Four celebrity pensioners – John Simpson, Tony Robinson, Gloria Hunniford and Lesley Sharp – spend a few days with four normal pensioners: people stuck in one or another of the traps that litter old age. There are many shocks in When I Get Older and itâs hard not to count the revelations that John Simpson has a six year-old son and that Tony Robinson, 65, has just married a 30 year-old, amongst them (I donât read the Mail Online, yâsee).
Thoughts about âdirty old menâ? abound, but would we rather they lived quieter, more âdignifiedâ? and secluded lives? The stories of Pat, Malcolm, Philip, Peggy et al show the troubles such quietness can conceal. But if we allow Simpson and Robinson their younger women and their careers, we have to understand that weâre assuming an awful lot of privilege and luck on their part.
The master stroke of the programme comes in not only highlighting the problems the elderly can face, but also showing how difficult it is to know how to help. Most of us are probably aware on some level that many pensioners are lonely, that some struggle to care for ill relatives, donât have much of a pension or are grieving, but ignore it because we canât see what we can do.
Obviously, there are problems here the celebrities cannot hope to remedy – Simpson cannot rewrite the childhood that made Peggy the âcantankerous old girlâ? she is, Robinson cannot bring back Philipâs wife and Sharp cannot undo the damage done by Malcolmâs strokes – but the documentary wants you to know that you arenât expected to solve those problems, just make them a little easier. Perhaps ‘Being There’ would have been a better title for the piece because thatâs what itâs really about. The one thing we can all give is a little more time.
When I Get Older does well to avoid the whiff of cultural tourism that many of these celebrities-meet-real-people documentaries can exude. Yes, the celebrities are only in these peopleâs lives for a few days and perhaps it does make it all seem a bit too easy, but then some of the answers are easy. It isnât patronising to think you can just drop in and change somebodyâs life because sometimes there is nothing more important than âjust dropping inâ?. If the series makes no grander statement than that, itâs done quite enough.