Daytime TV: Equality and faith

Gary Day enjoys a look at strike activists and their impact, and muses on a new species of teenager

March 19, 2009

To look at them, you wouldn't think they had made history. But they had. If it hadn't been for those two old ladies on the sofa, we may not have had the Equal Pay Act (My Strike, BBC Four, Tuesday 9pm). Yes, many employers still ignore it. But the law is not on their side.

So let's raise a glass to those girls who, back in 1968, went on strike at Ford. There was something in the air. The Beatles were in the charts with Revolution. The women walked out because they were not being paid the same as men, even though they were doing the same job - making car seats. Apparently the men deserved a bigger wage packet because theirs were much more well, er, um, oh, you know, better than the women's.

At first the women shunned the media. But, in a piece of commentary that belonged more in a Carry On film than a documentary, they later learnt to "court politicians and pose for the camera". Not that the strike didn't have moments worthy of inclusion in one of those staples of British cinema.

One banner, which should have read "We Want Sex Equality", instead read "We Want Sex". The bottom part had somehow curled up, a bit like a dress tucked into the back of a pair of tights. "It could only have happened to you Lil, couldn't it?" said one cardigan-wearing class warrior to another.

There were interviews with some surprising figures. Norman Tebbit once led a pilots' strike at the British Overseas Airways Corporation. His file was stamped "unsuitable for management". Looking at what he did in government, that wasn't far off the mark. Back in the 1980s, he told the unemployed to get on their bikes and look for work. Today he'd probably tell them to get into their private jets because it's a global economy. Norm was always practical.

The talking-heads format appears to be democratic because it allows different opinions to be aired. But it's not. Most of the programme was taken up by establishment figures spouting establishment views. Peter Snow described his part in an industrial dispute as a piece of youthful folly. Eddie Shah, founder of the Today newspaper, and Kelvin MacKenzie, former editor of The Sun, vilified the unions. Kelvin gleefully recalled making V-signs at the pickets at Wapping.

They reinforced a history of anti-union rhetoric. The press have repeated it so often it seems true. Unions are only out for themselves, etc. A few scattered voices were never going to trouble the official orthodoxy. Was there possibly a comic character to complete the picture? Yes there was. His name was Norman Strike and his trousers once caught fire while he was on picket duty. The working class. Aren't they funny?

Definitely not funny was Deborah 13: Servant of God (BBC Three, Tuesday 9pm). At first it seemed as if a new species of teenager had been discovered. Here was a young girl who didn't have a mobile phone, couldn't recognise Britney Spears and had never heard of reality TV. But that's because she had been too busy reading the Bible. She wept, and I mean wept, great racking sobs of gratitude to God for sending Jesus to die for her sins. "I, Deborah, am a wicked person," she gulped. "Wicked."

No Deborah, you are not. Neither are your mum and dad, even though they have made you believe you are. They are just plain wacky. "When we first got married," smiled Ruth, "we were going to have only two children and spend the rest of our lives serving the Lord. Then we allowed God to open and close the womb." Allowed? God has already opened and closed Ruth's womb 11 times. At this rate, she and Paul will have more children than Jesus had disciples.

Deborah carries on the work of the original 12. She preaches the gospel to some girls in a bus shelter. "Have you heard of Heaven and Hell?" she asks. They listen politely as Deborah tells them that they will suffer the unspeakable tortures of the damned, but they are more interested in the fact that they are on television.

Matthew, Deborah's brother, invites her to Derby where he is studying catering. So the KFC must have come as a bit of a shock. But Matthew has something more precious to offer than home cooking: advice about nightclubs. He warns Deborah she will see people drinking, dancing and even kissing.

Matthew himself has fallen so far as to have the occasional bop. But he sits out the rude songs and would never, he solemnly assures his sister, go with a girl. Outside a fresher asks if they would like to write on her breasts. Sex. It gets into politics and religion. It's the one thing we have in common.

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