By Nushra Mansuri, professional officer at BASW
I managed to resist tuning into last night’s opening game of the World Cup and instead watched a comedy about a team of children’s social workers. ‘Damned’, is a one off sitcom written by Jo Brand and Morwenna Banks (the latter being better known to some of us as the voice of Mummy Pig from Peppa Pig!) which aired on Sky Arts.
In the show Jo Brand plays Rose, a ‘stressed out’ local authority social worker. It’s well worth reading Brand’s Radio Times interview about why she decided to write the show and take on the role of Rose. In the interview, she talks movingly about her mother, now 80, who was a social worker. She also discusses issues that blight many of the families we work with – namely poverty, and she doesn’t shy away from the impact of austerity cuts to public services.
So what did I make of this comic take on the social work world we know so well? As a fan of satire and Jo Brand’s work I mostly enjoyed it. I did have to retune myself a bit as in recent months I’ve been involved in discussions around a number of serious documentaries on social work that have been screened on TV. So with ‘Damned’ being a comedy I had to slightly reign in my ‘inner uptight’ social worker and remember not to get too hung up on the inaccuracies and gross exaggerations!
I quite liked the juxtaposition between the challenges Rose faced in her personal life with her work life. That element was dangerously close to my own reality so there was probably a bit of over-identification going on there! I also loved the character Nitin who is basically a pedant. The scene where the office temp told Nitin she assumed that he’d kept his coat on to hide his clothes out of embarrassment had me in stitches.
I also found the interjection of one of the members of a case meeting, saying ‘can I just say something? This coffee tastes like s**t!’ hilarious as I was completely taken in by what I thought was going to be a solemn moment discussing a sensitive case. The sorry state of the team’s fridge also rang true for me as it was a little reminiscent of the first local authority office that I worked in (our fridge was close to being condemned and resulted in a series of sanctions being threatened if improvements weren’t made).
However, I did find Rose’s home visit to a family a bit unnerving. She was confronted by an aggressive man which resulted in her discovering cannabis plants growing in the bedroom where the children were also hiding in the wardrobe. What unsettled me was that this bit of the storyline was left hanging. The show ended with Rose desperately trying to track down her own mother and kids who ironically had been found on their own by a police officer and shepherded into Rose’s office where her colleagues were in the process of invoking an Emergency Protection Order so a little surreal.
Does ‘Damned’ have the mileage to become a full series? Not all of it came off for me but perhaps that’s understandable with so much crammed into less than half an hour. We also know that Jo Brand has previous form in being able to write a sustainable series on life in public services, with her NHS-based sitcom Getting On receiving much acclaim.
One of my favourite programmes of the 90s was Drop the Dead Donkey, a comedy about a TV news team which became a cult Channel Four series. I’d love to see something similar about social work. There’s a massive gap in the market. On last night’s evidence I wasn’t convinced ‘Damned’ will be the show to fill it but with a bit of tweaking and a bit more thought that could change!