Last Night’s TV – Celebrity Wife Swap

C4 Wife Swap Ron Atkinson, Tessa Sanderson

Last night’s edition of this rather-tired-format show attempted to liven things up a bit by chucking Tessa Sanderson and Ron Atkinson together.

Were we interested in whether she could get him to do more around the house? No. Most viewers were waiting with baited breath to see if Ron might come out with another racist comment or to see if Tessa would pull him sharply up for the one he’d already made, the one that effectively ended his career.

Well, although the racist comment debacle was addressed, it was more fully addressed by Ron’s wife Maggie and Tessa’s partner Densign. Ron stoically refused to discuss the elephant in the room with Tessa, but did end up saying that the experience of sharing his home temporarily with Tessa, “made me realise quite how offensive my comments had been.”

So it would appear the makers of Wife Swap have stumbled upon the answer to racism; have a black person move in with a racist person. Politicians and anti-race hate groups around the world take note.

And that really summed up the subtext of the entire show – it was a pointless exercise in, one presumes, getting the public to like Ron Atkinson again and to show that he’s just so ok with black people, he even shared his home with one.

We also witnessed Ron picking up a mop for possibly the first time ever, so that appeared to be a seismic shift in his previously Neanderthal approach to, and opinion of, housework. Ron was of the “old school” of thought in that women should do housework and cooking while men – or, club bearers – go out and earn a living.

Except in Ron’s case, by calling footballer Marcel Desailly a “lazy, thick, nigger” back in 2004, and by having some pride in the fact that his wife adheres to all the stereotypes he’s neatly laid out for her, I personally found it very hard to believe that Ron’s attitudes had in fact changed. He would’ve been pretty imbecilic to stick to any of those attitudes with a camera stuck in his face, so the ‘change’ wasn’t so much seismic as fake.

However, on the subject of the racism accusation, Maggie and Densign discussed it in a very civilised way. He pointed out how harmful the remark had been and how it propagated the myth of work shy and idle black people and she responded that she had no idea why Ron had made that comment but that she would explain to him just how much harm it had done. Ron meanwhile didn’t seem to know why he’d said it either, but as I mentioned, he was infinitely more reluctant to talk about it than Maggie and Densign were.

The end result of the show was that Tessa reckoned Ron’s basically a nice bloke with a few character flaws, but he should be given a second chance by the public. Meanwhile, Densign learned that he needed to be more romantic.

Overall, as a PR exercise, I don’t think Ron did himself any favours by his insistence that he wouldn’t discuss the racism comment, but I do applaud Tessa for taking part in the show. By doing so, she was handing Ron a lifeline made up of olive branches, but while he may have humoured her by mopping the floor when asked, he certainly didn’t embrace the challenge of grabbing onto the proffered branch. It was more a half hearted twig snatch, if we stick to the tree/branch metaphor.

And let’s face it, ordinarily, the only ‘celebrities’ to do shows of this ilk are usually ones who’ve found themselves on the Z list and vicariously skint, but Tessa has more interest in her true love of sport than she does of TV fame, so she didn’t truly ‘need’ this show. Ron, on the other hand, truly did, both for the income – because it would be fair to assume he’s not earning a great deal out there in Ostracised Star Land – and to demonstrate that his 2004 remark was something he deeply regrets. And regrets not because of what it’s cost him but because of what he said and therefore what he thought.

He by and large missed this open goal opportunity so I’m not personally convinced that appearing on this show will have done him any good at all.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.