Now that the intrepid Simon Reeve is back on the TV with a new series about the Mediterranean, it seems a good time to dust off the following review of an earlier two-part documentary by the same wanderer-cum-presenter. Greece with Simon Reeve, broadcast on BBC2 in February 2016, caused Pissed-off Toff to draw some worrying conclusions … not about Greece, but about the BBC.
Do you remember how, some time last summer , Greece was on the verge of bankruptcy and collapse, with rioting in the streets, and how its imminent implosion was going to bring down the whole European project with it? It was all very dramatic, and for a few weeks the country dominated the news. Shortly afterwards, the Greeks were first cajoled and then bullied into accepting a draconian rescue package, and we heard no more about the matter. Reduced to a zombie client state on the fringes of the new empire ruled from Brussels, the birthplace of European civilisation was no longer of interest, and the media moved on in search of fresh disasters to scare us with.
So when I saw that a certain Simon Reeve was going to be presenting a two-part documentary on life in Greece today, I was interested. How are the Greeks coping, I wanted to know? Will they ever be able to pay their debts? And – crucially for the rest of Europe – how are they dealing, or not dealing, with the hordes of Muslim migrants arriving daily on their shores? I hoped that the BBC’s Mr Reeve would tell us.
I should have known better. As an analysis of the state of contemporary Greece, the documentary, both written and presented by Reeve, entirely lacked depth and revealed disappointingly little. However, as a portrait of the world view of Reeve himself and of the BBC that employs him, the mini-series was brilliantly informative. In one scene after another, the boyish presenter managed to voice just about every single self-righteous left-wing piety known to the metropolitan liberal élite that runs the BBC; so much so that I ended up ticking them off mentally, one by one. In the final analysis, therefore, this was not about Greece. It was about the politically-correct agenda that the BBC is determined to foist on the rest of us; and for that reason alone, it was worth watching.
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The first part of this two-part documentary opens, harmlessly enough, with Reeve visiting a small island in the Dodecanese archipelago, where he spends time with one of the last men who earns his living diving for sponges. The trouble is that pollution in the Mediterranean is killing off the sponges; and although there is already more than a hint of complacency about Reeve as he shows the appropriate disapproval of man’s nasty selfish destruction of the natural environment, the whole thing is very sad. Who could possibly disagree? Plus, the filming of this episode gives the youthful Reeve an opportunity to strip off and do some diving himself, while the camera looks on.
We then move on to the island of Lesbos, just a few miles away from the western coast of Turkey, and here we witness a scene which leaves me open-mouthed in disbelief – not at the scene itself, but at Reeve’s reaction to it. Standing by the shore, he looks on as a boatload of ‘refugees’ lands unchallenged on Greek soil, while not far off there is another boatload making its way across the waters from Turkey. This is the migrant crisis observed at first hand, just one small scene in a drama that threatens to overwhelm Europe.
Just in case the extent of the threat that this represents is not already clear, Reeve now asks one of the migrants, arrived only moments before, where he comes from. “Afghanistan,” replies the man. “And why have you come here?” asks Reeve. “Because we hear now easy to enter Europe,” he is told, in halting English. In other words, we come because we have realised that you lack the will to stop us.
So here is Simon Reeve witnessing a scene in a mass migration that is rapidly assuming the character of an invasion … and what does he do? Does he reflect for one moment on the extreme seriousness of all this from our point of view? Does he pause to consider the possibility that these boats might be carrying a terrorist or two? Not at all. Indeed, quite the opposite; because overwhelmed by emotion at the tragic sight of these poor suffering human beings who are so tired after their long journey and who so badly want us to give them food and jobs and houses, he bursts into tears, hugs a group of them, and wishes them good luck.
Perhaps the flaunting of his bleeding heart makes Reeve feel better. Far more importantly, though, this scene reveals a great deal about the BBC and about the liberal conscience in general. The clear implication – the whole thrust of this little bit of reportage – is that these migrants are lovely lovely people and we should take them in, all of them. Universal brotherhood, right?
But this is where the deluded utopian idealism of the BBC crashes into brute reality. Because how can Christian Europe possibly cope with the arrival of millions of semi-literate migrants from an alien Muslim culture? Quite simply, we can’t. As the historian Niall Ferguson recently pointed out in The Sunday Times, this is how civilisations end. But the BBC doesn’t seem to care about that. What matters is having the right politically-correct view of refugees or migrants or whatever they are … even if this view is patently idiotic.
Indeed, in a comic conclusion to the scene on Lesbos, and as though events are attempting to suggest to Reeve that his right-on view of the loveability of migrants might be in need of adjustment, Reeve comes close to being roughed up by the husband, brother or cousin (his identity is not clear) of a Muslim woman and her child whom he spots walking along the road in the midday heat and to whom he most kindly and generously offers a lift. The lesson is lost on him, however.
Reeve now takes himself off to Crete, where he has fun zooming over the mountains in a sort of flying tricycle – which, I am beginning to think, is the style of television he’s best suited to. Now in the rugged interior, our intrepid presenter meets up with a gun-toting Greek Orthodox priest, who tells us that the EU is the Nazi régime in new guise, and says that if anyone tries to take over his country, he is ready. Good for him! At least someone around here has got balls! But one cannot help wondering what treatment Reeve’s new migrant friends would get at the hands of this man and his hardy shepherd companions, all armed to the teeth.
Next it’s off to Athens, where Reeve goes to a suburb in which every wall is covered in outsized graffiti, and which, he tells us, is the centre of the anarchic movement, its ranks swollen by widespread unemployment. Does Reeve now crank up his infuriating mockney accent a notch? I’m not sure. But I do receive the impression that he thinks this is all very edgy and that he, like, so so gets what it’s all about … until a real-live anarchist appears and threatens to beat him up if he doesn’t put his camera away. So Reeve retreats, puzzled by this uncomradely reception; whilst I can’t help reflecting that once again, events seem to be trying to teach him a lesson to which he is impervious.
