TV review: Virgin Atlantic

10 July 2015

ITV takes a peek behind the scenes at the airline.

The definition of insanity, according to Einstein, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. Who am I to argue? He posited the theory of relativity, I write about Top Gear. 

Anyway, I’d do well to listen to old hairy-chops one of these days. I must be stark, staring bonkers, because I keep watching ITV observational documentaries in the hope of coming across something that doesn’t make me want to bill the broadcaster for the amount of my life I have just frittered away watching an exercise in almost surreal banality.

This was the first of a three-part (!) series behind the scenes at Virgin Airlines. I mean, seriously, what was I thinking? “Behind the scenes” programmes are always so carefully monitored, with access so tightly controlled by Marketing apparatchiks with sharp suits and fixed grins, that you are almost guaranteed to discover nothing of any interest. And Virgin must have the best PR team in the business. That’s why we all think of Richard Branson as a capitalist Mother Theresa, rather than a hardened businessman and relentless accumulator of money. He might be a very nice bloke. But so might Lord Sugar. Or Donald Trump. No, I’m not doing my argument any good here, I can see that. The point is, he has very, very good PR.

It’s Virgin Airlines’ 30th birthday. Richard Branson is paying a visit to HQ. There are flags and bunting, and everyone’s talking in hushed, excited tones. It’s like royalty is coming to visit. Or some sort of Messiah. Later, at a reception, Richard meets a woman who’s been at the company for all 30 years, and rewards her with… a kiss. Whoop! Still, it probably cured her lumbago. 

The rest of the documentary was basically given over to watching Virgin cabin crew go through training to ensure only the best made it through, and seeing the new Virgin plane being designed, complete with extremely flashy £100,000 seats in Upper Class. It was like an extended advert. When the breaks arrived, I expected to be treated to a documentary by way of balance.

The cabin crew’s training seemed to consist a lot of having fabulous hair, and a bit about being shouted at in case of emergency. At the end, they were told, “you’ll be shopping in New York, you’ll be sunbathing in Barbados, you’ll be driving across the Golden Gate Bridge.” You’ll also be cleaning toddler vomit out of your shoes with a disposable toothbrush while a sales executive from Bromley shouts at you because there’s not enough Worcestershire Sauce in his Bloody Mary.

In the end, you’re left asking what it’s all for. Who made this? And why? A documentary should be about something extraordinary. Or it should be provocative, daring, investigative, wry, informative. It should be engender some reaction other than an overwhelming sense of ennui.

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