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TV review: Thelma's Gypsy Girls
Thelma Madine in her new TV show. Image: Channel 4
This Big Fat Gypsy Weddings spin-off is at best a lengthy advert for Thelma Madine's dressmaking service, and at worst an unfair and manipulative portrayal of young gypsy women.
Loved Irish traveller Roseanne's opinion that a Sherlock Holmes costume she'd found in a fancy dress shop would be perfect for a wedding. It's certainly no stranger than some of the things Rihanna wears. Plus deerstalkers are very 'in' this season.
The way Thelma and her team talked about the trainees was really unpleasant: "The good news is that we're taking on 10 new members of staff. The bad news is that they're travellers".
Until you can buy three-ton frocks covered in fairy lights and animatronic butterflies from Primark, it seems Thelma Madine will never be short of customers.
Her elaborate (and cripplingly heavy) dresses regularly featured in Channel 4's Big Fat Gypsy Weddings series. Now she's looking to take on 10 girls from the gypsy and traveller communities and train them for six months to help her keep up with a 400% increase in demand for her outfits.
"Imagine The Apprentice if Lord Sugar was replaced by an outspoken Scouse woman"
In essence, here is Thelma's Gypsy Girls. Imagine The Apprentice if: a) Lord Sugar was replaced by an outspoken Scouse woman armed with thousands of yards of pink fabric and b) The candidates were all teenage girls who'd left school at 11 and think Lady Gaga worships the devil.
Not that we got to spend much time with the young women in question. We found out tiny snippets of information about them throughout the programme, but nothing concrete - and most of it seemed designed to pander to viewers' existing prejudices about travellers.
It's all about Thelma
Instead, Thelma dominated the screen. She talked about gypsies and travellers in terms that if applied to any other ethnic or racial group, almost certainly wouldn't make it on the air.
Before anyone had even applied for her dressmaking course, she was saying things like: "they'll probably never have learned how to thread a needle" and "traveller girls are unemployable".
"Every girl was asked a variation on the theme"
Thelma searched for candidates by approaching people who'd liked her fan page on Facebook.
One shot showed her inbox full of responses, and at least one was from someone who was 41 years of age. However, when the interview day came around, the hopefuls that showed up were almost all identical teenage girls with day-glo tans and tiny outfits that looked skimpier than the net bag you keep oranges in.
The manipulation didn't stop there. Their so-called ambassador Thelma then asked the interviewees a set of extremely leading questions that said more about her- and to an extent our - view of gypsies than it did about them: "Some people say in the traveller community that it's shameful for women to work" and "What would you say to people who might say it's shameful that you're working?"
Every girl was asked a variation on the theme, always with 'they say' or 'people say'- to the extent you'd be forgiven for being brainwashed into accepting it as fact.
On a very interesting note, the original Facebook status posted said that anyone under 18 would need to bring a parent with them. Many of the applicants were about 16, so it seems clear that quite a lot of adults within the community didn't think it was shameful at all.
It's also worth pointing out that Thelma and the programme makers are cashing in on the continued public appetite for 'gypsy weddings'. She surely must have a vested interest in presenting a one-sided view of young gypsy and traveller women to camera.
How much this process is about helping travellers into work and how much is about continuing to market the Thelma 'brand' is entirely up for debate.
If you love the Gypsy Weddings franchise and can't get enough of its point-and-laugh-at-the-strange-people-who-live-in-a-trailer mentality, you'll like Thelma's Gypsy Girls. That's about the most positive thing I can say about this series.
However, even the most dedicated fan will surely feel a bit uncomfortable about the way Thelma sets herself up as the saviour of young gypsy women while simultaneously putting them down and making snap judgements about them on camera.
- Verdict: A Marmite series if ever there was one; some will love it, others will hate it.
TV quotes of the week - Thelma's Gypsy Girls
"Rihanna, Umbrella; wind that backwards, she's talking in tongues to the devil." - Rihanna will drop her umbrella when she hears that.
"I'll have to take one day a week off the course, 'cause it's awkward having probation." - What can you say to that?
"I don't think your dad being in prison or your brother being in prison's going to matter." - It's great for a TV show.
The views in this article are those of the author alone and not of MSN or Microsoft
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