There is no easy way to explain why I was listening to Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4, so we’ll just assume there was an inexplicable internet protocol error that prevented me from listening to classic rock like a real man and leave it at that. One of the regular features of Woman’s Hour is a drama segment, usually featuring salt-of-the-earth women being let down by their men and achieving redemption through bio-active yogurts and consequence-free affairs with swarthy exchange students – not that I would know anything about it.
Last week it was the tale of a Polish housekeeper and her first-hand account of the breakdown of her employers’ marriage. The segment, billed as a “domestic thriller” was called A Domestic and caught my ear because it was based around a Polish character. It caught my ear even more forcibly when I quickly realised the actress playing the Polish character wasn’t Polish and had a very hazy idea of what a Polish accent sounds like. This became particularly hilarious when they slipped Polish phrases into the dialogue.
Mariola, the eponymous domestic, is played by Lydia Leonard, who is of Anglo-French-Irish extraction. I’m sure she’s a lovely lady and highly talented, but why couldn’t the BBC have found a Polish actress to perform the part? There must be thousands of them kicking around London these days.
Maybe there is a good reason why Polish actors and actresses can’t be employed by the BBC – something to do with equity cards or some other sophisticated showbiz shenanigans I know nothing about. This was only part of the problem. The writer, Peter Jukes, seemed to be just as hazy about Poland as the actress was about the accent. Mariola, like every other domestic in the history of drama, is terrified of being sent back to to her rubbish country if she makes any waves, which is a plot device that hasn’t made any sense for a Polish character since 2004. This is partly explained away by making her an ethnic Pole from Belarus, which kind of begs the question why he didn’t just make her Belarusian. She also has some bizarre superstitions. I’ve heard the one about not putting handbags on the floor because it encourages money to escape, but is there really a Polish superstition saying you shouldn’t buy your wife shoes because she will walk away from you, or gloves because she will wave goodbye? Maybe it’s a Belarusian thing.
The BBC television sitcom Lead Balloon also features an “Eastern European” character played by a British actress. Magda (definitely not Polish then), played by Anna Crilly, spends much of her onscreen time being perplexed and stolid, as in this scene where we learn that Eastern Europeans have apparently never come across sophisticated concepts such as lying so as to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.
And to finish, a sketch from Armstrong and Miller that looks like it’s incredibly insulting to Poles, but turns out not to be…