Reviewed: Victoria Wood’s Nice Cup of Tea

Oh my Darjeeling.

Victoria Wood’s Nice Cup of Tea



So you decide to send Victoria Wood, national treasure and professional Alan Bennett-alike, off to do a travelogue-cum-documentary about tea and the British (10 and 11 April, 9pm). Good plan. Everyone likes Victoria Wood. And everyone likes tea, too – except for those people who like lattes but that’s fine because they’re all watching E4 and Sky Atlantic. OK, this project will be expensive. You will have to splash out on airfares to Shanghai and Boston, plus a couple of swanksville over­night stops in Assam and Kolkata, not to mention travel insurance and the cost of limitless supplies of Imodium, Dioralyte and extra-strength Sure for Ms Wood and the crew. But consider the result. If she turns out to be the new Michael Palin, this could be the start of a whole new franchise.

Then . . . disaster! Wood and her director return to HQ with a couple of souvenir chai cups, a comedy straw hat and a film that is dull and predictable and patronises foreigners for their tendency to look foreign, talk foreign and put condensed milk in their Darjeeling. Oh, dear. Wood is not the new Palin, after all. She is not even the new Caroline Quentin.

What to do? Do you: a) put her film on ice indefinitely and get on the phone to Alan Titchmarsh to see if he is interested in making a series about leeks, a venture that would necessitate only a trip to Wales?; b) hide it on BBC4, somewhere between the repeats of I, Claudius and Timeshift: the Golden Age of Coach Travel?; or c) simply butch the whole thing out and daringly screen Wood’s film on BBC1 in hour-long segments over two consecutive nights?

Personally, I would have gone for the second option and then swiftly disappeared for a long trip abroad myself. As you will no doubt have guessed by now, the commissioning editors went nuclear on this one and Victoria Wood’s Nice Cup of Tea – a title so rubbish, not even Craig Brown could spoof it – screened on BBC1 and lasted the full 120 minutes. Was it really as bad as all that? Oh yes, it was. The travel bits were like Blue Peter circa 1976, with Wood meekly learning to pick tea (in India), to taste tea (in Harrogate) and to talk nicely to toffs about tea (at Woburn Abbey). Wood is either very shy or very gauche, with the result that she found it impossible to meet the eye of any of her interviewees or even to look at the camera half the time. Weird.

The anthropology and social history bits, meanwhile, were like The One Show gone wrong. Various random celebrities – Graham Norton, Dr Who, Morrissey – tried (and mostly failed) to explain why they and people in general love tea so very much as Wood gazed on, looking vacant and a little bit twitchy.

Yes, you did read that right. Morrissey met her in a beige American hotel room, where he served her a cup of weak Ceylon from his personal teapot, a lime-coloured metal job with red beads dangling from it. In exchange, she produced a tea cosy knitted by her friend Norah. Yes, a tea cosy – which he accepted, albeit with a certain camp truculence.

It was so painful to remember, watching this excruciating scene, that I used to think Morrissey was the most stylish and beautiful and poetic man who ever lived. For here he was playing Dame Hilda Bracket to Wood’s Dr Evadne Hinge. Were they flirting? I think they were, a little bit. And it killed me. Sic transit gloria Morrissey. I think I’d better stick the kettle on, quick.

Victoria Wood and Matt Smith enjoying a nice cup of tea. Photograph: BBC

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 12 April 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Centenary Special Issue

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How the radio stations reacted to Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize

For its part, Radio 1 was too absorbed by the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards to mention the proclamation on Newsbeat.

Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature inspired a bewildering gamut of radio responses. At first, proof of his talent was abundantly forthcoming, Andy Kershaw yelling down the line for World at One from a motorway services on the M6 within ­moments of the announcement. (“I can’t understand why they didn’t give this to him 41 years ago!”)

However, a full six days after Talk Radio excitedly reported the event on its home page (“a pivotal part of the cultural revolution of the 1960s”), the online feature has yet to attract a single comment. That’s zero talk. For its part, Radio 1 was too absorbed by the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards to mention the proclamation on Newsbeat, though Heart FM firmly quoted the chair of the English faculty at Oxford (“The Tennyson of our time”), and pencil-suckingly dissected lyrics (“Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’/ Up the road . . .”).

Is it poetry? Is it literature? You could tell it was doing everybody’s head in. But when, on Radio 4’s Front Row, Billy Bragg praised Dylan for “bringing a literary and poetic thread into pop music”, the argument sounded terribly old.

The whole battle about Dylan being as great a poet as Tennyson is a hangover from an ancient battle, from a time when it actually had to be pointed out that this pop-music stuff can be brilliant and clever. A time when boring people battled for respect and prestige for an obvious genius. Over on Radio 2, Mark Goodier cheerfully played “Tangled Up in Blue” (“Major, major prize for Bob today. If that isn’t a decent excuse to play a song, I don’t know what is”). But by Sunday, on Radio 4’s Broadcasting House, the gloves were off and guests were declaring that they couldn’t stand Dylan’s voice (cliché, pathetic).

By Monday Simon Armitage was saying that Dylan’s lyrics had no more sophistication than something composed by a child. Is it poetry? Is it literature? Well, it kind of is. But it kind of isn’t. And it doesn’t matter very much, except to the likes of Dylan – and only a long, long time ago. Now he hardly requires the approbation. The Nobel Committee has given the prize to the one writer in the world who doesn’t need it. 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood