Growing old gracefully with Kathy Burke

When the news is saturated by various Castlebar Burkes violating court orders and being dragged into custody by the Guards, as a descendant of the De Burgo clan myself, it’s a relief to have representation from a branch of the (very) extended family who talks sense.

Kathy Burke was back on Channel 4 last Wednesday and Thursday with another documentary series, following last year’s insightful All Woman, and 2021’s Money Talks. This one was inspired by Kathy turning 58, which had her thinking about the societal and personal impacts of getting older.

Kathy Burke: Growing Up was divided into two parts, with the actor concentrating on and talking to older people on Wednesday, and then the younger cohort on Thursday. She spoke to people of all walks of life, with different concerns and opinions about aging, with an uplifting and hopeful end result.

The main takeaway from Wednesday night was that the concept of old, and middle-age has shifted a lot over the past few years. Burke declared that many of her younger friends insist that middle age no longer starts at around 40, but rather late 50s and early 60s, which doesn’t exactly track chronologically but is good news for this de Búrca, who is facing down her fifth decade in a few years’ time.

People are living better, longer, a fact that was driven home by Lewisham pensioner Bridget, who said she was “retired, not expired!” Burke met a septuagenarian dominatrix, who supplements her pension, and therefore mortgage, with her later-in-life calling. She also met another Bridget, a model in her 80s, who was in no doubt about the certain restrictions that come with aging, but who was also vibrant and full of life.

As well as older people with interesting stories to tell, and famous friends Jennifer Saunders and Bill Bailey, Burke also chatted to University of Greenwich lecturer Rania Hafez, who professed that even in this day and age society tends to value youth over experience, even when the pension age has gone up and you haven’t retired, are still producing and not solely consuming, even if that consumption comes from years of tax contributions and general societal impacts.

Kathy Burke. Photo via The Guardian

In part two Kathy meets people in their twenties who are living life quite differently from when she was the same age, discovering if she was a punk or a mod while trying to find work as an actress. Atlanta is an independent delivery driver working in the gig economy, and Kathy spends an afternoon with an ecologically concerned young woman living on a houseboat.

It’s the weaker of the two episodes, with subjects such as Gen Z’s contempt for baby boomers and their perceived lack of accountability for driving the world into climate crisis being re-treat and re-worn. Burke lends an inquisitive listening ear to the younger people as well as the old, but seems marginally more interested in the older cohort who have the experience and wisdom to wax lyrical about the state of the world that the younger lack, despite being more clued in to world affairs than ever before.

Growing Up was a cheerful programme made highly enjoyable by Burke’s attentive, friendly, no-nonsense demeanour and interactions with her interview subjects, but my favourite parts were probably her own anecdotes and asides, as well as her lovely birthday reunion with life-long friend Diane.

It wasn’t hugely enlightening, giving little time to the experts in their fields who might have provided interesting knowledge on intergenerational differences, but that heavy-handed stuff was ultimately for another programme.

While Burke’s programme about the aging process was possibly made more upbeat by the fact that it was filmed in the bright summer sunshine and not the dismal grey of winter, The Diplomat (Alibi, Tuesdays), highlights the murky underground of Barcelona, while being set in sunny Spain.

Sophie Rundle in The Diplomat

The political thriller, also available on Now, stars The Bodyguard’s Sophie Rundle as a diplomat who helps British nationals out of scrapes. When a young barman is found dead his father immediately suspects murder, and it is this investigation that unearths corruption and illegal activity among the glossy high-flyers of Catalonia.

The Diplomat isn’t prestige TV, but it has enough glamour, sex and intrigue to pass an hour on an early spring evening.

  • First published in The Tuam Herald on 15.03.23

One response to “What I Watched: Growing Up and The Diplomat”

  1. NOTHING BUT A NUMBER – Beirt Avatar

    […] recent Channel 4 documentary fronted by Kathy Burke (which I reviewed here), even asked if middle-age in the 21st Century doesn’t begin until the mid-late 50s, even […]

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