the black-caped baddie. The thing they were shouting at wasn't real, but somehow their emotion was. I'd never understood what they felt like until I watched Masters and Servants (Channel 4, Thursdays, 9pm). Knowing that the reality show was a set-up, that the combat was always in some sense contrived, did not stop me from feeling just as angry with its pantomime villains as my aunt had been with the Camborne Crusher.
In the blue corner for the second show was Christine Rose, a builder's wife from Warrington whose defining traits were vicious snobbery and a weird, Pauline Fowleresque pathology about her family. "We do everything together," she said as her troupe of eight children performed synchronised dance steps to a show tune of their own devising. Happily for them, the kids were far too young to have divined any contradictions in a moral code that prohibited swearing but encouraged them to shout abuse at house guests.
"Wipe that smirk off your face!" On day two of his family's stint as the Roses' servants, Richard Mills was subjected to a torrent of insults from Christine and one of her pigtailed horrors. He was doing his best to be a good head butler, but "milady" and her infernal brood were not going to rest until he had absorbed the message that his lot were "pathetic" and a "waste of space".
"Why is life so difficult?" he sighed. You wanted to go in and shake him into some kind of action against the most oppressive masters in the series so far. The rules of the programme state that the family designated as servants must "speak politely at all times" to their betters and get used to being treated like pieces of shit. At the end of a week, the roles are reversed and they get to lord it--literally--over their former masters. Perhaps it was the thought of this prize that prevented Richard from telling Christine Rose where to stick her dishcloths. As humiliation piled on humiliation, it became clear that neither he nor his wife was prepared to break the terms of their contract. Decent people, they worked like slaves until the day came when the Roses were delivered into their service.
"Keep that bitch in check," I thought, "or she's going to walk all over you.' If I'd had a handbag, I would have brandished it the way my aunt did that night in Newquay. Sadly, Richard's wife was far too nice to act on my advice. As the Roses pronounced her a slut and not fit to be a mother, she wondered if it was she who was "making an idiot of myself". …