Kamis, 11 April 2013

Tenancy culture studies: Bread

The Institute of Tenancy Culture Studies could not let this week go by without at least a passing reference to Margaret Thatcher.

Thatcher, 1925 - 2013

Thatcher brought the 1980s "Right to Buy"scheme in the United Kingdom to life, offering substantial discounts for tenants to buy their council or housing association homes. The scheme proved highly popular - and, for some, profitable. But, by preventing councils and housing associations from spending the proceeds on new construction, it all but ended their ability to meet continued demand for low-cost housing. It did nothing to ensure the long-term affordability of housing in the United Kingdom.

But that's not what we'd like to talk about right now. The Institute for Tenancy Culture Studies would like to focus its 'post-Thatcher' attention on the clever BBC series 'Bread'.

Bread features the Boswell family - a plucky mother and her five adult children, a wayward father who drops 'round any time his new girlfriend isn't looking, and Grandad, who lives in the terrace next door. The Boswells manage a relatively comfortable existence during Thatcher's Britain through sheer hard work and determination. In the depressed 1980s economy of Liverpool it's fundamentally about survival. As the matriarch, Nellie Boswell, once put it:
'We're a team. A business. We survive because we're a family and we have a plan. You work yourself to death, I cook myself to death, and the reward is money in that pot.'
Thatcher would have loved it, except for one small thing: nobody seems to have a real job. The Boswells make their money by ripping off the DHSS and engaging in the ultimate free enterprise of shady cash-only deals. At the end of each day they gather around the dinner table and make their contributions to the 'pot' - noting one another's efforts with a sense of solidarity that would not be out of place on a picket line. They pull together, for the good of the family, and they know how to make a quid.

... and they're tenants. Well, at least that's what they told the DHSS. They swapped houses with Grandad so that they could charge each other rent, and claim it back through the welfare system. Pure genius!

Bread pioneered the combination of comedic story-telling with soap-opera style drama. It was quite often fanciful, but hardly far-fetched. Its characters were an interesting hybrid of plausible realism and theatric caricature, and in a way they still resonate on account of this. They are all inherently likeable - their constant affirmation that things are on the up is impossible to disagree with. You just want them to keep on getting away with it... well, at least for the first couple of seasons.

But Bread was very much a product of its time. It is difficult to imagine a similarly themed television show breaking onto our airwaves with such charm and sophistication today, without being shouted down as an affront to the post-Thatcher world.

We can look back on it and laugh. But remember kids, there's no future in ripping off the system...