Last Night’s TV – How The Other Half Live

how the other half live
Made by the team behind Secret Millionaire, this new three-part series aims – in part – to show, “just what it means to grow up in poverty in 21st century Britain.” It also shows what it’s like to live on the opposite side of that coin and be financially in a position to help others who’re less fortunate.

And I have to say, based on the glimpses we’d had of the show in ads for it, I’d made several assumptions that – happily – turned out to be completely wrong.

Christine and Ken Brotherston – parents to Grace aged 9 and Charlie aged 13 – decided that they would like to sponsor a family in this country, and to that end, they chose the Gumpo family. To be honest, I think I’d expected the Brotherston family to be kind but perhaps a little smug with it, or at least, somewhat supercilious, but as I found out in the course of the show, they were far from either of those things…

I’d also expected the Gumpo family to be of the tracksuit wearing chav brigade… and they too were totally the opposite of that clichéd image, and after watching the programme, I feel rather ashamed of myself for making those presumptions.

Sharon Gumpo, mother of three delightful little girls, is a lady with an innate grace, serenity and dignity, and having fled Zimbabwe – and then separated from her husband who left her lumbered with debt – she’d hoped for a better life for her children. Unfortunately, the life she’d perhaps hoped for didn’t transpire but evidently, she felt it was better than Zimbabwe.

Ten year old Yolanda Gumpo said of the estate she lives on, “It’s scary and noisy in the night… We’re not allowed to play outside by ourselves because a person got murdered in the park and a person also got murdered in this building.”

The whole story was told largely from the viewpoints of Grace and Yolanda, and among the first things that struck me about both these little girls was their intelligence and generally lovely demeanours. Neither child had adopted a stereotypical persona that was based on their demographics, and both spoke articulately and compassionately throughout.

Both girls shared the interests and commonalities peculiar to girls of nine or ten, namely, playing out, playing with friends, clothes and all those things which make a childhood a childhood, but while Grace’s family are in a position to facilitate those things, Yolanda’s often weren’t. Because of the level of crime where Yolanda lives, she wasn’t allowed to play out, simply because it was too dangerous.

She wasn’t allowed to have friends over because Sharon felt embarrassed by her lack of material things, and she also wouldn’t allow Yolanda to visit her friends’ homes because she didn’t want Yolanda to feel bitter about the things her peers had that she could not have.

One desperately heart wrenching moment – among a film filled with them – was when Yolanda’s little sister made a birthday wish; to have a new bed. This reduced Sharon to tears of despair as she realised how much having a bed, as opposed to just a mattress, meant to her daughter, and equally knowing she wasn’t in a position to provide one.

Enter the Brotherstons… the families first began to get to know each other in letters and the Gumpos filmed a DVD about themselves for the Brotherstons to see. Christine Brotherston first sent a cheque for £2,000 which she felt a little nervous about. She hoped that Sharon wouldn’t be offended by the gift, and to be honest, as I was watching, I tried to imagine how I’d feel in Sharon’s place…

Would I feel offended? Possibly. Accepting charity is never an easy pill to swallow, but that said, clearly Sharon and her daughters needed some help, and, she accepted the well intentioned gift with good grace. Humbling good grace actually.

At that point, Ken Brotherston did a piece to camera during which he said that he hoped that Sharon wouldn’t spend the money on “two weeks in Torremolinos or something…” and I must admit, I did baulk a little at that. Granted, of course the money would’ve been best spent on things the family really needed – clothes, a bed for Moesha etc., – but nonetheless, when a gift is given, it should be given unconditionally or not at all.

However, for Ken, his concern about what Sharon would do with their gift to her was a transient thing, and she did in fact do all the things he’d hoped she would do. She bought the girls dresses for school, and new beds and she paid off her gas and electric bills.

We saw the Gumbos going to visit with the Brotherstons at their home and it was both a joy and a painful experience to see Sharon’s children in such awe of the things that Grace has available to her all the time. However, when the Brotherstons went to visit the Gumpos in their home, despite it being a totally alien environment, at no time were any of the Brotherston family imperious, and none of them gave any clue that they were less than comfortable.

Children are notoriously cruel – some children, not all of course – and I think that lack of a mean bone and the touching humility of Grace was a real breath of fresh air. Likewise with Yolanda, she’s overall a very happy girl who at no time gave the impression that she resented the things Grace had that she didn’t.

And as further ‘gifts’ arrived in the form of money, a bedroom makeover for the girls, a sewing machine for Sharon – who wanted to work as a seamstress – and a laptop with internet connection, the joy and gratitude of Yolanda and Sharon reduced both to tears several times, and me too for that matter. But again, their dignity and pride shone through as they accepted the gifts with good grace. And the gifts were given with equal grace, so my worries about Ken being a tad lofty about it were soon gone as we watched him happily talking with Sharon’s children and sharing a meal with them.

I’m so glad I watched this show because it really did renew my faith in human nature and made me think that perhaps I’m too cynical and a tad jaded by the world we live in. It’s nice to know that there are still genuinely kind people in the world who don’t have an agenda other than to use their good fortunes to assist others in some way. And it’s also good to know that no matter how desperate a person’s material situation, lack of money does not equate to lack of dignity or the will to do right by your children and make the best of what life hands to you.

This show could perhaps best be described as Secret Millionaire crossed with A Christmas Carol, but thankfully, for the families featured last night, nobody had to be visited by ghosts and nobody had to lose a Tiny Tim.

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.