Good Guys 4
Another in the occasional series, because despite the Harvey Weinsteins and Boris Johnsons who hog the headlines there some good guys out there.
David Olusoga has probably done more than anyone to highlight the long history of black people in Britain, and he hasn’t refrained from participating in the thorniest debates about Black Lives Matter and the restitution of stolen cultural artefacts, but he always does so in a way that is measured – yet scalpel-sharp. Who better to front A House Through Time, a programme whose very concept I found irresistible?
I’ve watched all four series and haven’t been disappointed. One of the things that is so satisfying is that he follows the inhabitants of the house in question to wherever their life’s course takes them – be it to the Americas to make their fortune, the battlefields of WWI, or being pressganged into the navy.
In the recent series about a house in Leeds he traced the career of a textile worker who specialised in dyeing and became a lecturer in the Chemistry department at the University of Leeds – social mobility indeed. Sadly, ill-health forced him to resign, and he ended up committing suicide while in a private mental hospital. It will not surprise you to learn that some decades later the chemicals he worked with were discovered to cause severe neural damage.
But Olusoga didn’t stop there. He followed the man’s widow and daughter, who had a learning disability, as they moved to a small village in Gloucestershire. After the mother died, the daughter lived on for another 50 years, moving from care home to care home till she died aged 90. Olusoga tracked down the last home that she lived in and met the owners to draw out their fond memories of her. He showed a photo of her taken shortly before her death, cradling her beloved doll. At a stroke, he had invested this quiet, circumscribed – some might say blighted life – with as much humanity and dignity as those of the men of the world who had walked the same rooms.
As a self-confessed Countdown addict, I’ve become something of an expert on its celebrity guests. Jo Brand is always a favourite because she makes up nonsense words from the letters and gives them her own laconic definitions. Dr Phil Hammond is great, dispensing non-threatening health tips laced with scurrilous (but anonymous, obvs) case histories. But there is a rump of old actors who do little more than come on and trot out a few tired anecdotes.
Not so Rufus Hound. Whenever he appears, the week is filled with his bespoke poems, many very funny, some surprisingly hard-hitting. He leapt into my good books right from his first appearance when he described with great affection the time he spent as a child watching Countdown with his grandmother. How many men in the public eye, I wonder, could give such a vivid and engaging portrait of their grandmothers?
Finally, a man I know nothing about, except that the world has every reason to be thankful to him. He is the partner of Dame Sarah Gilbert, of Astra-Zeneca vaccine fame, and he quit his job to bring up their triplets (now also biochemists in the making). Behind every great woman…?