British knickers. That is how highstreet Highness Mary Portas is
planning to bring clothes manufacturing back to the UK. "The first
thing you put on in the morning covers your arse and it's British,"
she says in her eureka moment.
On the basis of this as a premise, I have to admit, I was
dubious. It promised hackneyed puns of "don't get your knickers in
a twist", and only engendered images of our beleaguered ex-Prime
minister John Major as Captain Underpants in Steve Bell's iconic
The format of the show is X-Factor meets The Apprentice. It's a
classic combination of vaulting ambition, predictable obstacles,
and ultimate triumph - and, like any reality TV show,
certainly not without its healthy ration of tears.
Yet, trite as its structure may be, the programme is subtle and
well researched. It presents a hope for bringing manufacturing,
industry and jobs back to Britain, suggesting that, since costs in
places like China are rising, there might be hope for this in the
near future. It explores the decline of manufacturing in Britain,
and represents a population devastated, disenfranchised, and
perhaps most heartbreakingly, despondent as a result.
Mary's motives are respectable as she aims to create jobs for
the unemployed: "I'm going to be looking for people on the dole and
out of work, because I want to create something that gives benefit
and genuinely brings people who are down on their luck into
The show could, however, afford to be a little more analytical
in places; suggesting that such a large number of people have never
worked and live off benefits only promotes the 'benefit scrounger'
myth, without looking at the social or psychological effects of
unemployment. Mary's scathing comments about an applicant's poor
spelling and apathetic statements are cruel, when they should be
Nonetheless, Mary inevitably sees the 'X-factor' beneath the
unpolished surfaces of the motley crew she eventually hires: the
token lippy troublesome character who's "as mad as a Mexican's
dog"; the tragically ridiculous figure of a young father in a suit
too big for him; the tattooed Mancunian lad; the endearing girl
with the Mohawk (DIVA readers will enjoy this one! Wink.) The
characters are however sadly geared more towards producing
entertaining TV than running a factory. They're also all white. The
diversity stickler in me led me to check out the ethnography of
Middleton, but the show's safe
- Middleton is 97% white.
Lesbians however might be irked by the implication of Mary seen
to be checking out a boy in tight undies and commenting on the
'packaging', or saying cheekily to lace manufacturer Jim "Can I
show you my knickers?" - is there some straight-washing going
on by the producers perhaps? But not to fear - next week
promises an episode of searching for the perfect model to parade
Mary's knickers. "I want a great, chunky arse" Mary says,
gesticulating with her hands. Mm, we're with you on that
Although the authenticity of the show is slightly dented by its
reality TV hyperbole, on the whole, if you have a penchant for
British nostalgia, you'll love this. From the slightly incongruent
patriotism of "We will fight them on the beaches!" (WWII?
Knickers? Really?) to the more inspiring exploration of the loss of
British industry and attempts to reclaim it, and most importantly
the representation of the most disenfranchised people in our
society, it is an entertaining, informative, and sometimes
inspiring hour of reality TV. I might even go so far as to say,
this is reality TV as good as we know it. But, considering it's
comparisons are Big Brother, I'm a Celebrity and Candy Bar Girls,
that's not saying all that much, really.
1 of Mary's Bottom Line is available now on 4oD