Articles Modest Proposals Television

Office Liaisons – workplace romance in TV shows

Friday, January 16, 1998

Opinions vary wildly on the subject of relationships in the workplace, from ‘Don’t crap in your own nest,’ to wedding day ‘I do’s’ between work colleagues. But there’s definitely a difference between the real world and the world of tv. 

On TV, relationships in the workplace are a perfect way to build suspense and excitement – you don’t have to introduce any new characters, and the audience know both protagonists equally well.

Medical dramas use this device all the time – Doug and Carol in ER have waxed and waned, and while Doug was out of the picture, Carol and paramedic Shep were seeing each other. Even mild mannered Mark has ended up in bed with the odd nurse or receptionist (sometimes very odd). 

The BBC’s Casualty has an interesting spin on this Mills and Boon storyline, with Holby boasting two female doctors who are seeing male nurses. 

Top of the list of other professions blessed with a proclivity for intra-office athlectics are lawyers. This Life saw Anna, Milly, Miles, Joe, Ciara, Ferdy and Warren exploring each other’s briefs with pneumatic regularity, and US legal shows are little different. 

(In police shows, however, we’re mainly presented with dutiful wives or girlfriends who put up with the neglect from their men – until they can’t take it any more. ‘This isn’t how I wanted it to be,’ she laments.  ‘Well, when you married me, you married the job,’ he says grimly.)

Compare this extracurricular use of the office desk to reality, and what do you find? Apart from a lawyer friend of mine who assured me that her life was nothing like This Life before confessing she was seeing her boss, in my experience there’s very little going on in the office. 

It’s been suggested that I only took the job at an Internet company for material for my forthcoming blockbuster airport novel about the sexy high-flying computer industry. A cross between Jackie Collins and Micholas Negroponte, the gold-embossed tome is to be called ‘Web of Seduction’ or ‘Net Assets’ (or something similar). 

Were this the case, I’ve been sadly disappointed. There are lots of single people in the office, of both sexes, but give or take the odd aberration (and even here no-one will give me the full story), there’s been nothing to get the internal email buzzing. 

That’s not to say that there aren’t people who find others in the building attractive, it’s just that they don’t seem to be acting on it.  This is partly an Irish thing – ‘I wouldn’t kick them out of bed for eating biscuits, but, you know yourself, I’m not going to actually do anything about it.’

The closest I came to a workplace romance was years ago at college while I was revising for my exams. I’d sit in the same place in the main reading room in the University Library, a towering hall, with warm pools of light cast on the huge tables by the low brass lamps. Across from me on another table was another regular, who pored over weighty art books while her blond hair fell over her face and shone in the generous glow. 

We’d smile as we arrived and left, and eventually I slipped a note into her book on Versailles and we went for a coffee. Nothing really came of our relationship, but it was made by the place we were in – an impressive and elegant space in a 600 year-old university. Cube farms don’t really have the same ambience. 

Aside from this I’d be very happy if life started imitating art a little more. Even if I weren’t directly involved, it would spice up discussion round the coffee machine. But I’ve a feeling I’d stand a better chance in a different job – is that why my parents always wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer? Surely not. 

(first published as a Modest Proposals newsletter, 16th January 1998)

Articles Modest Proposals Television

TV Dinners

Friday, January 09, 1998

Cooking programmes, I love ‘em. As if we weren’t stuffed enough already, over the holiday period, British TV was full of food being prepared. 

It used to be that cooking shows were just cooking shows – Delia Smith, the 70s queen of the kitchen – just gave it to us straight. ‘This is what I’m going to cook,’ she’d say, ‘And this is how I do it.’ We watched and learned, but we weren’t entertained. 

That was fine, if a little pedestrian, and heading into the 80s cooking as a spectator event faltered a little, being relegated to slots on daytime shows like This Morning or the fondly-remembered Pebble Mill at One.

It soon became apparent that the food was often of secondary interest to the chefs – we tuned in to watch the banter as much as the bain-marie.  The man who exemplified this shift was Keith Floyd. 

Keith was a larger than life character who constantly berated his cameraman, slurped at a big glass of red, and got huge viewing figures. 

As well as Keith’s personality, the show also had great locations going for it – France, Africa, Australia – and this marked another important shift, as we got into the cooking show as travel programme. 

Cookery started its move into other tv genres with this, and soon there were several imitators. Rhodes around Britain saw Gary Rhodes cooking lunch for the Manchester Utd squad, and cakes for a monastery in Northumberland. Gourmet Ireland gave us Paul Rankin getting a similarly good gig closer to home. 

But Gourmet Ireland also crossed into another genre as Paul travelled and cooked in tandem with his wife Jeanne. Here we had real-life family drama, as chef snapped at his talkative spouse sous – ‘C’mon, c’mon, I need the coulis now!’. 

Now we have cookery as game show as well. Masterchef rules early Sunday evening with its combination of preposterous menus from real people, and preposterous vowels from its presenter Lloyd Grossman. We marvel at the civil servants and schoolteachers who can create warmed woodpigeon salad with lemongrass and shitake mushrooms on a bed of rocket and organic watercress, with a balsamic vinegar and coriander dressing. 

Junior Masterchef is too scary to watch, however, as ten year-olds come on like they’re Marco Pierre White when they should be tucking into Jaffa Cakes and peanut butter sambos. 

Ready Steady Cook is another culinary gameshow with the perfect format – personality chefs, celebrity guests, genial host and a stern time limit.  The show wisely adheres to Aristotle’s dramatic unities, all events taking place within the actual time of the show (none of that, ‘and you just leave that to reduce for half an hour’). 

So we’ve had travel shows, real-life drama and gameshows. There are also magazine shows – the aged Food and Drink, RTE’s bootlegged Consuming Passions, and Channel 4’s recent cool upstart. 

There have also been culinary drama shows (Chef!) and even culinary detective shows – Pie in the Sky, anyone? Soon we’ll be getting the early evening news brought you by the Roux brothers, and a cookery-meets-Casualty show, where patients are delivered into the kitchen for some quick restorative work with a bouquet garnis. 

I’m just waiting for the time I can send my intelligent agent out over the Internet to get me some of the dishes created in the programmes – being so close to this stuff without able to taste it is proving too damn hard. 

(first published as a Modest Proposals newsletter, 9th January 1998)