Victoria Wood's Nice Cup of Tea, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews
Victoria Wood's Nice Cup of Tea, BBC One
Victoria Wood's Nice Cup of Tea, BBC One
Cultural history as comedy finds one comforting national institution investigating another
The cup of tea is a national institution that brings comfort and good cheer to millions. So is Victoria Wood. Blend them in a pot and you’ve got a pleasing brew called Victoria Wood's Nice Cup of Tea. It might not have been so. When Wood last ventured out into the former Empire it was to visit all the places in the world named after Queen Victoria. The concept felt slightly stewed. Not here.
Broken down into two distinct chapters, Victoria Wood's Nice Cup of Tea spent the first hour explaining precisely where the humble cuppa came from. Put very reductively, its precious leaves were originally lugged down from the remote hills of China, then ferried along rivers to Shanghai so that it had already done a thousand-mile schlep by the time it was put on the ships bound for Blighty. The Chinese being protective of this increasingly valuable commodity, the British eventually contrived to grow it in their own adjacent territory in India. This helped bring the price down from the exorbitant sums wealthy aristocrats would pay for such an exclusive, not to mention addictive, item.
How exactly do you become a tea historian, of whom several were on hand?
In the second part the tea had been safely welcomed ashore from the ocean-going clippers such as the Cutty Sark and installed itself as a therapeutic necessity for British palates from nobs to navvies. Wood spent this hour working out why tea means so much to the natives of this island – enough, by the by, to have triggered the American Revolution and China’s addiction to opium – and exploring the rituals that have grown up around our consumption. In this she had help from the usual array of celebrities. (Though the world has no real need of Matt Smith's thoughts on tea, he was presumably there to lure the Whovians, the youngsters among whom need recruiting away from latte and other frivolities). Cheerful builders and cabbies and, rather movingly, war veterans were also on hand to testify to tea’s ability to stiffen the nation’s upper lip in times of crisis, or slight drowsiness.
A lot of this was surprisingly informative. And then there was Wood, cheekily subverting her own scholarship, and the whole grammar of the celebrity-fronted doc, with a comic performance of incomparable deftness. In Shanghai she mischievously listened as a beautifully dressed tea lady presented a ceremonial beverage with an extremely long introduction in Cantonese. “So the minestrone’s off then,” Wood adlibbed. She also took an unscripted tumble among the tea plants while picking leaves in India, and grouchily reconstructed the Boston Tea Party. And her gift of a tea cosy got snubbed by fellow Lancastrian Morrissey. As well as clippers there were clips, many allusions to tea coming from her own back catalogue.
A few questions remain. How exactly do you become a tea historian, several of whom were on hand? Or an expert tea taster in Harrogate? And while one understands that brewing skills stop at Calais, why does not a single employee of any multinational coffee chain know that you don’t slop in the milk while the bag’s still doing its thing? Oh, and there was no investigation of those old class signifiers – tea or milk first, the cocking of the little finger, cups v mugs etc. But then she had only two hours. Better stick the kettle on again.
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