It's heartening to see that the old Reithian dictum of entertaining whilst enlightening is still very much alive within Auntie's hallowed halls. The tide of recent history has conspired with the daily drip-feeding of the rest of the media to convince all but the most radical and dyed-in-the-wool anarcho-syndicalist that the class war is dead. But, living up to its noble heritage, on Wednesday night the Beeb delivered a savage blow to the clavicles of any capitalist lackey foolhardy enough to try telling *them* that.
David Mitchell might seem to some an unlikely catalyst to spark the Revolution - until, that is, he opens his mouth. Immediately, centuries of rage at the slavery, economic repression and the hegemony of the land and moneyed classes that you've tried to keep the lid on comes bubbling up in the pit of the viewer's stomach and if there were a Molotov cocktail handy (and you weren't quite so *dashed* thirsty) you'd be flinging it with glee from the nearest barricade and running through the king and all his servants before you could say 'Imperialism is the highest form of capitalism'.
"I come from a long line of Scottish sheep farmers", Mitchell sneers, his nose wrinkling in disdain, as if he's standing in a pile of something that's come out of the arse of one of his ancient ancestors' charges. I've tried very hard to get over my prejudice about him - i.e. that he's a chinless, Oxbridge Footlights tosser - and I've even found long stretches of That Mitchell and Webb Thing very amusing. But what's funny as a comic persona gets a bit wearing when it becomes apparent that the mask is indistinguishable from the actual personality.
I know you shouldn't judge someone by where they live, but Mitchell is filmed leaving a house that, were he not so posh and evidently intimate with Stephen Fry would be immediately swarmed over by the Social Sevices. No doubt they'll be looking for the "missing" child he and his "estranged common law wife" have tied up and kept hidden beneath a bed for the last six weeks so they can sell the story to the newspapers and appear on the Jeremy Kyle Show. Cut to shot of Kilburn tube station. David's off to see his parents, who presumably live a hefty old hike from the High Street in the posh bit of Kilburn. Or Finchley, as it's better known.
Mr. Mitchell sr. is a nice enough old cove who looks at his son with a tender smile that's intended to disguise the immense sense of disappointment his offspring engenders in him - and just fails to do so. Pa Mitchell - sadly not, I'm guessing here, obviously, called Phil or Grant ot Archie - has, as far as I can ascertain, been boning up on the Mitchell ancestry. "They came from Scotland and were farmers", he confirms, pointing at an old portrait on the wall of a gruff looking, white-bearded type covered in tartan and bearing a staff. To drive the point home, he's filmed poring over the incomprehensible Gaelic text of some dusty old leatherbound volumes.
Mrs. Mitchell, meanwhile - almost certainly not called Peggy, Ronnie or Roxy, I'd hazard - looks on in the kind of dismay only a mother who has spent a small lifetime knitting pairs of gloves and patiently attaching them together using a length of wool so they can be threaded through and dangled from the arms of a duffle coat when not being used, only to find that her precious infant has come home yet again minus his mitts. "All that effort", her face seems quietly to bemoan, "for *this*...."
Having prepared a substantial packed lunch and a thermos of oxtail soup for the boy and generally helped him into his dufflecoat and wrapped him up warm against the elements, given him a quick sprucing and a lick and a promise and so on, Ma & Pa Mitchell finally wave their intrepid son onto the Highland Express. "I'm not a particularly sociable person" mutters David, seemingly to himself, as the mothers around him begin to collect stray children close to their bosom, their eyes desperately darting toward the furthest end of the carriage in case there are any empty four-seat berths there well away from the child kidnapper with the laptop, muttering away to himself and being filmed, presumably by Social Sevices.
Arriving in Tongue, D.M. witters on to himself about what a shit hole the place is as sheep, goats, pheasants and small rodents all diesperse rapidly for the cover of the gloaming to avoid contact with the troubled looking man in the duffle coat with the gloves flapping loose at the arms passes by. He meets up with a bonny-faced blonde local lady who has presumably been persauded by the film crew to pretend to be related to young David in exchange for a pair of tickets to see 'Strictly Come Danding' being filmed - or possibly, given the distance from here to Shepherd's Bush, a 'Taggart' DVD boxed set.
"So, this is the derelict and rather grand farmhouse from which my forebears ran a 13,000 acre farm in the mid-19th Century", offers David helpfully. He runs his fingers through some empty wooden shelving units which would once, so he's told by his imposter relative, have housed the invoices for the once thriving concern. Conscious of the current recession and its impact upon the majority of the programme's viewers, one of the crew pokes David with a stick until he finally offers a few contrite words about how sad it is to see a business that once belonged to his family going down the tubes. It's deeply moving to see him, wrestling as he is with the private implications of the impersonal forces of economic history whilst simultaneously playing a sudoku game on his Blackberry.
Keen to discover more about the sheep-rearing life of his forebears, David is introduced to a rather stern looking farm hand who, having first instructed the Mitchell lad to take his hands out of his pockets and, if he's *really* that cold, to wear the ruddy gloves his poor wee Ma stayed up all night knitting for him and which he's just allowing to dangle uselessly from the sleeves of his duffle coat, lets David have a run at feeding the flock. It must have been even more painful for this professional animal husbander than for the casual viewer to witness this product of one of our finset academic institutions making such a pig's ear of the task of drizzling food over the ground for sheep to feed on. "Is that enough", demands a clearly bored Mitchell having spent about a third of a second trailing the sack of pellets over a patch of field about the size of a pocket handkerchief. "Use the whole bloody sack!" Advises the farmhand as the flock, clearly driven by a quite outrageously pronounced peckishness to forego their natural reticence of this evident animal abuser and mill around their inept steward.
We find out a little more about the development of the Highland sheep industry. The land clearances of the early 19th Century despatched off to the coast the many small settlements of crofters who had previously settled the land, leaving the way clear for the local aristos to rent it out to farmers like the Mitchells. Fortunately, to the evident relief of DM's unimpeachably liberal conscience, this all happened well before his family started shelling out to the local lairds in order to suffer the privilege of making a livelihood. So that's alright....
Relieved, Mitchell sets off for the Skye Ferry to explore a different branch of his family tree. Pausing briefly to mutter "hmm, yes, er, all very nice...harrumph" at the stunning natural harbour views laid out before him in the clear Highland light, it's out with the laptop as David decides to do the rest of his research online and thus eliminate the need to meet any more of these ghastly farmhands and labourers and all those awful bloody relatives of his. In a hilarious scene, time-lapse photography is used to give the viewer some idea of the risibly slow download speeds those who live in the natural spleandour of Norther Scotland are forced to abjure. It takes *days* for DM to download a very short pornographic film! How terrible!! Never fear, we can rest assured that once hordes of Middle Class southerners start buying the place up for their second homes and forcing the indigenous people into the welfare queues, they'll soon have that little lot sorted out.
I zone out a bit while Dave is finding out all about his principled preacher great-great-grandfather who campaigned against the child slave trade that saw hundreds of pauperized Highland youths sold into the service of the Manchester cooton mills, but who was also, it seems, bloody horrible to his alcoholic wife. I come back from brushing my teeth to hear David Mitchell's eulogy to the quiet joys of stolid middle classness. "I'm proud to be middle class", he asserts, not even knocked out of his stride by the bigger boy wearing a top hat who cuffs him on the back of his head as he passes. "We can look down on the peasantry and jolly well stick two fingers up at the aristocracy", he chortles, checking to see whether the crumpet he's toasting over an open fire on the end of a silver skewer is browning nicely yet. "So there!"