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TV review: Famous, Rich and Jobless/Jobless

Famous, Rich and Jobless, BBC1 Jobless, BBC1

THESE are desperate times for us all, not least poor attention-starved celebrities languishing in the lower regions of the fame alphabet. As you dine on your last pair of shoelaces before the bailiffs arrive, spare a thought for the likes of presumably quite successful interior designer Meg Matthews. Once vaguely famous for being Noel Gallagher's wife, her public profile has plummeted so dramatically she now has to beg for work on Famous, Rich and Jobless, an effortlessly offensive "social experiment" in which majorly minor celebrities confront the recession by pretending to be unemployed for a few days. I don't know about you, but their plight made me understand this crisis in ways I never thought possible.

The most amazing thing about this farrago wasn't that silver-spooned halfwits such as Emma Parker Bowles initially assumed that most unemployed people are lazy dole-scroungers, or that fat-cat garden designer Diarmuid Gavin reckoned there were enough jobs out there for everyone (they're semi-famous idiots, of course they think that), but that some genius at the BBC thought this was an acceptable idea in the first place. It was bad enough when they subjected us to celebs sleeping rough to find out whether homelessness is really as rubbish as it's cracked down to be, but to present cash-strapped licence payers with rich folk discovering that, gosh, life really is quite hard for the little people; I love the BBC, but they don't half make it difficult sometimes.

This was appalling television, and not just conceptually. Once my initial annoyance had abated, I was bored rigid by interminable scenes of Gavin trying to secure employment from understandably suspicious people whose behaviour was clearly influenced by the cameras. The only genuinely recognisable face among the team, EastEnders and Gavin & Stacey star Larry Lamb – who otherwise came across as an utter fool – realised that the whole idea was flawed and pointless from the start. So why did he agree to participate? His fee can't have been that impressive, surely?

The programme was, I suppose, designed to challenge negative preconceptions about unemployed people. But shame on anyone who needed Emma Parker Bowles to inform them that living on the breadline isn't the benefit-funded fantasia they thought it was.

It was telling that the only affecting moment was provided not by a celebrity, but by a forlorn unemployed woman who broke down when describing her penniless existence. Having no job or prospects is soul-destroying, and no amount of celebrity intervention is going to change that.

So by way of an apology, BBC1 also offered up Jobless, a heartbreaking documentary about the effects of the recession on people who will never appear on The One Show. It spent time with families from various walks of life as they attempted to rebuild their lives after losing their financial security.

Told from the perspective of adults and children alike, it captured the sorrow, bemusement, frustration and indignity of finding yourself on the scrapheap after years of loyal employment. They spoke of how unreal it felt – redundancy, like a terminal disease, is something that happens to other people, not you – and about their feelings of low self-esteem and despair. Brian Wood's film said more about this dire predicament than a slumming soap star ever could.

 
 
 

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