When we watch films based in our Mediterranean neighbours' lands, we enjoy scenes involving sunny seductions full of dance, music, food dripping with sauce, colour, raised voices, tears and hugs. And in every scene, it goes without saying, we can also spot an elderly relative, wheeled out, humoured, ignored, adored, but above all involved.
John Simpson gets to grips with Peggy, his hostess for four days, but has to adjust massively
These same Mediterranean neighbours would wonder that such a programme as this is necessary. As part of the BBC's When I'm 65 season, four broadcasters made their way to each spend four days with a pensioner, and confront the challenges of elderly daily living head-on.
On paper, these four could be sharing such trials themselves. Gloria Hunniford, Tony Robinson, Lesley Joseph and John Simpson have a good 250 years between them but one of the points brought home by this programme was that any disparities in health, wealth and status are only exacerbated by age.
Of the four situations documented in this stunning programme, I'm not sure I could tell you which is the most challenging.
Gloria Hunniford was determined to prove her hostess Ivy's lot
Gloria Hunniford, a proud consumers' champion, was left speechless, confronted by the empty fridge of Ivy, surviving on the breadline of £3.24 a day. Gloria ended up feeling naïve and stupid for not realising the huge gap in many elderly people's bank balances, and Ivy felt frumpy and self-conscious next to her polished guest.
By the end of the programme, Gloria had waved a magic wand and Ivy was installed in a new, cheaper home and feeling transformed. I so hope this is an accurate reflection of what's possible in the real world, although I fear wheels of welfare may grind more slowly without a BBC camera crew breathing down the neck.
Of course, whenever cameras go rolling into these types of situations, there's bound to be a skewed amount of observation, intervention and help, but hopefully, in some cases, true inspiration both for participants and viewers.
In a way, Tony Robinson had the easiest job of the four, paired with agile, sociable Philip (89), whose 'only' problem was a broken heart, having lost his wife after 68 years of marriage. A defiantly upbeat Robinson got going with the domestic chores, and then set to winding up Philip's neglected mojo. Again, Robinson got lucky here - Philip's latent singing skills lay waiting to be discovered and just needed exactly the right amount of gentle urging from his guest to get back on the wheel, or rather the mike.
Meanwhile, Simpson, himself 67 but still used to getting on a plane and dashing around the world's hot spots, had to resign himself to a slower pace of life with cantankerous Peggy, her tinned food and her daily appointment with the wrestling on TV. While he soon used his analytic skills to get to the heart of Peggy - deprived of a lifetime's supply of affection from anyone other than her long-dead father, and hence easily spikey and misunderstood - Simpson slowly revealed just as vulnerable a side to himself. He spoke of his surprise at seeing himself playing with his young son - wondering "Who's that white-haired old bastard?" - and pictured a future when his son wouldn't need him. "One thing I'm not going to do is choke up," he told us, but it was too late, and we got to see a side of John Simpson that presumably Gaddafi missed.
Lesley Joseph rose impeccably to the challenges presented by Pat and Malcolm
While Simpson relied on his rationale to deal with Peggy, or rather, decide not to deal with her and let her be, it was Lesley Joseph's deep compassion that came to the fore as she was faced with possibly the most challenging set of circumstances of all - Pat and Malcolm, a loving couple whose lives have been put in limbo since a series of strokes confined Malcolm to bed, and Pat to the role of carer.
Joseph was a revelation in her willingness to share practical duties as well as listen to the fears and frustrations of both of them - Pat confessing "he had a life and so did I". And she somehow found a way through to helping them come to a deal in their horribly testing circumstances, whereby Pat had a break away, and Malcolm wasn't scared any more she'd leave him if he had some respite care.
Possibly the most extraordinary moment of all in this moving programme (I must admit I wiped my eyes three times) came when, in Pat's relief at having a break, she rediscovered the man she'd married, and they had a good old giggle together.
As Philip reminded us when he found his singing-voice again and as all four presenters found in these enriching, touching encounters, love really is a many splendoured and ever more precious thing.
Part 2 is tonight on BBC1 at 9pm.
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