In the UK: Wednesdays, 9pm, Channel 4
There’s a sort of mini-trend going on at Channel 4. For years, it’s been filling our airwaves with reality shows disguised as documentaries, in which various not especially nice people with overly developed senses of entitlement shout at each other a lot (cf Wife Swap, Big Brother, et al). Aware that that does nothing for its public service remit, eventually leads to Celebrity Big Brother and risks making Gordon Brown acutely aware of the word ‘privatisation’, the channel that likes to say ‘Aaah! You slag!’ has decided to reverse that with some documentaries disguised as reality shows.
For some reason, all these documentaries have the word ‘millionaire’ in their title. Last year, we had Secret Millionaire, in which various moneybags went undercover for a week or two in the poorer parts of Britain in an effort to locate needy types deserving of rewards and give them a great big wodge of cash – as well as find the place that would benefit the entire community most if it received a cash injection. There’ll be a second series soon, although how they’re going to keep it a secret this time, I don’t know.
Now we have Millionaires’ Mission, which is a somewhat brighter but also somewhat loopier idea. Rather than try to do the whole thing undercover and just put £10k into a local community centre or something, a group of eight millionaires will appear rather obviously in a community, live there for a while, then come up with ideas to kickstart the local economy that charity organisations might have missed. Let them help themselves, as one of the slogans almost goes. That’s the smarter idea.
Trouble is, when you get eight bosses, none of whom know each other, and then you ship them off to Uganda for three weeks, it’s never going to go smoothly, now is it?
Right for the outset, there are problems. One of the bosses, Steve, who’s earned ?Ǭ�450 million in construction, is a bit of a soft touch and is instantly forking out cash to the first people he meets. Then he forgets every other rule in the book and rather than trying to come up with ideas for new businesses and foreign investment, he decides he’s going to get a decent water supply running into the village in which they’re staying, no matter what the others do.
He might have a point. The others, who made their fortunes in PR, pubs, wedding lists, micro-scooters, computers, travel and the media, have decided they’re going to build a hotel. Not any old hotel, mind, but one attached to a school and to which ten or twelve really liberal, really rich people come for their vacation and then teach English to the local kids (who currently have to sit on dung and hay when they’re in school or else the tics come up into their feet). Yeah, because that’s easy to do in three weeks with ?Ǭ�50k. Uganda as a tourist destination? It might suit some people I guess. Ten, maybe twelve people. Still, from small acorns, etc.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll see how well this idea does in practice, even when the locals get a bit annoyed and argue with them with machetes. Unlike Secret Millionaire, where you got a feel for the millionaires and the locals in just a week, Millionaires’ Mission is doing its level best to be a documentary so is going to need several episodes for us to get acquainted with the do-gooders. We don’t really have much of an idea who anyone is and those we do meet, for the most part we don’t like (particularly that media type, ‘Seb’, although admittedly he came up with that hotel idea). Instead, we just get a somewhat ADHD narration by Andrew Lincoln of Uganda’s problems that continually repeats what the millionaires are supposed to be doing, in case you forgot in the last five minutes.
With any programme like this, it’s hard to rubbish it, because no matter how bad it is, it’s going to do more good than any one of us is likely to do in our lifetime. But while the idea is a reasonable one at heart, there are a few fatal flaws caused by the programme makers’ desire to make a nice bit of tele, rather than to really do their level best to help these people: the millionaires didn’t get to know each other before the trip so everyone’s jostling to be boss (?ɬ� la Reservoir Dogs); there’s a three-week time limit on the whole scheme, which severely limits what can be accomplished; and they don’t have someone with local knowledge to lead and supervise interactions at all times, but have someone from charity Global Vision turn up every so often to tell them (and the camera) what they’ve been doing wrong.
It’s a bit of a frustrating watch and you can’t help but feel everything could have been handled a whole lot better. But it’s interesting all the same, and a decent and timely reminder, now that half of Africa’s underwater, that there’s a whole world of people out there that don’t have so much as a blog to their name.