16 MAY 1992, Page 38


Women with attitudes

Martyn Harris

In Germany, according to this week's Panorama (BBC 1, 9.30 p.m., Monday), it is the height of bad manners to talk about house prices at dinner. So what do they talk about?

For the last ten years the middle classes of Britain have spoken of little else, with five years of glee from 1983, then four years of gloom from 1988. In the fat years I made £150,000 profit on a crumbling Vic- torian terrace a stone's throw from Broad- water Farm. I lost it in a divorce and then I lost another £30,000 on a crumbling terrace even nearer to Broadwater Farm. But this

drama was nothing to Panorama families in Chippenham, who had clocked up a 7,500 per cent profit over 21 years.

In Chippenham's twin towns of Freiburg in Germany and La Fleche in France, peo- ple bought houses to live in; houses for expanding families; houses near the work- place. They saved a 20 per cent deposit, bought their first house at 35 and moved twice in a lifetime. But here we became a nation of grabbers and gazumpers, gloaters and goaders — 'You simply have to get on the ladder, darling' - and we were lashed to the ladder, hypnotised by the inflating pornography of the estate agent's window.

We bought houses to buy houses, and it was the mediaeval dancing sickness and the Dutch tulip craze and the South Sea Bub- ble once again: derangement on a national scale.

All over now, according to Panorama and a doomy economist called Roger Boo-

tle from Midland Montagu: 'Housing is now somewhere to live. As an investment it is finished.' Forget about Mr Major's feeble little percentage points off the interest rates. The conditions which created the housing boom of the Eighties — relaxation of credit controls, council house sales, the consequent shortage of rented housing, the population bulge, the increase of house- hold formation — all of these were tran- sient factors which would not occur again. The permanently rising housing market was a myth of recent manufacture, and with the anti-inflationary discipline of the ERM we would now be following the Ger- man and French model.

I could think of lots of objections to this argument which were not covered. Britain is twice as densely populated as Germany or France; we have no efficient rented sec- tor; we have a deep-rooted tradition of family privacy, manifested in the fabric of our architecture and town planning. I refuse to believe the housing market will never pick up, but it may just be because I refuse to believe I shall live in north Haringey forever.

So that's enough of Chippenham and on to the Chippendales, the male strippers who opened the show for Rude Women (Channel Four, 9 p.m., Monday). 'Have you seen the Chippendales?' asked comedi- enne Jo Brand. 'And did they get their knobs out? Not worth going on about then, is it?'

The theme of the programme was the girls who go, and these ranged from a game 70-year-old called Nancy (`The men are no good after 50, I'm afraid') to toothsome Liz Yule of For Women magazine, complaining about the prohibition of male erections: 'The guideline they gave me was to say, look at a map of the Mull of Kintyre' — whereupon an obliging graphic showed us the decidedly droopy physiognomy of the Mull.

There was no narrative, just a series of fly-on-the wall observations: of the wonder- 'til Jo Brand, then a women's theatre group in Kirkby; then the sexually upfront Pussy Posse girls at their London club. This was a shame, in a way, because the programme had a serious argument, which is the myri- ad subtle ways women are pressured into denying their sexuality. A libidinous man can state his case to camera, but a libidi- nous woman must be indirect, eccentric, comic — or threatening. It needed an artic- ulate female voice to make the point, but all we had was women, trapped in their attitudes.