I was on holiday last week at home, practising my Ronglais (did anyone else see Ron spit the word, "verbs" at the screen on last night’s Excuse my French? His teacher was complaining that he didn’t use verbs in French. Little does she know that he doesn’t use them in Ronglish either). Anyway, holidays spent at home meant there was an opportunity to watch the best of British daytime television.
Nearly every day last week while sitting enjoyinng the company of my three year old son I watched Balamory on CBeebies. This is a peculiar programme. Set in a strangely twisted version of the timeless Scottish island town of Tobermory (which is like Brigadoon with brightly coloured houses and less singing) Balamory is populated by an unlikely racial mix for an island town and has lots of singing and dancing.
As in all Scottish towns and villages the local laird lives in a castle dominating proceedings. The shackles of feudalism thrown off for the rest of the country remain in place in Balamory where wire haired Archie an inventor (and real-life stand up comic) presides over his domain. Archie is a true highland gentleman – bedecked in traditional garb – a pink sweater (cf Rockets Galore by Compton Mackenzie where the Todday pink seagull defies genetics by appearing to alter its DNA through dye) and a kilt. A yoghut obsessive much of Archie’s inventive industry is displaced not into solving famine, water distribution, global warming, or other such issues but instead into making things with yoghurt pots – like spades. Oh, and buckets. And, walkie-talkies. And paint pots. Archie is no Trevor Bayliss.
Another important Balamory resident is Spencer, an african american painter/decorator who tricycles around Balamory making music and painting previously whitewashed houses livid colours. His natural aptitude with the brush for murals, exteriors, delicate watercolours, acrylic work, and oils reminds me of the "Hitler, there was a painter" sequence from The Producers – "one room, two coats in an afternoon".
Public order, controlling the raging anarchist protestors wearing their Bob Geldof horror masks, is in the hands of plasticine faced PC Plum, who lives in a white house. Most interested in "wildlife", Plum is over-officious (a recent plot revolved around his demand that visitors to the police station queue following a line painted on the floor), endearingly bumbling, and madly in unrequited love with local nursery school teacher Miss Hoolie whose eyes and nose suggest some genetic connection to cabinet minister Douglas Alexander MP and/or Liza Minnelli. Plum’s song seems to be a Queen parody, one alarming nightmarish scene involving Balamory residents mirrors the four heads in Bohemian Rhapsody. Miss Hoolie lives in a green house (that is a house that is green rather than, well, you get the picture…).
The bus for the nursery is driven by Edie McCredie who lives in a blue house, whose theme song seems to be inspired by Mae West involving Edie lounging around crooning (in her best Bing Crosby style) "Come up and see me some time". Edie tours the world, taking videos of her travels (snap snap, grin grin). In a recent episode Edie ended up taking aerial photos of Balamory in a plane piloted by Suzie Sweet.
Suzie is played by the actress who formerly played Effie McInnes in (Take the) High Road, a soap opera (think the old Emmerdale Farm – you know, Annie, Joe, Amos, Mr Wilks and the rest – on mogadon) played out at various times around the regions in ITV-land before being mercifully destroyed some years ago. Effie, older but no wiser, has changed her name but is still essentially the same person, although now she does not chase after men from the Kirk Session or strangely brooding depressive farmers, but is instead involved in a mysterious tryst with wheelchair bound Penny Pocket, a patronising geordie. Afflicted with a voice and manner more patronising than John Suchet, in the days he presented the ITN News at One (or John Suchet’s Newsround) Penny is clearly a gangland boss, ruling Balamory with an iron fist. A career as a Bond villain beckons. Together, Penny and Suzie run and live in the local shop cum cafe together, and are rarely seen apart. Any similarities to works by Joe Orton are, I’m sure, wholly unintentional. The shop suffers occasional runs on select items (buckets and spades, and the like when Archie’s yoghurt pot skills truly come into their own).
Balamory is brightly coloured patronising tosh, presented with a knowing wink and no little charm. Children love it. I hate it. But it’s still better than Lazy Town.