Still in Athens, Reeve now takes us to a rubbish dump that is apparently the biggest in Europe, and here, on this mountain of refuse not so very far from a more famous mount across the waters in Galilee, he delivers a sermon about how fully 80% of all waste in Greece goes straight into rubbish tips, unsorted. The fact that Reeve offers us a rare statistic suggests that this is something that really, really matters. But if he were a little less preachy, would he not reflect that however much one might wish it were otherwise, recycling is mainly a concern of the prosperous and Protestant north? And would he not also reflect that at this particular moment, with their country in ruins, the Greeks have more pressing matters to attend to? It seems that no such caveats enter his mind.
Eloquent though he is on the topic of the recycling of refuse, Reeve is less well prepared when it comes to addressing a mess of a bigger, more complicated nature, and one that concerns the Greeks a great deal more … that is to say: how, exactly, did the whole country end up on the rubbish tip? And how are they to get off it? But that would involve hard analysis and proper research, which I am beginning to think are not really our schoolboy reporter’s strong points. So yes, he reminds us of the familiar fact that the dire state in which Greece now finds itself is largely the result of massive overspending. But there is nothing on the size of the national debt; nothing on the budget deficit; nothing on the bailout terms and what they mean for the Greeks; no meetings with authoritative figures such as politicians, academics or historians; not even the sketchiest attempt, in other words, to give us a basic understanding of the big picture.
Actually, I’m being a bit unfair, because Reeve, now becoming more predictable by the moment, does have an analysis to offer. He tells us that the blame for the current mess lies with “corrupt politicians” and with “the rich” who don’t pay their taxes; and to prove his point, he drives into a quietly prosperous suburb of Athens where these horrible people presumably live. Here, in a deserted leafy street, and lowering his voice to a whisper as though he were on a dangerous top-secret mission, he launches a small drone with a camera attached to it and flies it over the nearby properties.
And yes! They have nice comfortable houses with neatly tended lawns!! And swimming pools!!! Reeve leaves us in no doubt that this is shocking. Some people still have a bit of money left, do they? Well the crisis must be their fault, right? That, at any rate, is the implication. And on this note of moral indignation, the first episode closes.
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If I watched the second part of this documentary, it was not because I hoped it might be any better than the first part, but because on the contrary, I was interested to see quite how many more smug politically-correct views Mr Reeve would voice, and quite how relentlessly he would give us the left-wing BBC take on everything. I don’t want to dwell on this too much, because it is so depressing. But I was not disappointed.
Fairly briefly, then … We start off with another dig at ‘the rich’. “Despite the economic crisis, the rich Greeks seem to be doing rather well,” Reeve informs us, with more than a hint of disapproval. Is this not rather hypocritical? Because what, I wonder, would Reeve have to say if he were to do a documentary on the cosseted lives of his employers at the BBC, with their vast salaries and huge pensions, all paid for by the poor taxpayer (the licence fee being a tax in all but name)? How are these pampered bureaucrats in any way better than Reeve’s “rich Greeks”? And how, come to that, is Reeve himself any better, swanning around Greece at public expense?
We now move to the Peloponnese, where Reeve meets with a so-called ‘human rights worker’ and agonises about working conditions in poly-tunnels here. “The exploitation of illegal workers happens across Europe,” he laments. Indeed it does, I reflect; and let’s see how much worse things will get when Reeve’s migrant friends start coming in real, unstoppable numbers …
Next, he watches a military parade, which moves him to comment that “the size of Greece’s military expenditure is extraordinary” (we are, as usual, spared any boring figures). No doubt Reeve is in favour of world peace, and perhaps he thinks that unilateral disarmament is the way to get there; but might he not pause to reflect that if the Greeks spend a fortune on the military, there is a reason? Like the fact that they were crushed by the Germans in the Second World War? And the fact that they are scared rigid of Turkey? Does this boy not have any sense of history at all?
Shortly afterwards, though, he shows that he has the correct views on animal welfare by emoting over the “horrific dancing bears trade”; and then he shows that he also has the correct views on global warming and CO2 emissions. “The environmental costs of Greece’s coal industry are shocking,” he tells us, before saying what a terrible shame it is that the Greeks don’t get all their energy from solar panels.
What else? Oh yes, at some stage he expresses appropriate astonishment at the fact that “a lo’ o’ Greeks still refuse to wear a seat belt or a motor cycle helmet.” And by now, I am fed up with his right-on mockney accent, which I suspect is an urban affectation aimed at establishing that he’s one of the lads, a bit of a dude. Just as I am beginning to suspect that with his designer stubble, with his artfully unkempt hair pushed forward in a sort of punk Regency style, and with his youthful pecs permanently on display under a skimpy T-shirt … with all this, I am beginning to suspect that Mr Reeve fancies himself more than a little.
What matters, though, is not whether Simon Reeve is a tad vain (he probably is); what matters is not whether this two-part documentary offers thoroughly-researched and well-argued analysis (it doesn’t); nor does it much matter that this is basically a lazy, self-indulgent piece of work, beta-minus stuff at best. All this is of secondary importance.
Far more important is what Reeve’s documentary reveals about the world view of a BBC presenter and, by extension, of the organisation which broadcasts his work. And it is a dire revelation. Because as is amply demonstrated here, this world view is not just tediously moralistic and objectionably self-righteous; it is not just utterly predictable and utterly conformist; it is also idiotically, dangerously naive.