There is a danger – and I would like to flag it now so we can marshal the troops – that the powers that be are trying to turn Kathy Burke into the working-class Miriam Margolyes.
I know, I know: Margolyes is a national treasure, raconteur, F-bomb dropper at inopportune yet so opportune moments; we revere her etc. But the risk (and one I might argue that Margolyes has not avoided) of milling too many programmes out of your natural strength, your shtick, is that you move quickly into “effortful” and then “exhausting turn” territory.
It is not that Burke is in imminent peril with Money Talks (Channel 4). But this pair of documentaries, in which she meets rich people (this week) and poor people (next week), was presumably commissioned off the back of her documentary Kathy Burke’s All Woman, which aired two years ago. As such, they rely on the same formula – and reproduce the same weaknesses.
The formula is that Burke interviews people, with her trademark directness and interest, and – with luck – elicits slightly more interesting and honest answers than another celebrity questioner might. Sometimes, she and her subject bond over a shared element of their backgrounds. For example, when she speaks to Alfie Best, who grew up in a poor Romany Gypsy family and owns a mobile-home park company worth £340m – plus several Bugattis, housefuls of bespoke Italian furniture and much, much more – he says he works as hard as ever because “I’m terrified of going bust, because I know what it’s like to not have it”. Burke empathises: “People born into wealth don’t know what it’s like [to be poor] and don’t fear it.”
At other points, it is her “concerned/baffled nana” side that is deployed, as when she visits “a TikTok house – whatever the fuck that is” to spend a day with a group of twentysomethings making lucrative online content (“Titting about wearing studded masks”) in a house rented for the purpose. Burke interviews the twentysomething who runs the joint, Yoke Network’s CEO Jidé Maduako, but finds out nothing about how it works or who makes what. It is not even clear whether – as is traditional for a CEO – Maduako makes more money, or will do so in the end, than his content providers/guests-with-profit-generation-benefits.
The first episode even reuses some of the interviewees from All Woman. The former Love Islander Megan Barton-Hanson, previously used as an avatar for aesthetic and sociocultural issues, turns up again, this time as a rich person. As before, she is articulate and personable, talking about the trade-off between sponsorship deals and personal integrity (noting that she would have been 10 grand up if she had accepted a teeth-whitening deal “even though I’ve got a mouth full of veneers”).
As an aside, Barton-Hanson mentions that she has turned to the adult-oriented platform OnlyFans as a moneymaker during the pandemic. Once again, I would like to make the point to a male-dominated TV industry that it is possible to let someone mention such a business – especially when it is far from the central subject of the programme – and not follow it up with extended shots of them going about that business. They may be in their undies, but it is your penis that is showing.
Anyway. Back to Burke. The enduring weaknesses of the format are that there is no overarching thesis, no exploration of the various issues raised, no contextualisation, no wider perspective given. It is a loose assemblage of potentially interesting points of departure from which no departures are taken. Occasionally, Burke will follow up something briefly from her kitchen table: after her interview with Best, she expands briefly on the fact that we are governed by people who come from generations who have known no fear of being without wealth. But then we are back to loose ramblings around the lives and estates of the rich for not much more than a point-and-boggle, and not much more in the way of analysis than Burke announcing: “I don’t have a problem with that.”
The second part, about poverty, has slightly more grit, but not much. You are left with the feeling that it was a cheap hour of filler that – had it been better made – could have left us all much richer.