Kwame Kwei-Armah, playwright and actor, has landed an enviable job; his remit is to travel round the world finding out what the Queen got up to when she did the same thing in 1953, which beats the hell out of playing Finlay in Casualty I imagine.
And given his exotic name and exotic heritage, who better to do the circuit? Well, that depends on your point of view. Kwame was born with the name Ian Roberts, and certainly he played a blinder in changing it. The billing for this show, and indeed his reception at the various countries he’s visited, wouldn’t be quite so glam if he were still called Ian Roberts would they?
But the fact is, he’s clever, he’s amiable, he’s immensely likable and he’s got a brilliant laugh, the latter being much in evidence when he took part in a radio show in Jamaica. That section of last night’s programme was very interesting in that most of the callers were all but pleading for the monarch to take them under her commonwealth wing once again. Had a politician been doing Kwame’s job, the response may have been rather different, but Kwame, clearly not knowing quite how to respond, just laughed heartily.
In fact, he’s got every right to laugh his socks off – who wouldn’t when being paid to travel the world? The words “job” and “dream” came to mind very often as we saw Kwame going purposefully from one sun drenched shore to another. But he wasn’t truly following in the Queen’s footsteps – only in the literal sense in that he followed the same geographical route, and let’s face it, any prannet can do that. What he didn’t experience was the fact that this was far from a holiday for the Queen; it was an exercise in selling a post-war Britain and she had to be on her regal best behaviour the whole time.
And a miserable Britain it was too, but as her Majesty jetted off to sunnier climbs, leaving everyone to clear up the ghastly mess from those pesky bombs, thousands of her evidently very loyal subjects lined the streets to wave her off. Patriotism was a national pastime and in those days, the Monarchy ruled, in every sense. How different things are today.
For me though, some of the best moments last night were in watching the huge amount of archive footage. For instance, there was the spectacle of seventeen West Indian Prime Ministers in a stunning array of outfits meeting the Queen in Jamaica. I wonder what her thoughts were as she descended the steps from the plane?
Another great moment came last night when Kwame met with the King of Tonga, the grandson of Queen Salote, who played a large role in the Queen’s visit. It was fascinating to hear the King talking with an accent any Etonian would be proud of and driving around in a London taxi.
But if I have a criticism of the show, it’s that it didn’t seem to know quite what it was… Was it a serious attempt at exploring the politics and sensitive nature of the global instabilities of the era or was it just a camera following a bloke who was having a nice holiday?
Either way, you can’t help but like Kwame and let’s face it, any show which features tropical destinations is almost guaranteed to be a winner as we Brits huddle under our brollies, desperately wishing we were there.