For a while now, conversation at Dalrymple Towers has been largely limited to the following:
1. Paediatric anaemia
3. Made In Chelsea
I’ve been assiduously gathering material on all three subjects for weeks. The first I won’t go into here as it’s work-related and I’ve no idea how to go about invoicing you all. The second is interesting only if you’re me (and even then, not really) so again, no comment. The third topic, however, I’m willing to devote some time to – even though my best anecdotes, rigorously researched in the field, have already been nicked and brilliantly written up by friend of D For Dalrymple Jane, over in Lost Looking For Fish. This is the last time I shall be seduced by the easy informality of Google Chat. However, I’m almost totally over it and, were this Google chat, would be unleashing the ‘wink’ emoticon around now.
Made in Chelsea is a television programme that goes out on a Monday evening on E4. I usually have rehearsals on a Monday and don’t watch TV anyway, so hadn’t heard of it until Cara and Cathy made me watch it on the basis that it was set in my neighbourhood and was ‘totally hilarious’. We watched the first episode online a few days after it had gone out. I was hooked.
The show follows the lives of a group (or, to use the correct collective noun, set) of friends in London’s Royallest Borough. These people are all very posh. To put this in some kind of context, I used to think that I was quite posh until I moved into my aunt’s flat in Kensington. Then I met my neighbour the Baroness, started visiting Peter Jones recreationally, discovered a place called the Kings Road, and suddenly understood how low I measure on the scale of 0 to posh.
The characters in MIC are Sloanes – yet, somehow, this is not enough. They are Super-Sloanes. Their outward displays of Sloanitudeinosity are unparallelled: their Sloane phenotype, were it to be identified in a lab, would be double dominant. If there was a number to the power of their Sloane, it would be… very large. You follow? These kids wear designer clothes, drive sports cars and live in enormous central London apartments. Their accents are cut glass and their vocabularies peppered with phrases uttered in total earnest like ‘yah’ and ‘totes’*. If they work, they have made-up-sounding job titles (Diamond Heir, Girl About Town). They go by names or diminutives that either scream POSH (Hugo, Cheska, Milly) or double as words that your mum might have used when you were small to describe your genitals (Caggie, Binky, Funda).
MIC has affected me very deeply, as my family, colleagues, a few people in Canticum, everyone in Voce, most of my remaining friends, neighbours, my hairdresser, GP and dentist have been privileged to discover. Even though we’re now approaching the fourth episode, the programme still provokes a variety of complex emotions ranging from the VERY VERY EXCITED to the clinically depressed. It’s to do with the novelty of the format.
It’s largely due to my ignorance of current television that I don’t understand and am therefore fascinated by MIC. Apparently the whole thing has been done before in another show, The Only Way Is Essex, which in turn was based on an American series called The Hills. People familiar with TOWIE and The Hills are very accepting of the MIC set-up, so I assume that it will seem completely natural to me too by next month. For now, though, I feel like a Victorian being asked to comment on footage of the moon landings.
The show is ostensibly a fly-on-the-wall documentary. Except it’s not. It’s really not. The production values are suspiciously high: everyone’s always very well lit, and the sound is perfect even when the characters have conversations in crowded nightclubs. There’s also the fact that most of the scenes are distinctly unspontaneous. In restaurants, for example, the main characters are often the only ones eating – yet the other punters don’t seem to mind at all. They gesticulate wildly at each other, throwing back their heads in silent hilarity and knocking back fizzy water from champagne flutes as if they’re having the time of their pampered lives.
It would take an extremely willing suspension of disbelief or a serious head injury for anyone to believe that what they see on Made In Chelsea is real. Though the cast deny that the show is scripted (protesting that ‘we’ll be put in a situation and the producers say go’), their conversations, actions and behaviour are obviously manipulated to fit with predetermine story arcs. Having said that, I’ll happily believe that the programme has little or not input from professional writers: to suggest that the dialogue is laboured would be like saying that Ryan Giggs’s week has become a little tedious. Take, for example, the opening line: ‘Oh, I’m exhausted after that day’s shopping’. This can only have come from the mind of a Super Sloane trying to paraphrase the sentiment ‘Good lord, it’s just so terribly draining being this wealthy and indolent’ sympathetically for the viewing underclass.
