TV Review: Britain’s Spending Secrets and School Swap

(Published here at

It’s always the nouveau riche who are the worst: crass, vulgar and tasteless – it’s the same everywhere. Money and what people spend or don’t spend it on – tells you everything about them. “Money”, as Somerset Maugham said, “is like a sixth sense without which you cannot make a complete use of the other five.” But enough pointless literary references – this is a television review.

So, Woody Allen’s Small Time Crooks (bear with me) is a hilarious comedy about rise and fall of a couple of nouveau riches. Half way through the movie, Ray’s (Woody Allen) wife Frenchy throws a big party for her new ‘friends’; keen to impress, she goes all out, turning her mansion into a massive out-of-proportion Tutankhamenesque tomb – i.e. vulgar as hell. During the dinner party, she overhears her guests making fun of her decorating taste and lack of sophistication. She is, as they say, common muck. Frenchy then asks art dealer David (Hugh Grant) to verse her in the cultural ways of the American upper classes. Needless to say, Ray hates it, and the couple separate.

Why am I telling you this? Well the movie makes a good point: whatever money can buy, it can’t buy class (it can probably buy you love, don’t believe the Beatles), and that no matter how much money people have, they’re still the same. I was reminded of Allen’s movie when watching Britain’s Spending Secrets (BBC 1). Presented by Anne Robinson – who incidentally is way too comfortable poking around people’s fridges, wandering around their houses and mansions, shifting through their spending budgets, and generally being a nosey beggar – we are introduced to a cross section of Britain’s spenders, i.e. the general public.

Oddly enough I’d reckoned on hating all of them for either having too much money or too little – but the programme was pretty balanced (unusual for the beeb). There are a few annoying jerks along the way though. Chief among them, Darren Stevens, who lives off his wife’s 90 grand a year (she commutes four hours a day) and spends his days playing pool and hanging about in his ‘office’. When he’s not doing that he’s avoiding ASDA, shopping in Waitrose (better standard of staff, apparently) and spending £150 a month in Starbucks. Call me old fashioned but I don’t think a grown man should be living off his wife.

The best bit is when the Stevens meet the Addicuts, a family of six living on 25 grand a year. Life’s tough for the Addicuts who seem to spend most of their days discount hunting, lurking in charity shops and being generally miserable. (Mr. Addicut looks like he’s been sucking on a lemon and is thoroughly ashamed of it.) Darren shows off his holiday snaps of a £5000 Peruvian adventure, whilst Mrs. Addicut moans about her £200 holiday in St Ives. Class resentments bubble and nobody gets along.

Robinson also meets single mum Charlotte, she is living on benefits and credit and obviously spends every waking hour watching trashy television and scanning the Argos catalogue for really crappy jewelry. She can’t keep up her repayments and owes £500 in rent arrears. Charlotte loves her really big expensive blue light fridge (especially getting ice cream out of it) – and that’s all that matters.

But it’s the super rich and the upper classes that come away the most sensible and prudent. Entrepreneurs Alfie Best and Laura, while squandering like drunken sailors, have earned their money and have every right to spend it as they wish. Charlotte on the other hand is sponging off the taxpayer.

On the back of BBC2 and Channel 4’s educational experiments (Chinese school and sexy Belgians in class), ITV – obviously feeling a little left out – has come up with School Swap – The Class Divide (ITV). State school kids swap with some posh kids. This week, three kids from £27,000 a year Warminster school spend a week at state school Bemrose in Derby. Bemrose is your typical city state school, that is: half of the kids speak English as a second language and so have a reading age of about seven, crap discipline (panic buttons in rooms) and lots of head scarves.

Obviously every culture is pandered, except the white kids who underperform and lack self-confidence – I wonder why? Even the end of term leaving ceremony resembles something foreign. There’s this really odd bit when an Osama Bin Laden look-a-like is teaching a ‘special morning class’ of white boys about eating healthier and then goes on to say something like they’re not motivated enough. Well, it’s not their fault they don’t speak Urdu now is it.




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