sun 21/07/2024

All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry, Channel 4 | reviews, news & interviews

All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry, Channel 4

All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry, Channel 4

A lesson in how bad taste is just taste that's been misunderstood

Grayson Perry: all dressed up for a proper north-east night out with the girls

Taste and class – there’s really no separating them.

So when Grayson Perry decided to go "on safari through the taste tribes of Britain” he did so through the lens of class, and he started from the “bottom up”: he went to Sunderland, where big hair, big heels, short skirts and fake tans rule among the women, and the local footie team, the gym, tattoos and pimping your car does it for the men.

Inspired by Hogarth’s great eight-part painting A Rake’s Progress, in which young Tom Rakewell sets out in life as the heir to the fortune of a wealthy merchant, quickly acquires the habits and tastes of the aristocracy, before frittering it all away and going mad, Perry’s aim was to create an artwork out of his encounters. It was to be a new Hogarthian morality tale in tapestry in which the renamed Tim (possibly nice but dim) Rakewell falls prey to the evils of celebrity and consumer culture and then meets with a grisly end.   

Perry doesn’t have the temperament for the cold-eyed detachment of either the brute realist or the merciless satirist 

You can do a safari in one of a number of ways, and Perry, unlike Hogarth, simply doesn’t have the temperament for the cold-eyed detachment of either the brute realist or the merciless satirist (in contemporary terms, think Martin Parr, whose photo-book inspired the brilliant but somewhat cruel BBC series Sign of the Times – one must even admit that cruelty was part of its joy). Instead, Perry, who himself has travelled upwardly from the working-classes, went native and, in the process, he instinctively warmed to the thing under the scrutiny of the lens.

With his new and alluringly bouncy coiffure (main picture), Perry got dressed up with the girls for a proper north-east night out, necking shorts and linking arms with his new pals as they wobbled out of a nightclub in their clumpy heels. The only detail that wasn’t quite right was, as one local lad observed, not enough fake tan.

And he also visited Susan, whose house was bedecked in a style Perry had labelled “granny’s front room”. Susan’s working-class, time-capsule of a terrace was lovingly filled with kitsch figurines of shepherdesses and ladies in Disneyland gowns. But though he dismissed the idea of kitsch as “art from which the soul has departed”, insisting that here was heart, here was soul, the thing that really touched Perry was more telling: the photo of Susan’s daughter in her graduation gown, for this was a journey that Susan herself had been denied, as had so many others of her tribe. This affected him so deeply that the first words on Perry’s first tapestry turned out to be “I could have gone to university”.

Surveying this forest of granny knick-knacks, Perry acknowledged that all this would indeed horrify the middle classes, nay, disgust and repel them, for though his own adopted tribe have no problem waxing lyrical about the crafts and the perceived simplicity of native African tribes, they labour under what Freud had named “the vanity of small differences” (which happened to be the title of this first episode, after which we move onto the sharp-elbowed middle classes, thence to the down-on-their-luck aristos and the brash parvenus buying up their country estates).

Shame on us, shame on the middle classes, shame on us all

Here, the vanity of small differences related to that portion of the ever anxious and consumerist middle class  – those lacking what Perry identifies in episode two as cultural capital  – for it is they who are always in need of the validation of their peers in the good-taste department; and it is they who will do everything possible to distance themselves from those a rung or two below.

But still, if you’re honest, could you really watch without wincing when confronted by the bizarre tableau of a club crooner who, as he sang, was being tightly held onto by an older woman who seemed to be reaching out for her very salvation? We soon learned that the singer was singing the old-time, easy-listening classics that his dead mother had sung in the same down-at-heel club, and the lady in question had been the mother’s close friend, and suddenly we were made to feel guilty for sneering quite so readily. Shame on us, shame on the middle classes, shame on us all. And so we struggled with our petty vanities, and as we did so we warmed easily to our sympathetic and perceptive host, for he somehow made us feel grateful for not judging us too harshly. 


That was a really thoughtful review and response to the programme. Thank you! Neil Crombie (the director of it)

I heard Grayson on Start the Week R4 and was keen to see the C4 programme: I wasn't disappointed. It's always hard to know how much of what we see on TV is down to skilful framing and judicious cutting, but at face value both the program and the presenter tackled the subject with a great mixture of respect, empathy and insight. It was touching and elevating to see ordinary people treated as worthy subjects of serious consideration rather than as freak show fodder. I hope the remaining two programs are equally insightful and empathetic.

Well done Neil - it was a very good programme. With his head in the clouds and his feet firmly on the ground, Grayson is in grave danger of becoming a national treasure. I'm looking forward to the T. Wells episode - I live just outside there in what could be described as its 'servants quarters'. It'll be intersting to see what Grayson makes of it dreary attempt at poshness.

Has Grayson Perry or Channel 4 any idea of geography? Kings Hill is some 14 miles from Tunbridge Wells and therefore would seem to reflect the taste of its nearer neighbours, Maidstone or Tonbridge. But, hey, when did the truth get in the way of good television!

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