Grayson Perry has always been fascinated by taste: why people buy the things they do and wear the things they wear and what they’re trying to say about themselves when they make those choices. For the last year he’s been travelling around Britain to the places, events and social rituals where people reveal the most about themselves – visiting people’s houses and inspecting their possessions, decor and cars – to explore the details of modern life, and the truths those details reveal about us.
Grayson goes on safari through the taste tribes of Britain in a bid to get to grips with our different takes on taste. But Grayson isn’t just observing taste; he’s also creating a series of six imposing tapestries called ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’: his personal but panoramic take on the taste of 21st-century Britain. In this second episode, Grayson embeds himself with the British middle classes in and around Tunbridge Wells. As someone originally from a working class background, but now living in middle class Islington, Perry is fascinated by social mobility and the rise of a new middle class. He begins his journey in Kings Hill, a new development of executive housing in Kent. He finds a world of aspirational, brand-led taste, with people keen to demarcate themselves from the working class tastes they have left behind, but uncertain what new taste signals to send out. ‘This is the class that are most aware of the meaning and status of the things that they buy… they’re (the) most self-conscious,’ says Grayson.
Moving on to the middle-class heartland of Tunbridge Wells, Grayson explores the taste obsessions – from organic food and gastropubs to vintage furniture and dinner parties – of the traditional middle classes. These are the Britons most acutely self-conscious about what their taste decisions say about themselves. But Grayson finds that, for all the differences between the many middle class ‘taste tribes’ he meets, all of their tastes share an emotional undercurrent: a burning desire to show what good people they are. For the middle classes in particular, taste is a moral issue. Finally, Grayson invites all of the people he meets in Tunbridge Wells and Kings Hill to an unveiling of the tapestries he has made about their taste.
Tonight, 10pm, Channel 4