ONLY in Britain could you have a sketch like the “Class System”. You know the one, upper class John Cleese looking down on middle class Ronnie Barker, who in turn looks down on working class Ronnie Corbett (“I know my place”).
It remains as amusing as when it first appeared on The Frost Report in 1966. What’s depressing is how on the money it still is.
Amol Rajan waded into these choppy waters two years ago with the documentary, How to Break into the Elite. He’s back for more with How to Crack the Glass Ceiling (BBC2, Tuesday, 9pm). Spoiler alert: not a lot has changed.
The 2019 film identified the barriers faced by youngsters who do not fit the profile of white, well-off, and male. The new two-parter looks at what is being done to remove those obstacles. Every business and institution worth its standing talks about inclusion and diversity, but are they as good as the words that fill the glossy brochures? If not, how can “outsiders” play the system to their advantage and become insiders?
Rajan is his usual tireless self as he assembles the evidence and meets students hoping to break into the world of big salaries and blue sky prospects.
We meet Chris, a second year student from York, who is so worried his north of England accent will not go down well at interviews he watches elocution videos on YouTube. Adnan, at Leeds University, wants to get into the City, while Paige, from Nottingham, being female and working class, is hoping to beat the odds to become a barrister.
What’s heartbreaking is how obviously bright, funny and capable each one is. Any employer should be thrilled to have them on the payroll. Yet the problems of yesteryear are still around. There is a hierarchy of accents. Connections still matter.
Rajan keeps coming back to the same central question: do you change the youngster to fit in, or do you change the system?
Though he does a fine job setting out the statistics and theories, the film is at its best when Rajan is playing unofficial mentor to his charges. At Paige’s graduation she mentions that some barrister drew attention to her accent. “Who?” says Rajan, turning to the assembled throng as if he is going to tackle the snob right here and now. Anyone with Rajan in their corner has won a watch, as we say round here in our working class accents. Keep him in your contacts, kids.
Every documentary maker likes to claim they have had “unprecedented access” to their subjects. In the case of I’m an Alcoholic: Inside Recovery (BBC2, Wednesday, 9pm) that seems about right.
To mark the organisation’s 75th birthday in the UK, the cameras have been allowed into meetings, and there are one to one interviews with people at various stages in their recovery. It is not access all areas, and most of those taking part in the film have had their identities obscured, but this as close a look as television has been granted into the history and workings of the AA.
Founded in the US in 1935 in the depths of the Depression, the first meeting in Britain took place at The Dorchester in London. Only the Financial Times would print the details of the event in its small ads section, such was the “shame” attached to the condition.
Now, there are an estimated 25,500 members in the UK, and the AA is the world’s longest running addiction support programme.
The film stresses at several points that the course is not for everyone, with its religious roots proving a stumbling block for some.
But when it comes to care in the community, the AA can pride itself on being there for everyone, 24/7, for free. Imagine if all health services were had such reach and resources, and were run by the very people they set out to help. A fascinating, sometimes harrowing, but ultimately hopeful film.
Time was when the appearance of a new kid on the TV neighbourhood would be a big whoop-de-whoop occasion.
But at a time when new streaming services are appearing at a regular rate, you could forgive viewers for not clearing their diaries for the arrival of ITVX (Thursday). There are some tasty offerings, though.
ITVX takes over from ITV Hub. It’s free, but with ads. A no-ads option costs £5.99 a month.
Besides featuring the best of ITV’s back catalogue, there are big hitting new dramas. Guy Pearce plays Kim Philby and Damian Lewis is Nicholas Elliott in A Spy Among Friends. Still on matters Russian, David Tennant plays the title role in Litvinenko. Helena Bonham Carter becomes Crossroads legend Noele Gordon in Nolly, and Vicky McClure is a mother with vengeance on her mind in Without Sin.