TV blog: Inside the Bruderhof

Benjie Goodhart / 18 July 2019

A peek inside a little-known Christian community in the UK. Plus, the best of the rest of the week on TV.

Inside the Bruderhof, Thursday 25th July, 10:35pm, BBC One

In a quiet village called Darvell, nestling in the leafy countryside of East Sussex, lives a community that seems to exist in a different century. Actually, as a resident of East Sussex, there are plenty of villages I could say that about – but none of them are quite like Darvell.

Darvell has no crime, no debt, no salaries, and no status symbols. People look after each other. There is an emphasis on kindness and selflessness. Absurd! It’ll never catch on.

Darvell, you see, is home to a devout Christian Community, the Bruderhof, a sect made up of around 3000 people worldwide. Their approach to life is little short of extraordinary. The villagers live together in complete harmony. They don’t own anything. The Bruderhof owns the houses, and they seem to move from one to another with startling regularity. An amiable chap called Bernard, for example, tells the camera he’s lived in 30 houses in 30 years. That’s normally the behaviour of someone on the run from Interpol, but somehow Bernard doesn’t seem the type.

They don’t earn money, because they don’t need it. The Bruderhof provides everything, paid for by the children’s toys they make in the village factory and sell. If you want a new shirt, or a new pair of shoes, you merely go to the clothing department and tell them what you need. For many people, not buying their own clothes would be hellish. For me, it would be something of a relief, as any brief perusal of my sartorial history would explain.

It all seems rather idyllic (and, credit to film-maker Karen Emsley, she has made a sensitive and affectionate portrait here, rather than opt for the all-too-easy hack job). They gather together to eat and sing twelve times-a-week. It’s friendly, sociable, a real community.

Of course, there are aspects that we would consider outlandish. Most of us would struggle with that level of religious devotion. You have to dress modestly, and eat what’s given to you. Also, there’s little in the way of technology. At one point, a kid asks his dad “What’s an iPad?” I nearly fell off my seat. As I recall, both of my children’s first fully-formed sentence was “Dad, can you make sure the iPad is fully charged, I’m off to play six hours of Minecraft and destroy my brain synapses.”

There’s also no TV. And the working day starts at 6am. In short, this place is not for me.

But, oh, it is impressive, in its way. And full of surprises. The Bruderhof don’t frown upon technology per se – their factory is properly high-tech, and they have a mechanised laundry system and fully-fitted kitchens. They may look Amish, but they definitively are not.

Even more impressive is how they treat their young adults. Aged 18, rather than being expected to slavishly conform to the Bruderhof norms, their young are sent out into the modern world, to experience life for a year before they commit to (or turn their back on) their way of life. The film follows Hannah, a kind and thoughtful young lady, who is to spend a year in inner-city Peckham. Peckham! Could they not have eased her into the modern world a little more gently? A nice village in the Lake District, perhaps? She’s given a train fare and a small allowance to last her until she gets a job. On arrival in London, she takes a black cab to Peckham. That’ll be the allowance gone, then.

The Bruderhof, and I say this quite confidently, would not be for me. I am too fond of wine and telly and not being up at 6am, and not nearly fond enough of God and singing and being nice. But I can see, without a shadow of a doubt, that this is an impressive way of life. There is a disturbing lack of individual autonomy (“We are not a democracy,” says one) and more than a hint of patriarchy, but there is also so much to admire. Not least, the kindness.

As regards the lack of fashionable clothes, the inability to embrace modern technology, and the rather modest romantic history… well, perhaps I’m closer to the Bruderhof than I might think…

Ross Kemp: Living with Homelessness 1/4, Thursday 25th July, 7:30pm, Channel 4

It has probably not escaped your attention that England won the cricket world cup on Sunday, in quite the most sensational game in the sport’s history. It nearly escaped my attention, however. I spent most of the day travelling back from Scotland, but arrived home in time to watch the last hour of the match. I settled in and had watched a single, solitary ball, when we discovered we had raw sewage flowing out of a manhole and into our garden. So I spent the sporting moment of this, and possibly any, year discussing effluent and blocked pipes with a drainage expert in an unforgivingcloud of stench.

I mention this for two reasons. The first is that if I don’t get it off my chest, I’m going to have some form of temperamental collapse. The second is that the final saw a performance of such utter

heroism by Ben Stokes that he will never equal it. It must be a sobering moment to realise that, whatever you do for the rest of your days, you will never attain the heights of that one, career-defining performance.

A bit like Ross Kemp, then. Whatever he does (and he has actually made some really riveting and sporadically terrifying documentaries over the years) he will never attain the heights of that one,

career-defining moment. No, I don’t mean his fight with Phil Mitchell in the garage. I mean his topless, tired and emotional self-filmed congratulations to the England men’s football team after their defeat of Colombia in the last World Cup.

Nevertheless, on he goes, ploughing his own televisual furrow, which in this series involves him getting up close and personal with some of the key issues facing society. Tonight, he is tackling the disturbing rise of homelessness.

