This could have been LL-B’s ‘Denzil Xavier’ moment. Upon arrival in Shanghai, the cabbie held up the damning sign: ‘LAURENCE RODERICK LLEWELLYN-BOWEN’. But the man at the mantelpiece of The House of Laurence breezed through. Instead our takeaway wasn’t ‘Roderick’, but the next bit, where some sort of miscommunication had left the driver outside the hotel, uncertainly holding the LL-B luggage while our hero had already checked in and was now ascending in a mirrored lift.
Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen: Cracking China (BBC2 Monday, 9pm) was a delightful portrait of someone who, as it happens, likes to gift his own delightful portrait. Having lost a couple of big contracts at home, he was looking to global markets and hoping a new range of knickers would wave the flag for his ‘home collection’ in China and Mexico. The “bad boy star of Changing Rooms” was how Samantha Bond’s narration had him, but plying his UK trade in a shop above Circencester, the velvet-faced designer knew he could never really be termed bad. “Oh my goodness!” he exclaimed, describing the financial risk he was about to take. “Where are the school fees coming from?” Indeed, not truly a star, either, with LL-B absolutely aware he was flogging a slightly concocted level of celebrity overseas. At one point he briefed Chinese shop workers on the selling points of his furnishings, advising them this gear is what “everyone in the UK is very much into”… before looking sideways into camera.
I’ve always liked Laurence. A natural communicator on television, some might consider him glib, but I think it’s more he has an anxiety to provide value for money when he’s with his public. Fill those interactions with information or entertainment. It was therefore fascinating to see that instinct butt up against an even more overriding desire – to seal a deal. Meeting with Mr Gao, the executive director of the Sainty conglomerate, he’d been briefed it was good form to receive a business card with a display of fascination. “Such an eye-catching but very comforting shape,” he observed at the appropriate moment. Then, when the pitching began, he made heavy water every time he had to circumnavigate the vast desk to hand over an item. “I’ll come round.”
Throughout the documentary, Laurence’s excursions were scored with tracks like Rule Britannia as if he was somehow embodying a particularly British ethos. He wasn’t. He was selling himself (“I am the product”) to the “fast growing middle classes” of these new markets. His Britishness was only about aesthetics, calling one range Glam Britannia for marketing heft. And good on him. There he was, filling gaps in the often stilted, translated conversations, with laughter; and chinking glasses enthusiastically while sat at an endless montage of Lazy Susans. Always with his eye on the prize: “I think you’re going to find the prices very… flexible”.
Back in the hotel room – on camera but talking only to us – he was more relaxed. “This couldn’t be more swankazoid,” he concluded, summing up that day’s outfit. And by the end of it all, it seemed like LL-B might just have cracked China and started on a good route into the Americas. “We worked very hard at making them want me.”
I know, I do keep writing about Dragons’ Den1 (BBC2 Sunday, 8.15pm). I was going to add a line of justification (10th anniversary series, three new Dragons) but in truth, I just enjoy going around on the same ride. One continuing pleasure is the epic new levels of preposterousness the production team are able to wring out of the opening titles2. For this series, our five superheroes3 survey Mordor while Evan Davis details their powers: “Global fashion tycoon!” etc.
From this we arrive in the faux warehouse, where Deborah seems over-tired, and Peter is breathing through his mouth. Luckily, our new tycoons settle in well, fingering their prop loot. At one point there’s genuine electricity when Touker advises an entrepreneur to target the high street with his yoga product, rather than the gyms. Sarah disagrees, breaking protocol to hiss, “No!”
The show’s bottom-line remains gripping – people pitching for investment on TV – but there is too much nonsense floating around the room. If it’s not the Dragons competing for a thudding pun-endowed pay-off, then it’s the voiceover, breaking its back to convey information and stage a drama: “Fighting talk from keep-fit fanatic Thierry”. This is the silt. The riches are found if you can drill down into the details. It’s in the spontaneous moments of stress (a woman selling her own version of Spanx can’t recall her cost of sales) and jubilation (“Deborah’s BlackBerry contacts are next-level!”). Peter Jones once told us “turnover is vanity, profit is sanity”. He was probably just pleased because it rhymed, but it’s a good maxim.
“A drama upgrade!” That continuity announcer, pressing the button for Humans (Channel 4 Sunday, 9pm) likely then celebrated with the most odious of things right now – a “mini fist-bump”. We’re at episode five, but the show is sagging. It’s as if, after positing so many fascinating discussion topics in the beginning, it’s now run out of conversational steam – throwing in talking-points like: “You can’t get rid of of someone just because their old!” which remained unchewed.
The main point of interest is Joe facing the terror of having his daughter unearth naughtiness in his History. Although it’s Mattie – with her black nail varnish, and ‘Headcracking’ proclivities – who now feels like the focal point. Joe’s more a Hollyoaks dad who’s lucked into a storyline.
Meanwhile, The Outcast (BBC1 Sunday, 9pm) kept its theme all too prevalent throughout its opening, indulgently-long, 90 minutes. Forever gloom. Adapted by Sadie Jones from her own novel, perhaps this was where the problem lay? That – ironically given the name – an outsider might have asked more questions of the text, rather than assuming our instant fascination with moody Lewis and his plight. Although performed with utmost conviction, and at times quite harrowing, as I reflect now I’m still more shaken by that one word: Roderick!