Here’s an exam question for you: what’s the best way to reverse the trend of UK textile manufacturing decline that started in the 1930s, escalated in the 1960s and has led to high levels of unemployment in many North of England ex-mill towns, particularly those in Lancashire andYorkshire?
Why, wheel in Mary ‘Queen of Shops’ Portas to design a new brand of knickers of course! That’ll sort it all out.
Yes, like Jamie Oliver before her, Mary’s decided that she’s the saviour of the Great Unwashed. But whereas St.Oliver tacked greasy grub, ill health and obesity, Mary wants to get the non-working classes working again…by employing them to make lacy pants.
100% British pants, of course, made from UK textiles. Patriotic pants. The kind of knickers, in fact, that Churchill would wear.
Currently the only source of 100% British botty-hammocks is the Underworld factory in Weatherfield, Greater Manchester. And unfortunately for the unemployment statistics, it’s fictional.
Although it does employ about 8 actors at any given time.
But, I hear you cry, how does that solve the problem of cheaply made Indian and Chinese fabric, an issue that first raised its head in the late 1920s? Well, don’t worry- Mary’s on it. Apparently, these countries have recently seen a slight increase in their overheads lately that could push up the cost of their products by a small margin.
Get in! That’s the recession solved. Quick, everyone: to the looms!
Although based on a pretty daft idea, the programme did one thing very well: it illuminated the utter lack of opportunities for work in the North West of England, made much worse by the current economic crisis. She went to Middleton and Rochdale and chatted to young people – often young men. Many had never worked, and often their parents had never had a job either.
All said they’d like a job, but without experience, role models or an understanding of the job market they were really just left on the sidelines. It’s easy to dismiss them as layabouts, and at times Mary seemed to- or at least imply that they could try harder- but on the whole they were flat, hopeless young people living in a concrete mess of Bargain Boozes and closed down takeaways.
But it was all ok really, as Mary had taken over a small, disused textile/sewing factory to use for her pants-making project. This that meant she had eight whole minimum wages jobs to offer. For the duration of the project, anyway. You’re saved, Middleton!
To find her eight lucky employees, she placed ‘no experience necessary’ posters all around town. And because it also mentioned being on the telly, hundreds of people turned up for a selection day.
And that’s where the programme started to go wrong, as applicant after applicant were hauled before the camera to trot out their sob story about unemployment, feel sorry for themselves and be prompted by Mary into having a bit of a cry.
It was a TV talent show format but without the promise of a glittering singing career (or, more realistically, eight months of vague fame and appearances on Loose Women followed by a lifetime of finding your single in charity shops). Instead, they were being offered a repetitive minimum wage job for nine months.
Admittedly, it was a good opportunity (and confidence boost) for most of the young people concerned: particularly 20 year old dad of one Andrew, a baby faced chap in an oversized suit who had never worked but desperately wanted to provide for his son and set him a good example in life.
He was also a natural at sewing…he’s the textile industry version of Matt Cardle.
But did they really need to play emotional, Snow Patrol style music over the scene where she told the eight successful applicants they’d got the job? They’re going to be sewing gussets on knickers, not apprenticing for Sir Alan Sugar.
They should really have called it The X Factory (sorry).
Mary’s Bottom Line is on Thursdays at 9pm on Channel 4. You can watch it on 4OD here.