Wednesday 21 March 2018

Last night’s TV: Mount Pleasant

On paper it sounded horrendous, but Diarmuid Doyle found himself taken with Sky’s new comedy drama

Mount Pleasant, Sky One’s new comedy drama, is an unerring takeoff of one of those Daz ‘Cleaner Close’ ads featuring busty flirts and hapless workmen who can’t keep their peckers in their pockets, and which usually star – if that’s the word – someone who used to be in Coronation Street.

Denise, Lisa and Shelley all work in the same recruitment agency and all have trouble of varying degrees with their men folk.

Lisa’s husband Dan is an amiable sort of bloke, but in the doghouse because he accepted a meal from a randy neighbour (Miss Skimpy Knickers, as Lisa calls her) and because he’s forgotten the couple’s 10th wedding anniversary.

Shelley has left her husband because she says he has a gambling problem, which seems to consist of little more than hanging around the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? machine in the local pub, The Dog And Dart.

Nineteen-year-old Lisa, meanwhile, is having an affair with a married man.

We first meet them in a restaurant near their office on the outskirts of Manchester as they discuss their lives and their layabout lads, and it’s clear that we are in Sex And The Suburbs territory, a lower-middle class, entirely unsophisticated version of Candace Bushnell’s New York story.

A good night out involves a pint at The Dog And Dart, a posh lunch necessitates a mountain of fried food and the men are amiable slobs. There are no Mr Big-type characters, no stylish apartments, no knee-jerk snobbery, just a vague (and familiar) sense from each of the three women that their lives are unfulfilled and that the problem has to do with the men in their lives.

On paper, it sounds horrendous and in places it was (“there’s nothing worse than an overgrown bush, is there?” Miss Skimpy Knickers asked at one point, as she discussed a neighbour’s untended garden), but as it gathered pace, it improved.

It’s an hour long, a stretch for any sitcom, which is all Mount Pleasant really is, but it has a good cast, two of whom (Angela Griffin and Sally Lindsay) used to be in Coronation Street. It was written by Sarah Hooper, who has worked on Shameless in the past, which suggests that it won’t be all as frivolous as this, that there may be something darker underneath.

Galway’s Owen McDonnell, star of Single-Handed, who made a late appearance as a date for Lisa, has potential in this regard.

But it is on its humour that it will stand or fall, and halfway through last night, I’d started to chuckle. By the end I was laughing. That’s not a bad start for any programme.

It’s fair to say that there will never be a gangland shooting at The Dog And Dart. It’s way too laid back and traditional for that sort of carry on. If only the pubs and clubs of Carrigstown could guarantee the same thing.

Last night’s Fair City was an hour-long special, in which we were promised all sorts of mayhem as a long-running gang storyline came to a kind of denouement. Instead, any guards watching must have wished that all gangland rows ended like this.

The shooter Gary Morgan, (who never got around to actually shooting anyone) told half of Carrigstown who he wanted to kill, took possession of a gun in the coffee shop, admired it in front of everybody, reminded people at the Station club who he was going to shoot and then followed his intended victim outside.

Eventually, Barry, who’s having a bit of a hard time currently, bravely stepped in front of the gun and more or less demanded that he be shot himself.

Gary, who obviously hasn’t been watching Fair City as long as some of the rest of us, inexplicably declined, and was eventually submerged in a scrum of people.

An hour-long special involving gangs demands at least two dead characters. Fair City promised way more than it delivered last night. Very disappointing.

Wallis Simpson: The Secret Left was a very awkwardly titled documentary on Channel 4 featuring recently discovered letters between Simpson, the mistress of Edward, Prince of Wales, and her former husband, Ernest.

Was it suggesting that the famously Nazi-friendly Wallis was actually a member of a secret cabal of Communist sympathisers working to bring down Hitler? Not a chance, of course, but what it did argue, very convincingly, was that the official narrative of the Wallis/Edward romance, handed down through the decades was wrong, or at least not fully told.

The official story has it that this was one of the great romances of the 21st century, in which Edward, having become king, gave up his throne for the woman he loved, while she endured the lifelong enmity of a hostile nation for similar reasons.

Not so, according to The Secret Left. In fact, the enduring romance was between Ernest and Wallis, who realised, too late, that she was making a terrible mistake marrying Edward after he had abdicated and had become a mere Duke.

The letters, which continued back and forth between them until after Wallis had become the Duchess of Windsor, do point to a happy relationship that had been destroyed by her desire for glamour and excitement, and by his initial connivance in his wife’s relationship with Edward.

By the time they realised what they had done and how they felt, it was too late to stop the runaway train. Wallis did try to call the wedding off but Edward responded with threats of suicide, and she gave in. “She knew she couldn’t have blood on her hands”, her biographer Anne Sebba said.

In a letter to his mother bemoaning his loss, Ernest described the relationship. “We were so frightfully congenial and never had a moment’s trouble”, he wrote.

In her last letter to her former husband, Wallis said: “Wherever you are, you can be sure that never a day goes by without some hours’ thought of you and for you.”

Wallis Simpson is not history’s most likeable character, but these letters do show her in a more sympathetic light than she’s been seen before. She made a huge mistake and spent the rest of her life paying for it. Only the very cruel could fail to be moved.

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