A very proper piece of British drama

22:20, Mar 02 2014
joanna vanderham
WATCHABLE: Joanna Vanderham who play shop girl Denise in The Paradise.

On Saturday night Prime is showing The Paradise, which is another quality BBC period drama series.

Let me be clear, it's not quite as good as the best the BBC has to offer, but it's better than most, and almost everything Australia and America produce.

That is enough of a recommendation, and as Mrs Brown opined, it's almost worth watching just to hear the English language being used and spoken so well. This is one series where you won't EVER hear a "whatever", a "yous" or "bro". It is so refreshing.

That said, please indulge me as I relay an anecdote from last week.

I was talking to a clearly educated woman of perceptive tastes at the city dump [that's another story] and, amid the compost, she nicely told me she was disappointed I did not feature Coronation Street more often in this column.

It made a nice change from those who sneeringly proclaim they haven't seen it since it was in black white and Ena Sharples wore a hairnet etc etc. But here, in this unlikely venue, was a timely reminder that there is indeed a large constituency of Coro St fans who never believed a word of those hateful accusations against Ken Barlow and Kevin Webster.


Mind you I can't say the same for Rolf Harris, who had a huge hit with Two Little Boys. Anyway I digress. The bottom line is you can expect an overdue update on the Street in the not-too-distant future, but for now, it's back to The Paradise.

The plot is simple enough, and a tad familiar. It's set in the 1870s in a large, upmarket department store called The Paradise, reputedly England's first department store, in northeast England. It's got more than a passing resemblance to Mr Selfridge, with dollops of Downton Abbey and, dare I say it, Coronation Street added in to the mix as well.

There is the detail of the period, and the ever-so-proper, subservient roles of the counter staff to their superiors and the titled gentry. The all-powerful lords and ladies certainly ruled, with a laced velvet glove. In many respects it reeks of Downton Abbey.

The Coro St influence comes in the plots and subplots of love, in its own simplistic way. It's wholesome stuff in the sense that all the action [not that there's much] is between men and women. To be gay in England during the 1870s meant you were happy, nothing else. Mrs Brown certainly approves of the morals as well as the dialogue.

There is one small link with Coro St, with Raquel, [Curly's wife] playing the role of Miss Audrey, a very proper, if slightly dim head of fashion.

The owner of The Paradise is widower John Moray and there are a few contenders for his affections. He was once a drapers' s boy in Emersons, a small shop that grew and grew under his guidance, until it eventually became The Paradise. The name gives a clue to his ambitions, he's not a man for understatement.

It gives an insight into how credit started. Mrs Brookmire, a lady of such standing buys half the store but Miss Audrey points out she doesn't have the money in her purse to pay for it.

Mr Moray is up to that challenge and suggests to Miss Audrey that an account should be set up. He puts it ever so nicely.

"May I suggest we do away with the vulgarity of cash for a lady of your estimation and simply record your purchases for future settlement."

Naturally Mrs Brookmire agrees and continues to shop with enthusiasm.

She buys the other half of the stock in the store, leading the store manager to observe ""That bill will make a husband shudder."

It doesn't as it turns out.

Later on, Mrs Brookmire is in the ignoble act of seducing Sam, a good looking young draper, who is one of the central characters. Not that he needed much.

It turns out Mrs Brookmire is a desperately unhappy young woman, trapped into a marriage with a much older, titled man, simply because he is filthy rich.

"Wealth is not happiness, "she tells Sam just before she snogs him.

Mrs Brown observed on that basis, how lucky we were not to win Powerball last week.

Sam the exuberant draper is variously described as "a big mouth, a naughty boy, a rogue, a flirt, a conman, and a ladies man" and that was all in one sentence.

He and Mrs Brookmire get busted and she blames him for making improper advances. It's a fib, of course and Sam is blamed for the incident, until his accuser finally does that very British thing of doing the right thing, and admits it was all very consensual. So all's well that ends well, and there are plenty of twists and turns in this excellent series.

Do watch.

The Timaru Herald