This month has seen the return of my guiltiest of guilty pleasures; Made in Chelsea. Fresh off the back of numerous reality 'docu-dramas' set in shiny Los Angeles and New York City, a British TV producer obviously thought that the UK was in dire need of its own series following nobodies as they did nothing. And so The Only Way Is Essex (TOWIE) was born. The perma-tanned, bleached-blonde beauty stylists and nightclub events organisers clattered round Essex, camera crew in tow, and then the rest of the British Public watches their tedious efforts on television a couple of months later. The 'stars' of the show were chavvy, tacky, brash and at times incomprehensible, speaking in accents and phrases all of their own. But people watched it, and the programme even garnered television awards for its viewing popularity.
Whilst the citizens of Chingford were all well and good, the British public wanted something a bit different. Everyone knew someone who could be in TOWIE. But then along came Made in Chelsea, a programme featuring people far more alien to the average viewer. Here were the twenty-something heirs to biscuit and chocolate empires (I know, wild!) and horrifyingly young diamond company owners, and, of course, the obligatory pouting wannabe singer. In a typical episode the 'cast' go shopping, get their hair done, drink cocktails, go for dinner, lounge around in ludicrous outfits (often heavily featuring tweed and fur), and have some more cocktails. Sometimes they just awkwardly grin at one another, as music from slightly outside of the mainstream plays in the background. They go to 'pardeees', thrown for tenuous reasons such as a recent breast-reduction or a self-congratulatory pamphlet launch. They NEVER go to work, and on the rare occasion that they do one of their jobless friends rocks up with a bottle of champagne and drags them out to lunch; I don't imagine this puts them up for any employee of the month awards.
The latest season's gorgeous line-up of moneyed, jobless wonders (Photo: Channel 4)
Only free to fraternise before the cameras with their socially engineered group of 'friends', i.e. the rest of the cast, the potential for partner-swapping is high, and thus, so is the potential for staged confrontation. Cocktails are thrown, impeccably-waxed eyebrows are raised, plummy insults are hurled, and perfectly blow-dried curls are tossed. It is undeniably entertaining, regardless of the fact that the anger feels almost entirely scripted. Except that no one would write dialogue as nonsensical or just plain boring as that spouted by Hugo, Millie, Francis et al. Yet somehow the inherent awkwardness of these engineered situations makes the programme as watchable as if the action was real.
And all the non-action is set against a backdrop of some of the city's most exclusive venues in Chelsea, along the Kings Road, around Knightsbridge and Kensington. From pricey boutiques to mysteriously empty nightclubs (rumour has it much of the filming of riotous nights out actually occurs during the day to avoid disrupting the paying punters), the cast teeter in their Louboutin heels or are chauffeured in shiny Bentleys. Their houses are vast stucco mansions, complete with roof-terraces on which Binky and Cheska lounge in sunglasses reliving the proceeding night out in mind-numbingly tedious detail. Mark Francis, a smoking-jacket afficionado, even has a long-suffering, uniformed Italian house-keeper who brings him champagne as he lolls on his silk-covered sofas. Occasionally the cast jets off on a whim, 'to Cannes, sweeedie!' or Morocco. One charming bimbo's geographical knowledge was stretched during that particular trip however when she was pressed to reveal the capital of 'Africa' (yes, the continent), and she finally hazarded a guess at 'erm, South Africa?'. No, dear...Beautiful these young things are, bright they are not. But hey, at least one can have a good old giggle at their dimness - the same individual with the hazy grasp on geography also claimed in an opening episode that Charles Dickens wrote Winnie the Pooh.
Yet despite the fact that nothing happens, and the cast is a clutch of perfectly primped, vapid and dull lovelies, this programme grips me. I smile on seeing the backdrop of Chelsea, a place I lived for several months, a royal and ancient borough, nobly providing the glorious playground for all this contrived frivolity and melodrama. I love to laugh at their ridiculous statements; so too do the producers it seems, as each episode is titled for the week's standout quote of ridiculousness. Maybe this level of mindless, non-drama is all my poor tired brain can handle at 10pm on a Monday night. So shall we? A new episode...? Oh, go on then!