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Weekend TV: Downton is back, Watching for Great Aunt Joan plus Brothers & Sisters

Tom Winnifrith
Sunday 16 September 2012

And so the family weekend continues. I wake up feeling a bit hazy after a night hitting the hotspots of Shipston on Stour with my little step sister Flea (Felicity). If I lived here I would turn to drink in a serious way, with Flea leading me astray. A family meal with Dad, step mum, step sister Lulah and sister Naomi had gone before it. Only one sister and step brother Tom missing.

It seems that I am not the only person who adores the mind-pap US TV series Brothers & Sisters which starred Rob Lowe, Calista Flockhart and Sally Field – Flea is a fan too. It is about a dysfunctional family with six brothers and sisters (if you include Ryan) – the Walkers. Flea and I carefully explained the dynamics, some of which are political. The youngest sister and the oldest and youngest brothers (Kitty, Tommy and Justin) are Republicans. The father (William, who died in episode one) was a Republican. The mother and the other kids are ultra drippy, totally deluded Democrats. And their political allegiances drive the way they view life. I thought that I was the only non Guardian reader in this W family – although my father is a closet Telegraph reader and is, I am sure, at heart conservative in outlook although he’d never admit it.

But lo and behold Flea piped up with a political view for the first time ever, complaining that while – as a single mum – she works to support her kids (the dad is a deadbeat), other parents at her school opt not to work but live on a welfare funded lifestyle of beer, cigarettes and going fishing. The liberal contingent were shocked because as all Guardian readers know the poor are poor because capitalism and the Tories are all wicked. Blame the banksters. Raise taxes. The State will look after everyone and the unemployed are all victims. Yeah right.

But once Flea ( the only other family member who has never and will never work for the State) started there was no stopping her. “Why should I work hard to pay so much tax to be pissed away on this and that?” It was wonderful to watch and listen to. My step mum and I had earlier argued about income inequality with her saying how she agreed with Polly Toynbee. Err, grit your teeth, try not to explode. Stay calm. In this household they know my views but do not expect dissent from another sibling or step sibling. In this household suggesting that welfare scroungers should get off their backsides and that there is a nobility in being financially self supporting – earning money is good – is deemed heresy. But the cat is out of the bag. Flea is, like me, a heretic. And then we discussed other normal matters in a dysfunctional family. I shall rewatch the DVDs with an added smile. Go Kitty. I mean Flea.

My father spent a happy afternoon watching a terribly dull John Ford Western starring John Wayne: “She wore a Yellow Ribbon.” He was convinced that his Aunt Joan ( aka the actress Anna Lee) was in it and kept on saying “is that her?” as various women who looked nothing like her appeared. At the end there were no credits and so I did a Wikipedia search and aunt Joan was not in the film at all. She was in three John Ford films (including How Green was my Valley) and Wayne was godfather to her son Tim ( aka the actor Jeffrey Byron who gave Tatum O’Neal her first on screen kiss and molested Lucy Ewing in two episodes of “old” Dallas). But 90 minutes of torture in watching this film had no reward.

Incidentally Joan, like my uncle Charles has the second name Boniface. Saint Boniface was a German fellow whose surname was something like Winnifrith. And so it is a family name. Thankfully I was spared. Joan was a bit of a fantasist. Her biography claims that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was her godfather. Not true. My father says that she was apparently blacklisted for a while during the McCarthy Witch hunts of Hollywood actors with left wing views during the 1950s. This rather surprised me as Joan’s views made those of myself and Flea seem like a Guardian editorial.

Finally on the TV front, tonight sees the return of Downton Abbey for series 3. I shall be watching avidly. Unlike many I did not find Series 2 a letdown although the volume of adverts is frustrating. The inter war era was one of amazing social and economic upheaval. Julian fellows has a remarkable backdrop for his script. I cannot wait.

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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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