He starts off by spending a night sleeping rough. If I was making the programme, I’d choose to sleep rough on a beach in the Seychelles. Ross has chosen Cardiff in January, on the coldest night in seven years. It’s brutal. He hooks up with two rough sleepers, Jammo and Connor. They are sad souls, lives given over to addiction. Jammo has lost his kids, and been on the streets for 20 years. “Death would be so much easier than life. Living is just so difficult at the moment.” It’s a horribly poignant moment.

Later, Ross meets Nathan and his father. Nathan is on the streets, addicted to heroin, crack and spice. His despairing father drives a 40-mile round-trip every day to give him most of his wages.

Posing as a homeless man, Ross also spends a day sitting in a shop doorway. Only one person speaks to him – a drug dealer selling spice.

Finally, he visits a homeless shelter for the night. Many homeless people prefer to take their chances  in the freezing cold. The shelters aren’t easy places, as Ross finds when he beds down for the night, explaining that sleep can be difficult when you’re surrounded by people with “some very challenging conditions”. Like a compulsion to do a piece to camera in the middle of the night…

This is a sad, sobering and well-made documentary, and anything that adds to the conversation about the homeless epidemic is laudable. But there are so many issues here, it feels like 25-minutes is insufficient to even scratch the surface. Earlier this year, Channel 4 showed the series 60 Days on the Streets, wherein Ed Stafford slept rough for two months. It doubtless gave Stafford, and viewers, a deeper perspective on the issues involved. But if Ross Kemp and ITV reach a larger audience, then it’s worth the effort involved. It is, as he discovered himself, an issue hiding in plain sight, where the people in pain are in front of us every day, and yet still somehow invisible.

The best… and the rest

Saturday 20th July

All Star Netball for Sport Relief, 7pm, BBC Two: Jennifer Saunders and Strictly’s Oti Mabuse captain two teams of celebrities in a head-to-head one-off charity match in aid of Sport Relief. Clare Balding presents.

Moon Landing Live, 8pm, Channel 4: They reckon there were 400,000 people involved in getting man on the moon. Coincidentally, that is how many programmes there have been celebrating the 50th anniversary of this astonishing feat. Tonight, Channel 4 gives us real-time coverage of the events on that day, including plentiful archive footage.

Monday 22nd July

Who Do You Think You Are? 1/8, 9pm, BBC One: The excellent genealogy series returns with Daniel Radcliffe (aka Harry Potter) as tonight’s subject. It turns out, as is so often the case, he has a riveting and deeply poignant ancestry.

The £250 Million Cancer Cure, 9pm, BBC Two: Horizon looks at the science behind a potentially game-changing cancer treatment, Proton Beam Therapy, said to work particularly well on younger patients.

Tuesday 23rd July

How the Middle Class Ruined Britain, 9pm, BBC Two: Geoff Norcutt is that rarity, a Tory-voting comic. Also a keen Brexiteer, in this thought-provoking polemic, he argues that middle class hypocrisy has divided the nation like never before.

I Am Nicola, 10pm, Channel 4: The always watchable Vicky McClure stars in the first of three stand-alone, female-led dramas, playing a hairdresser dissatisfied with her lot on life.

Wednesday 24th July

Shop Well for Less 1/5, 8pm, ITV: Alex Jones and Steph McGovern return to help more families change their shopping habits. Please, have a word with my wife, won’t you? I think she’s financing Amazon single-handedly.

Animal Babies 1/3, 9pm, BBC Two: The cameras follow the babies of six different types of animal as they negotiate the hazardous first year of life. Expect maximum cute factor.

Thursday 25th July (Happy 80th, mum!)

Fake or Fortune 1/4, 9pm, BBC One: Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould are on a mission to discover the provenance of yet more potential works of art, starting tonight with what may be a masterpiece from none other than Thomas Gainsborough.

Broke 1/3, 9pm, BBC Two: New series following nine families struggling to make ends meet across the country. A sobering look at austerity, and the challenges facing millions of Brits today.

Sewer Men 1/2, 9pm, ITV: A look at the lives of the men who work in our sewers. It may not be glamorous work, but these everyday heroes are all that separate us from… well, from wading around in the unthinkable! Probably not best watched with dinner on your lap.

Portillo: The Trouble with the Tories, 9pm, Channel 5: Wait… a political documentary on Channel 5? Whatever next? A Songs of Praise guest slot on Babestation? Anyway, the former defence Minister opens up on his thoughts as to why the Tories are in such a mess.

Friday 26th July

Rescue: River Deep, Mountain High 1/8, ITV, 8pm: New series following rescue efforts across the nation. Cameras tail mountain rescue, coast guard and air ambulances.

Hippos: Africa’s River Giants, 9pm, BBC Two: David Attenborough narrates this revealing portrait of the remarkable (and remarkably grumpy) hippo. Fabulous stuff.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.