mon 20/05/2024

Normal for Norfolk, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

Normal for Norfolk, BBC Two

Normal for Norfolk, BBC Two

Posh doc about East Anglian farmer clinging to the wreckage provides blameless fun

Normal for Norfolk? Desmond MacCarthy belongs to that dying breed whose vowels are all marbles and plums

In 2014 the Channel 4 series Confessions looked at the changing face of the old professions. In the programme about doctors, one GP remembered the standard practice of deploying acronyms on patient notes that looked like arcane medical terminology but were in fact nothing of the sort. One of them was NFN, which meant Normal for Norfolk.

It’s not quite clear why a new docusoap of that name has adopted it. East Anglian safe spacers may be triggered into a sense of mortal offence followed by noisy excommunication for BBC Two. The title is more harmless than it looks. This is yet another contribution to that tenacious sub-genre of documentary in which poshoes make buffoons of themselves on national television without the faintest idea of how they come across. See also You Can’t Get the Staff about snobs hiring yobs, Posh People: Inside Tatler about the in-house mag for the (en)titled, and The Fucking Fulfords about a family of jaw-droppingly awful Devonian squirearchs.

Anyway, here comes Desmond MacCarthy, a farmer on his uppers on the north Norfolk coast. He has coal black caterpillars for eyebrows, dresses like Ronnie Corbett and lives with his 99-year-old mother Chloe, still gamely on her pins, plus his two children (son Edmund pictured below). There is no sign of a wife. Perhaps like Mrs Fulford, sensing a train wreck, she asked to be excused.

Desmond belongs to that dying breed whose vowels are all marbles and plums. He’s like a mobile exhibit in the Museum of the English Upper Class. Relentlessly cheerful in the face of impending economic apocalypse, he has done what such people do in such circs, and pimped himself out as an entertainment for a visiting camera crew. Able to convey an essence of himself on screen, he makes for a welcome addition to that blessed gallery of TV naturals that includes Fred Dibnah and Sister Wendy Beckett.

The result is a perfectly pleasant half hour of the gentlest satire. Everything that can go slightly wrong does: the new fireplace produces stormclouds of smoke, Desmond can’t find the front door key for the new tenant, the asparagus fields grow tired and threadbare. Desmond curses the dread legacy of that Campbell chap whose first name he can't remember who introduced the curse of spin. There is a mild investigatory element in Desmond’s dealings with East European migrant labour. Last year’s gang had to go, explains Desmond, as “alcohol seemed to be a constant feature of their daily drink consumption”. It takes one to know one. Desmond is a bit bleary one morning after celebrating the bicentenary of Waterloo with some Madeira of similar vintage. “Very good, but I don’t think I should drink it too often.”

This series is essentially an advertisement for Wiveton Hall Farm and its barn café. The Oldie comes to review it and gets a plug too – their shrewd restaurant reviewer is also the publisher. So lots of backs scratched, and tummies tickled. Toby Jones narrates. Composer Ben Parsons supplies a much brighter soundtrack than you normally get in these programmes. Blameless good fun as the sun goes down on a regrettably doomed way of life.

Desmond belongs to that dying breed whose vowels are all marbles and plums


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters