A BBC documentary crew has been stalking the corridors of the Foreign Office. Eddie Gibb finds out what goes on behind closed doors.
The Minister is not happy with the seating arrangements for his high-level meeting at the European summit in Edinburgh. He bounces on one of the plush leather chairs a few times like a spoiled child and declares it both ugly and uncomfortable. ‘Don‘t forget Chancellor Kohl is a big man,‘ he reminds the phalanx of hapless civil servants trailing in his wake.
Tristan Garel-Jones. Minister of State for Europe during Britain‘s EC presidency. is the star turn in the first episode of a new documentary series about the Foreign Office. True Brits. As the camera follows him chain-smoking and glad-handing his way round Europe. Garel-Jones works hard on his ‘maven'ck‘ image. (Admittedly it’s a term that probably applies to anyone at the FO who tries to sneak a sense of humour through Whitehall security.) His fast-track private secretary Tim Hitchens. whose duties includes having a fresh pack of B & H in his pocket at all times. describes Garel-Jones as ‘all mercurial energy'. Hitchens is clearly a fan who is both thrilled and faintly appalled at his boss’s lack of gravitas. Can you imagine Douglas Hurd emerging from a meeting and describing an Italian minister. within earshot of a microphone. as ‘on another planet“?
‘Never before has British television come so close to the bean of Govcmment.‘ claims the BBC production notes. True Brits certainly presents a close-up view, often so close that it's impossible to grasp the wider view of events. but there are revelations in the trivial details. A discussion about
the secret contents of another foreign minister‘s briefing note read upside down round a conference table. shows just how informal. informal channels can be.
‘What we were trying to do was capture the texture of diplomacy rather than transient details of policy.‘ agrees series producer Stephen Lambert. ‘That ﬁlm doesn‘t tell you anything more about Maastn'cht than you already want or need to know. but it does capture a flavour ofa slightly more irreverant minister coming in there and how the machine deals with such a person.‘
Lambert had been lobbing periodic requests for access into the Foreign Office‘s publicity machine for several years. During that time the department has felt increasingly obliged to justify its role and the fact that permission to film was given in 1992, when its work was regularly making front page news. suggests media handlers saw a chance to portray the
I department at the height of its powers. By allowing
iristan Basel-Jones and his private secretary Tint Hitchens
cameras virtually free rein to roam its empire for nine months. the Foreign Office clearly believed presenting a human face would help win public support for its desire to continue playing ‘first division football‘ in the league of nations, as Gare]- Jones put it.
Will it work? It’s hard to tell; some sterotypes are confirmed while others are dispelled. it is a stuffy. virtually all-male club that always chooses cheddar over those iffy continental soft cheeses. But it is also shown to be a pragmatic organisation. not overly burdened by the political ideologies of the day. Lambert is unsure how the public perception will be changed by the series. but confesses to having been rather impressed by the way the FO conducts its business. ‘lt did seem to be a more efﬁcient machine than i anticipated — certainly compared to the BBC.‘ he says.
True Brits starts on BBC? on Thursday 28 April at 9. 30pm.
:— Naked ambition
‘Feminism is at a crossroads,’ drawls Camille Paglia on her polemical tllm Lesbians llnclothed. ‘Women don’t know whether to return to men or to revolt.’
Standing on an eye-burn set complete with acid-coloured drapes and a couple of candles, the woman who lusts alter Madonna, and though bisexual, claims the only good luck is with a man, is everything you expect her to be. lier voice is irritatineg
pithy, her hands wave around like crazy semaphore and Paglia looks as it she’s making it up on the spot. But she doesn’t let you turn over, oh no, don’t even try it.
In the space of halt an hour no matter what your sexual thing. is, Paglia’s notions on the rise of lesbianism as a political move, her assertions that all women are bisexual, that the last twenty years have been a disaster tor creativity tor lesbians and that lesbianism hasn’t advanced beyond the thirteen-year- old’s level at sophistication are all successtully provocative.
But intercut with Paglia’s crazy lecture are a short history at lesbianism, cements by writers such as Bea Campbell, Susie Bright and by
lesbian photographer, Della Grace on lesbian issues such as positive image, sexuality, the split between dykes and leminist lesbians.
The approach is obviously intended to stimulate a more sympathetic audience - who needs a man to talk nonsense about women when you have Camille - but nevertheless, the examination of the rise of lesbianism into popular culture, lesbian chic and groups like Fem 2 Fear and even Paglla’s ideas about temele sexuality — apparently women have thinner skin than men and theretere have a greater erogenous zone - mdtes captivating viewing. (Beatrice Colin)
Lesbians llnclothed is part ol the Without Walls series on Channel 4 on Tuesday 3 May at 9.30pm.
The List 22 April—5 May l994 75