Channel 5 have a great signing in the Scottish star, but his directness seems to desert him when he’s face-to-face with the mega-rich
“I’m Brian Cox. Now, you probably know me from my day job as the arch-media mogul of all time, my evil twin from the TV show Succession, Logan Roy.” So said the actor as an introduction to his documentary, Brian Cox: How the Other Half Live (Channel 5). Actually, I’d wager most people watching Channel 5 recognise Cox from the 50 years of work he did before landing a role in Succession, which is a brilliant show but gets a fraction of the ratings of something like All Creatures Great and Small.
Cox is a great signing for Channel 5, and a commanding host. There’s a directness to him which meant you were never quite sure what he was going to say or do in this programme (the first of two instalments) exploring both sides of the wealth divide. He emerged from a community larder in his native Dundee to yell at the director, so angry and emotional was he at hearing the stories of people who could not afford to feed their families despite being in work. “Something feels a bit mercenary about what we’re doing,” he said, nailing the unease that can come with watching documentaries such as this.
Conversely, when you thought Cox might unleash some strong opinions, he was reserved. He met billionaire John Caudwell, who sold his Phones 4u empire and now lives in Britain’s most ludicrously expensive home. Caudwell bought the Mayfair townhouse from the Sultan of Brunei’s brother for £90 million and had hoped to spend £10 million on renovations, but “the quality of everything was so bad” that he ended up spending £60 million. Cox asked him a couple of questions about his views on wealth, but didn’t push him on anything.
Cox took us back to his childhood in Dundee, where his father ran a grocery shop but died with only £10 in the bank. The documentary was at its strongest here – the memory of coming home aged eight to be told of his father’s death literally stopped Cox in his tracks as he entered the building. But I would have loved the programme to throw more light on how he lives now and whether his wealth leaves him with feelings of guilt, like the former City trader from the East End who received a bonus of £395,000 and couldn’t bear to tell his dad, because his dad earned £20,000 a year.
Cox said he did not see himself as rich, only as “comfortable”. But that’s a matter of perspective.