It takes a team of researchers and fixers with address-books stuffed with ‘interesting’ locals to construct a road-trip documentary featuring a well-known personality. The task is to set up ‘meetings’ and then edit the footage to (half) fool the audience that they’re viewing a series of happenstances and chance encounters.
(A least that’s how it goes with the BBC when it comes ‘down our way’; we end up with a predictable string of cameos, mainly representative of the producer’s hackneyed concept of the area) I assume Aussie TV is no different. During her trek through Australia Miriam Margolyes gives the game away by preemptively announcing who she was about to meet.
Rick Stein does that a lot, but then he makes a special feature of the mechanics of the production by repeatedly drawing attention to his crew, humorously mocking their pedestrian tastes when they decline the unidentifiable, foreign, beige gristle that Rick pretends to like by saying “yum”. So I did keep thinking about Miriam’s crew and wondering where they were.
Miriam Margolyes is officially an Aussie citizen now. We know that she’s a National Treasure, but at least not ours, thankfully. I freely admit that I see Margolyes as yet another of those lefty luvvies that loudly bestow their misguided political opinions upon we lesser beings. Her vociferous anti-Israel proclamations are as annoying as those of, say Brian Eno, or that diamond geezer of an actor Maxine Peake. That’s the prism through which I cannot help evaluating her whole persona. However, she has an impressive CV, and I must say her mellifluous voice is undeniably a great asset.
In fact, it’s her voice with its cultured actressy enunciation that gives her lavatorial language that extra je ne sais quoi. When Margolyes goes ‘Bum, pooh and wee’ it brings the house down, like a mischievous three-year-old exploring its new-found awareness of humour, and when she tells us she doesn’t like children - she might just as well have said ‘other’ children.
She visits a farm in a severely parched, drought-stricken part of the country and hears of the family’s despair. One of their young sons, Harrison, has a remarkably mature, philosophical attitude to their plight, but Miriam casually quashes his optimism, alluding to the hopelessness of their situation by sternly advising the boy, who hadn’t heard of it, to look into ‘climate change’. Who is the adult around here?
So apart from all the pre-arranged ‘spontaneous’ encounters, entertaining as they were, I was still conscious of the one thing that continues to trouble me about this oddly charismatic individual. Why does she always boast, in a mixture of defiance and faux self-deprecation, that she’s a “fat, Jewish lesbian”. “Hi. I’m Miriam and I wish you to know that I’m a fat, Jewish lesbian.”
For once I’m not complaining about that exploitative AsaJew identity ace card that anti-Israel activists like to play. This time I'm simply doubting the honesty here. If she were being genuinely self-deprecating, might she not voluntarily greet new people with something like “Hi! I’m a rude, greedy, self-obsessed show-off?”
Several examples indicated that Australia is, or can be, paved with gold. There was an outstandingly moving conversation between Miriam and ‘Moj, an Afghani refugee whose parents and siblings had all been killed. He had emigrated to Australia alone, he said, at the age of 12 and was facing an uncertain future due to visa regulations. They both wept at the realisation that he wasn’t quite sure how old he was. (Although he did seem to know that he was 12 when he arrived)
A heartwarming encounter with two ‘Karen” siblings, immigrants from Burma, who had certainly ‘made good’ through working for a company called “Love-a-Duck”, and as they drove to meet her family Miriam coached the charming young lady on the importance of enunciating the final hard ‘k’ in ‘duck’.
The ‘paved with gold’ potential of the country was further demonstrated by introducing us to a Chinese “property concierge” (estate agent) who has made the most of the opportunities Australia has to offer, having made a fortune, starting from zero.
The entertainment industry has certainly extracted its money’s worth from Margolyes’s “lack of filter’ as Rebecca Nicholson calls it in The Guardian. Personally, I’m not in the least bit squeamish about swearing per se, but her naughty-girl language and ‘too much information” bragging is getting tiresome now. It has reached the stage where it’s jarring and attention-seeking and I’d say, (Asa slim-style, Jewish, heteronormative mother-of-several) we’re done with that now Miriam, and your programmes would be much more colourful without it.