Fidel Castro, Helipads & North-East Fashion Retail

After nearly four years of trying to track this down again, here it is: The Secret Life of the Shop, an absolute gem of a documentary series, screened in four hour-long parts on BBC Three in 2005. Taking the seemingly innocuous premise of following the goings-on at Psyche, a leading fashion store in Middlesbrough over the course of a year, it made for surprisingly compelling television, none more so than in the last episode where passionate, but slightly misguided head honcho Steve Cochrane, talked about his passion for and feelings of kinship towards Fidel Castro and his genuine hope that he might pop by Psyche for a PA by way of a proposed helipad. Big dreams indeed. Big, stupid, crazy, sweet dreams.

The creator of the series Richard Macer has a brilliant technique of being mildly provocative, what some might call “stirring”, and building interesting relationships with his subjects. He comes across as a playful version of Nick Broomfield and should be as well known. Don’t let the subject matter put you off, he’s some kind of genius.

Over at Youtube, DW1977 has kindly put up the entire series in 10 minute chunks, and believe me, it’s well worth your time. Stick with it, it’s a goldmine.

It also neatly defines quite how much BBC Three has changed in the past couple of years, from a home of populist yet revealing documentaries like this and challenging comedy like 15 Storeys High and Snuff Box to the morass of kid-pleasing rubbish and Two Pints repeats it is today. I can see why this has happened, even though I don’t necessarily agree with it. The past year has seen the channel strive to define itself in stricter terms and target audience to give itself a point, which in turn should safeguard it against calls for it to be scrapped. I think it’s a flawed argument, quality is quality, but as Danny Cohen has said, the channel’s not aimed at me, depressing as that is to admit.

On the subject of fashion retail, it seems that Iceland have their mitts all over our high street and are looking for Sir Philip Green to help them out. It’s also a good time to remember the good things that have come out of Iceland, like local jazz-funk heroes Mezzoforte. They wouldn’t nick your money, no sir, they’d just smooth groove the bejesus out of you, and if that’s a crime, lock me up.

Mezzoforte – Action Man

(Get your Mezzo merch here.)


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