Friday, 9 May 2008

THE BARON 1.3

Mike Reid
19 January 1940 – 29 July 2007

The final part of The Baron (broadcast nearly a year to the day since filming) wasn't much to get excited about. The three-part series hasn't been must-see television, but it had an eccentric charm and entertained with its central clash of anarchy-meets-religion in Malcolm McLaren's blasphemous schoolboy behaviour. Sadly, Malcolm was forced into exile last week (after publically calling Jesus "a sausage"), and despite the cameras following him around the outskirts of Gardenstown, exaggerating his story to other "outcasts", the show consequently lost its bite...

Mike and Suzanne became the only remaining competitors for the title of Baron(ness), and the show once again revolved around them doing a bare minimum to win votes. Mike seems crippled by a genuine lack of creativity (content to just wander around doing his man-of-the-people act until forced otherwise), while Suzanne was distracted by the arrival of her baby boy and boyfriend (J.K – or was it Joel? – formerly of Radio 1).

Both did manage to take delivery of a package of campaign posters, rosettes and badges, so marched around the village to turn the place yellow (Suzanne) and green (Mike). But Suzanne was more happy when gossiping to villagers who hadn't heard the news about Malcolm's shock exile. Meanwhile, Mike took to covering up Suzanne's posters and scribbling beards and glasses on her photo.

The search for a Baron struck me as daft since day 1. I don't know what ITV did to persuade Gardenstown that hosting a reality show around their search for a new Baron would be a good idea, but it probably involved a hefty donation to one of the many churches. All three celebs never looked totally comfortable, although I came to believe Mike Reid was genuine enough. As he rightly pointed out, can you really see Suzanne bothering to travel from London to north-east Scotland to open fetes and really invest some time? No. The only half-way decent option for the villagers was Mike: who had the time to give to the village.

So how cruel that once Mike won the village election (by a sizeable margin), he sadly passed away just a few months later. The Baron was the last TV project he was involved with, and it was actually quite fitting. After years spent exaggerating his persona as Frank Butcher on EastEnders, at least The Baron gave us a little glimpse of Mike Reid himself. And he came across as a nice bloke.

Considering a chunk of the show's audience were probably tuning in just to see Mike Reid one last time, The Baron slightly fudged the ending. It was nice to close on a heartfelt speech from Mike about Gardenstown and his commitment to the village as its new Baron, but after a fade to black (where legends revealed Mike's passing, and the passing of his title "Baron Of Troup" to wife Shirley), the show made a too-sharp exit. Maybe they didn't have the filmed material to do anything else, but it seemed a bit jarring how everything cut to the closing credits.

Never mind. The Baron was a silly idea that clawed out entertainment value from Malcolm McLaren's butting of heads with the locals, and made a worthwhile send-off for Mike Reid -- showing him as a positive, good-natured, likeable everyman. There was a moment (ruined a bit by jumpy editing) where Mike was told he was more popular with the kids than he expected, as some little boys had been seen chanting his name. He looked genuinely astonished and pleased by the news he wasn't just winning the grey-vote.

It meant a lot to Mike Reid to be liked by people; a fact that perhaps fuelled his career (stand-up comedian, kids gameshow presenter, popular soap character), so how best to go out on TV than by winning a peoples' vote?


8 May 2008
ITV1, 10.40pm
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