Last night’s TV: Famous, Rich and Homeless

Last night’s TV: Famous, Rich and Homeless
The Guardian, by Nancy Banks-Smith


The transmission of Famous, Rich and Homeless (BBC1) might have been better timed. The country is full of well-heeled people happily slumming it in sleeping bags. It’s called Glastonbury. Otherwise, I have no fault to find with this cracking documentary, which dumped five fairly famous people on the frozen streets of London like black bin bags.


Hardeep Singh Kohli, Annabel Croft, Bruce Jones, Rosie Boycott and James Spencer-Churchill, Marquess of Blandford, were watched over by a couple of rough-hewn angels, John Bird from The Big Issue and Craig Last from Centre-point. They tipped a heap of unpre-possessing clothes on to a concrete floor and invited them to take their pick. James, who is substantially built, immediately went into splutter mode. "No, no, no! That’s not on! Forget it! There’s nothing here. Look, Craig, you’re not silly enough to understand that doesn’t fit." This, like everything he would say later, contrived to be at once unintelligible and offensive.


Dropped off randomly around London, each headed for somewhere more familiar. Annabel left Soho briskly and dossed down outside Dolce & Gabbana. In Shoreditch, James bummed a bus ride to Chelsea ("Do you know which bus goes to the West End?"), reminding you of the duke who boarded a bus and said, "Number 10 Grosvenor Square, please." A shabby chap in a cap obliged James with the bus fare, as if seeing a large, lost toddler safely home.


The begging was going quite well. Hardeep was recognised and given a tenner. Bruce found that, if he took tourists’ pictures on Waterloo Bridge, they would give him the price of a pint. Or four. Rosie had perfected such a tale of woe that a young woman went to a cashpoint and drew out £40.


Conscience-stricken, Rosie gave it to a Big Issue seller. James, meanwhile, had reached his natural habitat and vanished into a five-star hotel. Entertainingly enough, the camera crew were escorted out as undesirables. Tackled next morning by Craig, he lied through his teeth and the remains of his full English breakfast. The second night, they allowed him to sleep in a hotel, to stop him absconding.


The third night, John Bird greeted him jovially: "Hello guv’nor! Where are you going?" Crimson rage convulsed James. "It doesn’t matter where I’m going. I’m finished with this. I’m not going to make a fool of myself in the street punching you in the fucking mush, but I tell you, if I ever see you again, you will get it!" And he lumbered off.


It’s a curious thing but, as you get older, you become invisible. I doubt if I show up on CCTV now. Perhaps I’ll try robbing a bank. The famous five, now four, found they had become invisible, too. On Waterloo Bridge, tourists walked round Bruce. No one would even look at Rosie. Hardeep said,


"If I don’t clean your windscreen, will you give me money?" It was a joke worth a fiver of anyone’s money, but the driver stared ahead.


Those with some old fracture seemed to crack first. Annabel and Hardeep were holding up well, so far. Tonight, each will team up with an addict or prostitute.