Room at the Top (BBC4) – Review

For some reason the BBC hid Room at the Top on BBC4, condemning it to a tiny, niche audience of less than half a million. They say that this disastrous scheduling is because of a mix-up over the book rights, but I’m guessing the decision may have more to do with poor judgement – because Room at the Top was infinitely better acted and directed than the previous night’s clunky, cardboard offering on Primetime BBC1 The Paradise.

Being filled to the brim with steamy sex scenes, the show was also potentially a far more commercial offering for the corporation. OK, it wasn’t costume drama, but surely BBC1 can occasionally bring themselves to show content that isn’t crammed with powdered wigs, pinched waistlines and stiff collars.

Based on John Braine’s classic “angry young man” 1959 novel, Room at the Top is set in a gritty Northern town and follows gritty Northern Lothario Joe Lampton on his gritty journey from gritty rags to gritty riches. More or less everything in Room at the Top is gritty: The scenery, the people, the pubs, and even some of the women. Best of all, you can smoke anywhere, all of the time. Not only does Joe have a fag lit in every scene, but he puffs on it about 6 times a second. How the poor man doesn’t pass out from nicotine poisoning is beyond me.

As a teenager I loved the first television adaptation of Room at the Top, starring Kenneth Haigh, and I love this series too. Basically, every woman that Joe meets wants to have sex with him, from the flirty young girls at the office, to his frustrated middle-aged landlady. And because Joe is so gritty, they don’t just want ordinary sex. They want gritty sex. The kind of sex you have standing up against a wall with your clothes on. The kind of sex you have in the front seat of the car having only recently had sex in the back seat of the car.

Joe’s pouting love-interest Jenna-Louise Coleman is Dr Who’s new assistant. Nice to know that when the country settles down with the kids on Christmas night to watch her making her debut with the Doctor, all the dads will be thinking, “I saw your naughty bits in Room at the Top.”

In line with the BBC’s policy of employing the same tiny handful of actors over and over again, almost everyone in “Room at the Top” is in something else – meaning that you spend a lot of the time trying to remember which other BBC drama you’ve recently seen one of the performers in. Matthew McNulty who plays Joe, and his boss Peter Wight both also had key parts in The Paradise last night. McNulty has also been in Lark Rise to Candleford, Cranford, Garrow’s Law, Silent Witness and Silk. I wonder when he last had a holiday. Dear BBC, there’s this publication called Spotlight with contact details for thousands and thousands of actors in it. Please, please order a copy.