The first episode of Fight Club: A History of Violence looks back at the unrecognisable and never-to-be-repeated days when men and women of ill-repute, drunk on cheap gin and intoxicated by a culture of violence, fought brutally on the streets of our capital, as the chattering classes looked on aghast but strangely mesmerised, and wondered whether they could legitimately blame the influx of Irish travellers.
Truly, we shall never see such days again. However, this four-part documentary series, narrated by Sean Bean, promises to take us as close as possible to such an alien world. This first episode concerns the fighting women of Georgian England, of whom âLady Bareknuckleâ? Elizabeth James is the best known, but least typical.
The screen time is shared almost equally by down-to-earth writer and blogger Lucy Inglis and a plummy, Oxbridge-type historian who complement each other marvellously. On the influence of gin, Inglis chirps with a smile âYouâd be drunk for a penny, dead drunk for twoâ?, whilst the professor deadpans, âPerformance was not enhancedâ?. He intones that âNo doubt [the fights] would deteriorate from fisticuffs downwardsâ? and Inglis states âpeople wanted to see the titsâ?.
Watching the old lad attempt gently to describe the fact that the fights generally took place knee-deep in pig shit, before eventually settling on âthere was a large bacterial population in the arena of combatâ? is the one of the finest sights Iâve seen on television in a long, long time.
All this is delightfully interspersed by Sean Bean slowly murmuring pop-history nonsense over slow-motion reconstructions. The undoubted creative peak of this has to be when he announces earnestly towards the end that âthe women who fought with bare knuckles more than two hundred years ago are still there, just beneath the modern streetsâ?, presumably living a life of immortal pugilism in the sewers, like Ninja Turtles.
Still, I would happily let Sean Bean narrate every documentary, movie, T.V. show and video game in the entire world, as he somehow manages to imbue even the most limpid bollocks with fathoms of inscrutable depth. His Sheffield tones could make âNo likey, no lightyâ? or âlet the ham see the cheese,â? sing with the plaintive cry of youthâs aching search for companionship, or âhereâs one I made earlierâ? speak of the tender firmness with which a craftsmanâs hands work.
The manâs a genius, in short, and this documentary is worth watching just for the sheer joy of hearing him speak. But, if youâre already watching, it also has the added bonus of a small serving of interesting history; prole size, of course, we couldnât be expected to understand any more, as the bottom bits of our head are full of KFC and the top X Factor, but still there.