Beauty Of Britain. Beauty Olonga (Jocelyn Jee Esien). Copyright: BBC.

Beauty Of Britain

BBC Radio 4 sitcom. 18 episodes (3 series), 2009 - 2012. Stars Jocelyn Jee Esien, Felicity Montagu, Indira Joshi, Paul Sharma and Nicola Sanderson.

Press Clippings

Radio 4's Beauty Olonga

Radio 4's comedy, Beauty of Britain, is about a woman called Beauty Olonga, who works as a carer and sees herself as an inspiration to other young African women in Britain. Here she tells us more about her show.

Christopher Douglas and Nicola Sanderson, BBC Radio 4 Blog, 28th August 2012

Writing Beauty of Britain

Writers Christopher Douglas and Nicola Sanderson talk about writing radio comedy Beauty of Britain and finding genuine humour in the most difficult and profound places...

Steve Saul, BBC Comedy, 7th April 2011

Jocelyn Jee Esien returns as the optimistic South African care worker Beauty Olonga, whose work with the elderly and infirm allows her to provide a hilarious commentary on the mores and values of contemporary Britain, while also struggling to keep up with her mother's increasingly extravagant demands for money to be sent home. This week, caring for a flighty middle-class woman (Jenny Agutter) who lives with her redoubtable mother (Julia McKenzie) and feckless daughter, offers Beauty scope to make some priceless remarks on British family life. The observation that cycle lanes are virtually unusable because readily available IVF has clogged them up with double buggies pushed by out-of-work grey-haired men is as pithy a dissection of middleclass aspirations as you're likely to find.

David Crawford, Radio Times, 6th April 2011

Sharp new comedy, from Christopher Douglas and Nicola Sanderson. Beauty (Jocelyn Jee Esien) is an African woman, in Britain to work, finding it hard to make her family back home understand why she can't supply new glasses and sundry other stuff on request. But she has to send some money back home so she goes to an agency and says she's available for care work. All she's offered is a bit of cleaning. It turns out to be for a really interesting woman (Jenny Agutter) who lives with her mother and her own daughter. I didn't think I'd laugh. I did. A lot.

Gillian Reynolds, The Telegraph, 5th April 2011

Beauty of Britain (Mondays, Radio 4, 11.30am) should be a winner. It's written by the actress Nicola Sanderson and the mighty Christopher Douglas, who has helped to give British radio two of its funniest and most finely observed comic creations, Dave Podmore and Ed Reardon. The premise, about a black African and her experience as a carer to various horrible English people, is ripe for satire. And black Africans are under-represented on our radio. We get more Eastern Europeans with accents of no fixed abode than we do Africans.

And yet... look, the problem with Beauty of Britain is what I would call the "Hau, medem you are too kand" factor. When I was growing up in apartheid South Africa, black characters were all over radio drama, usually portrayed by white actors. If they were men they tended to be gardeners, odd-job men and general layabouts. If they were women they tended to be servants. And what they did was prop up the household while the lady of the house got herself into frightful scrapes due to her inability to boil a kettle, with hilarious results. The servant would solve the problem, repair the damage done to the kitchen ceiling, make the dinner and knock off around midnight, with her mistress's thanks ringing in her ears, to which her response would be: "Hau medem you are too kand." Cue closing credit music and the cast list: "The part of Sunshine [no last name - black servants had no last name] was played by Sonja Whitechick" or whoever.

As a white South African I can still do a passable "Hau medem" accent - although mine is more a "Hau master" - but I don't, because it comes with so much baggage. To an English person it may be exotic and, yes, humorous, but to me it's a stereotype.

Douglas and Sanderson's heroine is called Beauty Olonga. She does get a surname - after all, times have moved on - but she also has one of those annoying first names that, once again, carry me back to the days when my mother would go to the butchers to buy "servant's meat" for the help. It's the same with Alexander McCall Smith's Precious Ramotswe (who also has a "Hau medem" accent, even though she's from Botswana and Olonga is from Nigeria). Where is it written that black African women must be saddled with abstract nouns and adjectives for first names to be "authentic"? Even if her name does prop up the title.

But then, what is Jocelyn Jee Esien, who plays Olonga, to do? If "Hau medem" does the trick and doesn't offend anyone other than guilt-ridden expats, then who is she hurting? And at least her accent never falters. So enough of the bleating. Let's have some unleavened praise. For starters, the cricket-loving Douglas has given his heroine the surname of a particularly brave cricketer, Henry Olonga, the Zimbabwean who went into exile for his opposition to the rule of Robert Mugabe (and who himself speaks in an accent as far removed from "Hau master" as it is possible to be). And she is a hero too, with her determination to better herself in a country that wants to pigeonhole her as a servant to various pervy old men whose families are too busy or too uncaring to look after them.

This greater message is shot through with sidelong observations - old people subsist on cauliflower cheese; you can pick up great designer bargains in charity shops. And if anyone can realise her dream to start up a chain of boutique self-help clinics it'll be Beauty Olonga. And there's no "Hau medem" in that.

Chris Campling, The Times, 13th October 2009

Radio Review: The Beauty of Britain

Elisabeth Mahoney admires a curious comedy about an unlikely subject.

Elisabeth Mahoney, The Guardian, 6th October 2009