So we’ve established that the whole thing, if not actually scripted, is staged. Yet we’re allowed to know that. In fact, I think we’re allowed to celebrate it. This, it seems, is the point. I’m finding it hard to adjust to, but I’ll get there. It’s by no means the weirdest thing about the programme. No: that, for me, is the Ollie storyline.
Before I go on, I want to make it absolutely clear that I am, in general, very much against pigeonholing people for any reason. If there was an anti-heteronormativity party, I would be hosting it in full drag – but I’m still taken aback by this storyline. Ollie Locke is a beautiful boy. He has shoulder-length, blow-dried, lickable hair, and perfect skin which he makes up daily. He’s excessively well turned-out. He is also transparently gay – yet for most of the first three episodes has a girlfriend, Gabriella.
It’s quite obvious that Ollie doesn’t fancy girls. The producers and E4 have gone to great lengths to ram the point home for viewers, having Ollie’s “girlfriend” borrow his eyelash curlers, zooming in on his every campy female-directed grimace, filming him pointing out hot men to his BFFs, even posting Ollie’s Make-Up Tips For Men on the E4 website. It’s my firm belief that, despite tabloid coverage of Ollie’s ‘confusion’, we can be reasonably confident that the whole thing is very much out in the open in Real Life, so far as Real Life exists for these people. So why, oh why, did MIC given Ollie a girlfriend?
In the first couple of episodes Ollie displays clear antipathy towards Gabriella and dumps her in the third on the grounds that the relationship ‘isn’t working’. Gabriella does some rubbish fake crying and demands to know why, prompting viewers nationwide to bellow ‘because you haven’t got a PENIS’. Cue D For Dalrymple/LLFF’s Top-Secret Insider Gossip: we know from a friend who is friends with the production team that Ollie is presently to be gifted a hunky male model type to ‘come out with’ in a future episode. Fine: so Ollie will stop pretending to be straight. Good for him. But the question remains: why? Why? WHY? Will Ollie’s coming out really be news to anyone who knows him – or to viewers? Is this an example of Hollyoaks-style educational programming, teaching the nation’s yoof that it’s OK To Be Gay? And if so, wouldn’t it more educational just to show Ollie as he is, an attractive and popular gay guy whose friends know he is gay and don’t give a shit? What is going ON here?
It was the third episode when things really started to get silly. It began with a written warning for the Hard Of Thinking that ‘some scenes have been created for your amusement’. The dialogue seemed more stilted than ever, though it’s possible that my critical faculties had hitherto been stunted by the format’s novelty – or wine. Most importantly, the ridiculousness of the things the characters were saying and doing had been stepped up a notch. They donned Barbours and flat caps and participated in a country shoot-cum-willy waggling contest. A charity auction on a battleship was organised in a matter of hours. One of the characters sent her dog to a therapist.
It was the canine psychologist that clinched it for me. Suddenly, the creative process behind the programme was revealed: producers sitting in a room with a copy of Harper’s Bazaar seeing who can come up with the most outrageous idea for the abuse of wealth and privilege. And that’s the key. This is why people love Made In Chelsea. It’s a whole new world of people and things to be disparaging about. We’re allowed to mock the characters because they fit their stereotypes so exactly. They deserve to be mocked, because they’re young and beautiful and rich.
With this in mind, I’ve written a treatment for the first episode of the next series. The observant among you may notice subtle parallels between this and the first series, but we Made In Chelsea fans are comforted by repetition (also bright colours and soft fabrics).
Scene one: early morning in Candida’s bedroom
Candida sleeps fitfully and alone. The camera sweeps across the bedroom floor, which is littered with designer heels, abandoned wisps of expensive lingerie and small piles of cut diamonds. In the foreground, a Blackberry rings on silent. The film crew decide that Candida needs her rest and do some close-ups of the illuminated display, which records seventeen missed calls from Cosmo.
