Personally, I love a stereotype. It is an efficient process whereby people short of time can judge someone instantly and organise them into neat little pigeon holes without really getting to know them. Thank god then for the Geordie Finishing School for Girls, the BBC3 show which enables viewers to stereotype both regional and class divides for their sneeringly judgemental needs.
At least that is what the opening montage would have you believe. It introduces you to life in Newcastle, with the briefest mention of its cultural heritage before cutting to shots of drunken teens, council estates and people on the breadline. This is then juxtaposed with the images of privileged London-dwellers quaffing champagne, shopping and generally being a bit Made in Chelsea. However, the introduction is a bit misleading, as in fairness to the programme makers, they do try and convey something a bit different, even if it is replacing the stereotype of scroungers on benefits with the equally common stereotype of hard-working and warm Geordies with a hearts of gold. The ‘posh’ girls also aren’t as hateful as you expect (or hope) as they throw themselves into life without the support of the ‘Bank of Mum & Dad’ and admirably so for the most part.
As we enter the second episode, the ‘posh’ girls are sent out into the world of hard labour or to be more accurate, to work an evening shift at a fish & chip shop. They are forced to complete horrifying tasks such as emptying the grease trap, cleaning an already quite clean toilet, lining up fish for frying and assembling cardboard chip boxes. This is of course a humbling experience for the normally work shy over-privileged ladies but you can’t quite help thinking they are humbled because they feel like they should be humbled as they have a camera pointing at their wealthy faces.
It is hard to see the point of some of the show’s set-ups, particularly when two of the youngest girls are sent to a harbour to clean and remove the innards from crabs at 4am, a job that even the Newcastle natives balk at. The programme also has an irksome tendency to equate the financial gap between the two groups with their regionality. By nicknaming the wealthy girls as ‘Southerners’, it seems to imply that everyone who lives in the capital resides in a mansion, owns a slave and dives into swimming pools filled with £50 notes (I live near Elephant & Castle and I can categorically say this is not true).
The biggest success of the show in my eyes is the complete lack of real division between the two gangs of girls, despite the best efforts of the programme makers to ramp up tensions. They actually get on quite well and all seem reasonable human beings and you can’t quite help thinking that the show runners were desperately aiming for something a bit more exploitative and headline-generating. So good for them I say.