Mary's Silver Service

I’m looking forward to retirement. There’ll be plenty of time to catch up with all the DVD box sets I haven’t had time to plough through, potter about in the garden, and become a fan of Jeremy Kyle. A lot of older people in the UK feel very differently though, they feel they were pushed out of their jobs too early and are chomping at the bit to get back to the daily grind. Enter Mary Portas, the flame haired, Gucci clad business dragon who has decided it’s up to her to get them back into employment. She has started her own OAP employment agency with the catchy motto “If We Die On The Job, We Won’t Charge You”. Over the last two weeks she has helped some gardeners tinker with a suburban plot in need of some love and attention and a group of retired caterers served up a smorgasbord of old fashioned nibbles for a Great Gatsby themed party.

This week she was helping retired builders get back into the work groove. There was Michael, a bricklayer who’d previously worked on massive housing estates, Sydney, whose credentials included Rolls Royce and the BBC and Terry, an electrician who obviously had a bit of a thing for Mary. Before testosterone overload occurred she also roped in Anne, an interior designer who had worked on palaces in Dubai. These ex pros may have been hoping to work on a Chelsea townhouse or a commission from a large conglomerate – instead they were going to decorate two rooms in Adam and Vicky’s suburban semi.

To be honest, there wasn’t a lot of building involved in the show. It was mostly painting and decorating, but the OAP’s launched themselves into in with real gusto. Project manager was Dave, a man who obviously always used to do things by the book, and it wasn’t long before he was laying down the law and causing friction, and a little pushing and shoving, with his workmates. His instruction that there should be “no banter” on site went down like a ton of newly laid bricks, and an almost tearful Terry was ready to walk out. Predictably it was left to a woman to diffuse the situation, and it wasn’t Ms Portas that soothed the builders’ brows, but interior designer Anne. She was the real star of the show. Gliding around the house with poise and an every ready clipboard, she made decisions and stuck to them and wouldn’t listen to the clients as she manoeuvred them around DIY stores making them buy things they didn’t really want. Adam called her the Mary Berry of the interior design world.

The rooms got completed on time, of course, and the clients were happy, naturally, but it was really no more than an episode of Geriatric Changing Rooms. The clients paid £6,000 to have two rooms painted and decorated, which seems steep even for a London suburb. The outcome wasn’t really the point though. The programme aimed to show that just because someone has retired they don’t suddenly become useless, and nor do they want to spend their twilight years sat in front of the TV doing a crossword. Most of the people featured in all three shows were widowed, and after spending the majority of your life with the one you love it showed that when they are gone life can be incredibly lonely. Having something to do and proving you are still useful to society is incredibly important as you get older, and this aimed to show employers that just because someone is over a certain age doesn’t mean they are over the hill.

The only thing in the programme that seemed out of place was Mary Portas herself. We know she’s a retail expert. She has helped many a small business get back on its feet, and last year it was her mission to rescue our high streets from a slow and painful death. Gardening, decorating and catering though aren’t really her speciality, and you noticed that she was mostly in the background here once she had interviewed the candidates. She popped up as a talking head now and again, but dealing with the oldies while they were on the job she actually looked slightly out of her comfort zone. Channel 4 obviously has to find things for her to do, but this would have been much better as a straight documentary without the need for her celebrity endorsement.

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