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Selling England by the rouble


Hedonism in London's Mayfair

Hedonism in London's Mayfair

Hedonism in London's Mayfair

Rich, Russian, and Living in London (BBC2). Red Rock (TV3). The Voice (RTE1).

In the best wine shop in the world, a place called Hedonism in London's Mayfair, you can get a bottle of Timeless Hennessy Cognac for £11,808.90.

You will note that this is not merely £11,808, that there is also 90 pence to be paid, for some reason which would probably escape most of us, but which is presumably understood by the sort of people who would pay nearly 12 grand for a bottle of Cognac.

That number is printed out on a solid-looking card which sits in front of the bottle, so it's not like a number that was just scribbled down in a whimsical fashion.

Somebody worked out that number precisely, perhaps the owner, an excellent Russian multi-millionaire called Yevgeny, one of the people featured in Rich, Russian, and Living In London.

Maybe in that 90 pence there is the mysterious difference between them and us, between astoundingly rich people and those who would merely pay £9,999, which is the price of a bottle of Timeless Hennessy on the internet -- note that suspiciously proletarian number 9,999, just short of the round ten grand, the five figures which might put the punters off it.

Yevgeny wasn't asked about the 90 pence, which reminded me of the British aristocrat in the recent Posh People: Inside Tatler, who spoke about her belief that the Scots would vote to remain part of the UK, because it was an arrangement which had worked out pretty well so far.

Since this lady seemed to own most of Scotland, you kind-of expected the interviewer to say something like, "well, it's worked out pretty well for you lady, I don't know if I could say the same for Rab C Nesbitt..."

But some things are best left unspoken.

That programme too contrasted the gritty realism of the British toffs with the extravagance of the Russians who are coming to England with the sincere wish of becoming part of that aristocracy - it seems that the unique advantage the Russians have in this regard is that they are actually rich, unlike the lords and ladies of the shires who are constantly telling us that they may live in a great house but they have absolutely no money. Absolutely none.

It is becoming a genre in itself, this sort of documentary about rich Russians and their fascination with Britain, which is partly grounded in the fear of being murdered by Putin, and partly in a sincere appreciation of the glories of British civilisation - all of which looks marvellous on television.

I think of my friend the comedy writer Arthur Mathews, who held one thing above all others to be true - that the Russians and the Irish are extraordinarily similar. And perhaps this can be seen in the way that they move to London in order to pursue their deepest desires.

One recalls the way that Paddy, when he was high on the hog, would try to plant the tricolour on top of some of the most prestigious venues in London.

Like Yevgeny, he was going there with his millions already made. He was free.

And there is nothing wrong in wanting to be like the English if they happen to better at doing something than you are yourself. Red Rock for example, the new twice-weekly drama on TV3 which is set in an imaginary Dun Laoghaire, looks and feels a bit like one of those English shows such as Holby City or Casualty, so that has to be good.

Likewise, the UTV Ireland News studio has a hint of the ambiance of Channel 4 News, and for this they are to be commended.

Johnny England has been doing all that stuff for a long time, and you will not go far wrong by borrowing a few moves from him.

No doubt distinctively Irish features will emerge, like that sculpture outside "The Voice" building, the hand holding the microphone with a big two fingers representing the sign of peace - which, from another angle, looks like the sign of whatever is the opposite of peace.

It seems to come from the same school of sculpture which gave us that magnificent V-sign outside the headquarters of AIB in Ballsbridge, a massive two fingers to the world, a work which came to represent the consciousness of an entire class. They called that one right.

Sunday Independent