Welcome to the rather bewildering world of Premier, one of the world’s leading modelling agencies and the subject of Channel 4’s fun new documentary series “Model Agency”. Which on this evidence seems to boil down to minicabs, high-spirited swearing and people in bad knitwear crying a lot. Familiar territory to anybody who’s ever been to a Velocity Girl family wedding, believe me.
Carole runs Premier. She is referred to as “Auntie Carole” and does genuinely seem to care about her staff (“the bookers”) and the models they all represent. However, she’s not above a temper tantrum every now and again, that is to say approximately every 30 seconds. “F***ING CALM DOWN!” shrieks her Managing Director brother Chris at one point, obviously adopting the “do as I do and not as I say” approach.
The funny thing is, for all the supposed glamour, the pressure of organizing models for the various Fashion Weeks, the glossy magazine covers etc, it’s just like any other office. People complain about their contact lenses, pretend to be interested in each other’s drab conversations and have petty vendettas against each other. What keeps it entertaining is the sheer wealth of fun characters who also seem to be pretty natural. Intense, nervy Head of New Faces Annie, the long-suffering Chris, Carole’s languidly beautiful daughter Sissy and lots more. However, an early stand-out is booker Paul, whose uproarious camp has me howling with laughter throughout. If there was a A Little Book Of Paul, I would certainly subscribe. Paul on language – “Nobody can say “Naff” like a queen can say it!” Paul on his colleague’s proposed tattoo – “It’s so tackyyyyyyy! What’s that?! It’s a load of old s***, it’s horrible!” If we really must live in a world where anybody who’s so much as walked past a telly camera for 3 seconds gets their own chat show, why not this bloke.
There’s drama too. Whilst anybody with half a brain is aware that supposed “reality” documentaries like this are more heavily scripted than any big-budget period drama or soap, it’s refreshing to see it done as well as the Model Agency manages it. The approach is one major “storyline” per episode. Episode 1 centres around the saga of India Farrell, a 16-year old bright young thing who has gone to New York for her big break and promptly broken down. We soon learn that this is most likely attributable to her having been told she was “too fat” by a casting agent on the first day. India is probably the same weight as I was when I was three years old.
The strange thing is, whilst natural instinct would be to feel desperately sorry for the girl and be angry at Premier for pushing her so hard, this doesn’t turn out to be the case. Carole and Annie’s (my notes on Annie read “Gorgeous. Opens Mouth. Oh.” But she is undoubtedly committed to the models and looking after their welfare, despite being frequently irritating whilst going about it) frantic attempts to persuade India not to spurn her big break genuinely seem to be less about any loss they’ll suffer and more over how India will feel about this in a month’s time when she’s back in school. When India appears on camera with her stories of her brother at Cambridge and her middle class drawl about how she doesn’t know which of the many thousands of options open to her she should take (as if they are all a given and her only act is to merely decide what’s worthy of her), it’s the wasted years of hard work of the agency that sticks in my mind. This is compounded by the discovery of a new girl, Jade, at Thorpe Park. She’s 14, from Essex and sweet. Her family seem a) ordinary and b) thrilled, whilst c) realizing what a massive opportunity it is for her. Clever editing by the producers, maybe, but still a good story.
We get to see more of the models in the second episode and they come across as a sweet and rather game bunch. Violet Budd the underwear model is probably my personal favourite. She eats continually (and is heroically unbothered about having been sent home from a shoot for being “too fat”), sagely remarks that “skinny in reality world can be super big in the model world” and is brutally honest about being in it for the money. You go, girl. She also swears like a trooper, particularly at her booker John, which is frankly grounds for a CBE in the VG household.
Ah, John. The centre of the second episode. Think the looks of mid-90s era George Michael paired with the speaking patterns of the cast of Spinal Tap, as churned through a Eurovision-themed mangle. John is the Senior Commercial Booker, meaning he is in charge of booking models known as “money girls” for TV ads, catalogues etc. His work is far more necessary to keep the Agency going in terms of hard cash than his colleagues in Editorial (Paul & Co) and god doesn’t he know it. “I’m very proud of myself, actually” seems to be John’s catchphrase. I know, he really is that much of a sweetheart. As revolting as it is to watch Paul’s mouthful of food-based rant about him (I am Team Paul but my stomach nearly defected to John during this vomit-worthy sequence), it’s bang on. Carole and Annie’s trip to New York to find new talent for London Fashion Week is hijacked by John’s insistence that they find him “money girls”. His bratty refusal of all the stunning girls Annie and Carole find for him is unedifying to say the least.
I admit that the subject and soap-like drama of Model Agency doesn’t exactly make it Horizon. But the characters are interesting and genuinely seem to care about their models (although Annie’s tenth crying fit over India in 25 minutes does make for wearing viewing), it offers interesting and realistic insights into the fashion world and indeed the world generally -never take a Tupperware box of Liver Salts through customs, for one thing.
Summary – Shlock, but good shlock.
Posted by Velocity Girl