Geordie Finishing School For Girls: A perverse showcase of the UK’s social divides

Angel of the (quaint) North? (c) blacque_jacques

Georgia Lewis

First, Geordie Shore reinforced the stereotype that every woman in Newcastle is orange with fake tan and never leaves the house without nine sets of false eyelashes on and every man is a comically inflated gym junkie with all the wit of an unwashed sock. Then BBC3 picked up where MTV left off with Geordie Finishing School For Girls. The breathtakingly insulting premise is that  four posh young women from the south of England will spend time with four Geordie women and somehow they will understand how disadvantaged people live. Never mind that they could have gained the same understanding of disadvantage in Britain by taking a bus to Tower Hamlets or Elephant & Castle – instead, a trip to Newcastle was apparently required.

Cue trepidation from the southerners, with one of them admitting she has never caught a bus (a trip to Elephant & Castle on the 155 would be a novelty for her) and another saying she doesn’t need to work for a living. Meanwhile, the poverty porn of the north-east fires up with suitably grey-skied shots of Byker and Walker and introducing the four Geordie women and their undoubtedly hard lives. The lasses from the south get introduced to Huffty, a local legend of some sort, who tells them to take their rings off lest someone cuts off their finger to steal them. Anyone who had never been to the UK could at this point be forgiven for thinking violent muggings never happen in London. They also spend time painting the house of a barely recovered drug addict and rape victim, as if such things are unheard of in London and the home counties.

Possibly the most offensive southerner is Steph, the politics student and wannabe MP. She is quick to describe the street as “charming” and she is delighted to enter a household where three generations live under the one roof. This also fills her with joy even though the family is crammed into a terrace out of economic necessity.

Steph’s lack of self-awareness continued when she told of the “sacrifices” her parents made to give her a £26,000 per year education. The biggest sacrifice seemed to be to her mother’s designer wardrobe. She then went on to say this sacrifice was made because her parents love her so much. It was on par with Susan Ma’s faux pas in The Apprentice when she asked out loud if the French love their children. Steph may as well have said: “Disadvantaged Geordies don’t love their kids enough to send them to expensive schools.”

If Steph ever wants to be an MP who truly empathises with real people, she should probably quit criticising the poor for having the temerity to have modern appliances. Clearly, her definition of poor requires laundry to be done with a tub and washboard, all meals to be made over a fire in the backyard. Perhaps she thought a cooking fire could be used to send smoke signals, thus saving a fortune in mobile phone bills.

But the overwhelming tragedy of this programme was the shallowness of it all. Four privileged women from the south alongside four women enduring varying degrees of hardship in a less-than-picturesque part of Newcastle is a pathetic concept. The north-east has been badly let down by various governments for a long time. This is continuing under the present government with their disbanding of One North East, an organisation that not only provides much-needed jobs but acts as an advocate to encourage development and investment in this neglected region. Nissan’s Sunderland plant has been a massive financial saviour for plenty of north-east families but the manufacturing sector has largely gone the way of the region’s coal mines.

And the flipside of this sorry excuse for intelligent programming is that Newcastle has a vibrant cultural scene, great shopping, good public transport, a more affordable cost of living than London, there are plenty of people who are not living in poverty. But, tragically, a TV programme about all the positives of this great city along with a call for more investment by the government and business to revive the economy and provide more jobs just isn’t going to rate as well as a posh birds versus Geordie lasses festival of stereotypes.

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