Sue Perkins’ Big American Road Trip
Secrets Of The Royal Palaces
Down in the boondocks, sang Billy Joe Royal. ‘People put me down, ‘cos that’s the side of town I was born in.’
No end of country music singers have covered the number, leaving us to guess what the boondocks were — the wrong side of the tracks, the dark end of the street?
Deep in the backlands of the U.S., on her Big American Road Trip (C4), Sue Perkins learned exactly what ‘the boondocks’ meant.
And she just shrugged. She could not have cared less. The word had no significance for her. Her lack of interest exposed the perils of sending a comedian to make a travelogue just because she has a barrel of quips and a passport.
Sue Perkins’ learned about the boondocks on her Big American Road Trip
The boondocks, it turns out, are worse than just slums. They are a settlement with no electricity, no running water, no paved roads or drains, mere shelters on bare land. The boondocks make a shanty town look like something you’d see on C4’s Grand Designs.
These days, ‘boondocking’ means camping for free on roadside sites in converted trucks, and moving on every couple of weeks to stay within the law. More than a million Americans live like this, with an internet community dedicated to advice on surviving ‘van life’.
In a hired camper with a Primus stove and a half-size bed, Sue journeyed from the Pacific coast, through Yosemite National Park, to the Sierra Nevada.
But the show desperately needed a presenter who cared about Americana. With someone at the wheel to rhapsodise about Hollywood Westerns and relive the romance of the pioneers, we might have been transported.
Instead, we got an hour of sarky remarks about plastic plates and the lack of toilets. Even this might have been funny, if she’d really suffered. But she didn’t. She just moaned endlessly. I bet by the end of two days, the camera crew wanted to strangle her.
Gnashers of the weekend:
Timelapse photography specialist Tim Shepherd was filming a Brazilian giant water lily pad for The Green Planet (BBC1), at his studio in a Devon shed. To clean algae off the plant’s ferocious spikes, he used a toothbrush on a pole. Smile please!
Because she paid only brief attention to the practicalities of life on the move, most of the focus was on people she met. Here, too, Sue was ill-suited for the job.
She’s friendly, and she has the confidence to ask questions. But other people’s lives have no appeal for her. When they talk, and especially if there’s any danger that emotion might be shown, she deflects the conversation with a joke.
Spending an evening with van life evangelist Bob Wells and his middle-aged retinue, she didn’t manage a single meaningful question — nothing about the loneliness of separation from grown-up children, no curiosity about how the public and the police treat motorised nomads.
To travel so far, and show so little interest, makes for pointless television.
There isn’t a lot of point to Secrets Of The Royal Palaces (C5) but at least the familiar content is presented briskly and clearly.
Between the clips of chatty historians, including Kate Williams and Wesley Kerr, we saw chocolate box pictures of castles and royal mansions. The chief item was the Great Fire of Windsor in 1992 and how the Queen footed the £60 million repair bill (with the help of local council taxpayers) by throwing open Buckingham Palace to the public from £8 a ticket.
‘A stroke of genius,’ said Wesley. Edwina Currie, flashing her blue nail polish, added that Her Majesty was ‘a shrewd investor’.
The royal stamp collection, rumoured to be worth £100 million, was mentioned, and we heard the story of the last photograph of Queen Victoria in imperial dress, before she donned lifelong mourning in 1861.
Really, there was nothing here we didn’t already know. But at least it wasn’t presented by a whingeing comedian.