Prescott: The North South Divide, BBC2
FOLLOWING their appearance in last year's chortling documentary series, Prescott: the Class System and Me, John and Pauline Prescott returned for more well-meaning yet unwittingly embarrassing antics in Prescott: the North South Divide. Like their previous outing, it purported to be a serious investigation into widening class divisions throughout England, but really it was just another chance to wince at this modern-day Terry and June. If nothing else, it proved Prescott lacks the self-awareness to avoid the self-caricature he's so painfully afraid of.
The enduring socioeconomic gulf between the north and south of England is a momentous issue. So why didn't Prescott do something about it when he was deputy PM? That would have been more useful than making a pointless documentary in which he chatted with noted social commentator James Corden about the cultural significance of Oasis. If that weren't idiotic enough, he met Coronation Street's Kym Marsh to enthuse about her shiny hair. A wasted opportunity, as I was eager to hear Marsh's views on a scandalous think-tank report which recently suggested that cities such as Liverpool are beyond rejuvenation, and that residents should abandon them for employment down south.
An encounter with the report's director should have proved explosive – Prescott called him (gasp!) a fool on Newsnight – but it just ended up with the two men politely disagreeing. "Nice guy. Academic. But Christ, he wants living in this real world," grumbled Prescott afterwards, before returning to his luxury penthouse overlooking Westminster.
Clearly desperate, the producers shoved him in the direction of preposterously plummy art critic Brian Sewell, in the vain hope of provoking some class warfare. Sewell professes to loathe the north and – virtually purring with his own self-satisfied outrageousness – opined that the best solution would be "another plague… which could reduce the population so we could abolish the north". Sewell's comments were so wilfully, boringly provocative, the wisest option was to ignore them, and Prescott, to his credit, did just that. It was yet another inconsequential encounter.
Sadly, for such determinedly unpretentious people, it was the Prescotts' meetings with working-class folk that proved most excruciating. Visiting a Liverpool man who hadn't found work in five years, the clumsily well-meaning Pauline trilled: "I could just see you running a bar, because you have a nice personality."
"He might not want to run a bar!" exclaimed John quickly.
"Well, you know," blushed Pauline. "Something like that."
It was awful, like something out of a Mike Leigh film. They even arrived at his house in a chauffeur-driven car.
The shallowness of this meandering investigation was encapsulated by a scene in which Pauline chatted to a chirpy northern manicurist, presumably to prove conclusively that people are friendlier up north, even though they might be a bit poorer overall. In the interest of balance, they also visited a disadvantaged southern community to show that people are poor there, too. It was like a sociology lesson for donkeys.
An important subject ruined by facile execution, it coughed up statistics on unemployment, migration and life expectancy, which Prescott embraced or disregarded depending on his preconceptions.
Pauline just looked happy to be enjoying nice days out. Prescott enjoyed some chips. At least someone got something out of it.