What to say if you liked it
An eye-opening and poignant reminder of the poverty that still exists in Blair’s Britain, meshed with a frightening insight into the murky world of pawn shops.
What to say if you didn’t like it
The plight of those in poverty in Britain is well worth highlighting and investigating, but this was a show that smelt so strongly of exploitation that supermarkets have today announced a nationwide shortage of pot pourri as BBC1 viewers bought in bulk to rid their homes of the stench.
What was good about it?
•The contrast between the pawn kings was fascinatingly stark. The woman at Instore Direct obviously struggled with her conscience over the work, but the odious manager of Cash Converters seemed to delight in acting like a panto villain, grinning with evil relish as he looked at his goods and later handling a gold bar with gleeful aw.
•Big Issue seller Vernon was an engaging on-screen presence, and seemed to be very positive despite his predicament and endeared himself to us when buying grapes for his future-footballer son.
• Busker Bob Steele owned a fabulous beard and his love for his impressive keyboard was touchingly clear.
• Bob throwing a bit of a luvvie fit when he was moved on by a friendly police officer: “I can’t work like this… this is no way to make a living.”
• The programme did an excellent job of showing how poverty is still a major problem in Britain despite the apparent health of the economy. For people like Vernon, Bob and Tommy – those without a bank account and unable to get work, particularly through sickness – Britain is still a pretty rough and unforgiving place to be.
• All three men featured seemed to be keen to work and to make a decent living (in the case of Tommy and Vernon, in particular for their families) and you couldn’t help but sympathise with their plights.
What was bad about it?
• Filler, filler, filler. If there’s not enough for a series, make it a one-off one hour special. This first episode was packed so full of pointless interludes of music put to stereotypical footage of run-down Birmingham shot from a moving vehicle it was as if the programme-makers were convinced the entire country suffers from attention deficit disorder and can’t handle more than three minutes of proper programme material without getting bored.
• It occasionally went overboard in an effort to tug at our heartstrings, the lingering shot of a freezing Vernon eagerly eating a bacon sandwich and drinking tea from a polystyrene cup was particularly blatant. The guy had to pawn some DVDs just to get some money to buy his Big Issues so he could turn a profit – we already understood the difficulty of his situation.
• With any programme like this you cannot help but wonder if the subjects are being paid, and if not, why not? There’s not really much difference between observing these “real people” eating cheap food and watching the paid subjects of I’m A Celebrity chewing shark’s eyes. The documentary would lack the necessary reality if the subjects were being paid, but shouldn’t these people be rewarded for providing entertainment for us voyeurs?
• The young man going to Cash Converters and explaining that pawning his phone for £10 and then buying it back for £17 a few days later represented a good and useful service, completely failing to recognise just how badly he was being conned and how rabidly the shop was exploiting the poor: ‘It’s only a few quid,’ he said.
• The narration started off by saying that pawnbroking was “the fastest growing business in the world of finance” with absolutely no details to qualify, quantify or explain that statement. It was so vague that it meant nothing at all and was a poor start to the programme.
• Poor Bob claiming that his pork chops come out from the grill ‘just like a roast dinner’.
• The tone of David Morrissey’s narration seemed slightly sneering when it came to people buying items that had out-lived their buy-back date, as if they were showing us footage of grave robbers rather than people taking advantage of an admittedly unpalatable business.