Scene two: Fenestra’s mum’s kitchen
Fenestra and Gusset perch on bar stools at the semi-precious stone-inlaid breakfast bar, sipping Civet lattes as they discuss the events of the previous evening (a swanky party held to promote Wiggy’s new handbag range). Both agree that the bags on display were hideous, and Wiggy herself sick-makingly mankazoid. The girls agree that Wiggy should be brought down a peg or two. Fenestra has the brillopants idea of writing a post for her Sloane About Town blog insinuating that Wiggy takes inspiration for her handbags from the high street.
Scene three: Cosmo’s SW3 pad
Cosmo redials Candida on his mobile, but hangs up guiltily as girlfriend Plummy enters the room. Plummy carries a designer bag that contains a teacup piglet wearing earrings and a tiara. Seeing Cosmo’s guilty expression, Plummy challenges him over the call. An inexplicable lapse in continuity means that she soon has Cosmo’s solid gold mobile in hand and is checking his dialled numbers. A short yet unusually resonant argument ensues (Plummy can be heard as far off as Ladbroke Grove) and Cosmo storms off, snatching up a white mink top hat from the coatstand as he leaves.
Scene four: a squash court, somewhere posh
Cosmo and Spackers play squash. The game is intense: the boys play so hard and with such skill that the ball is never quite visible. The camera lingers on their impressive musculatures, which are surprisingly defined given their stated occupations (Event Organiser and Professional Hairdo). Spackers, whose initials are embroidered on his super-luxe sports togs in platinum thread, advises his friend that he may well have behaved incorrectly with regard to his conduct towards Plummy and Candida: ‘You were, well, to be honest, bang out of order, mate. Sozzlebiscuits.’ A bead of sweat rolls down Cosmo’s forehead onto his cheek and solidifies into a perfect pearl.
Scene five: back at Cosmo’s pad
Plummy is lolling on a lizardskin beanbag nibbling at a Fabergé egg when Cosmo returns to the flat. Despite the presence of the camera crew, she extracts an Awkward apology and a promise that Cosmo will not see Candida again unchaperoned. She then departs for Harvey Nicks leaving Cosmo to read another text from Candida: ‘Coming 2 one’s gig 2nite? Bisous, Candy XxXx (The Rt Hon Lady Minge)’.
Scene six: a grimy Mayfair pub
The whole gang are gathered together for Candida’s musical debut. Spackers, Fenestra and Gusset bitch over gold-flecked mojitos served by monkey butlers, and are joined by Fumbles, Twinkle, Gimpy, Biffles and Stinky, who have all been on a unicorn shoot at Vulva’s country estate. Jonno, the show’s only black character (drafted into the second series to help meet industry targets), enters the bar to a chorus of ‘yo’s and fistbumps from the established cast. At this point viewers can press the red button to self-administer a lethal overdose.
Candida trips onto the stage to general applause, peeping with difficulty through Swarowski crystal-tipped eyelashes. Tremblingly, she puts her full, sensual lips to her silver kazoo. The first song brings the house down: everyone agrees that her soulful interpretation of Jack Johnson’s Who Gives A Fuck should totes deffo secure her the record deal she’s after. Yet Candida looks troubled. Her eyes, now bleeding freely, scan the crowd as she launches into her second song.
The performance is lacklustre until Cosmo bursts in, whereupon Candida perks up noticeably and brings Goldfinger to a rousing finish. Cosmo leaps onto the stage and is leaning in for the kiss when Plummy storms in. The camera zooms in as he looks frantically from Plummy to Candida and back again. Background music rises to a crescendo. Plummy’s pig climbs out of its bag and craps emeralds all over Cosmo’s shoes.
I can’t see this failing to get commissioned, but I always have other skills to fall back on, should that and the TV critic job fall through. Here’s something else that was Made In Chelsea this weekend.
*Yeah, I say ‘totes’ all the time, but when I say it, it’s funny. You get me**?
** This is also very amusing when I say it.