OPINION: MILLS ON ... FLY-ON-THE-WALL DOCUMENTARIES

A few years ago the BBC broadcast a fly-on-the-wall documentary about Marie Claire. In the closing sequence, the then editor, Glenda Bailey, was seen designing an ’As seen on TV’ sticker to go on the front cover of the next issue. It was a rare moment of light relief for the title - an otherwise compulsive 50 minutes’ viewing mercilessly portrayed Marie Claire as a vacuous glossy.

A few years ago the BBC broadcast a fly-on-the-wall documentary

about Marie Claire. In the closing sequence, the then editor, Glenda

Bailey, was seen designing an ’As seen on TV’ sticker to go on the front

cover of the next issue. It was a rare moment of light relief for the

title - an otherwise compulsive 50 minutes’ viewing mercilessly

portrayed Marie Claire as a vacuous glossy.



Since then I have watched innumerable similar workplace-type

documentaries: those featuring DMB&B, Rover, St Luke’s, McKinsey and The

Independent spring to mind. In every case TV emerges the winner. Who can

forget Robin Wight’s stunning appearance in the Rover series.



Resplendent in a lime-green suit, Wight was last seen explaining the

concept of brand architecture to a Rover board which clearly thought he

was an alien. The truth is that even quite normal people can be made to

look ridiculous by sharp editing.



So how did Dino Adriano, chief executive of Sainsbury’s, fare in last

week’s BBC2 Back to the Floor programme? The film followed Adriano as he

spent a week in the Chichester store, although it’s not every

Sainsbury’s employee who turns up for work in a chauffeur-driven BMW.

The signs were not auspicious. By a cruel piece of timing,the programme

was broadcast the day after the group reported yet another drop in

supermarket sales.



What possessed him to do it? Maybe a chance to set the record straight

after months of sniping in the press; vanity - even men as manifestly

self-effacing as Adriano are not immune to 30 minutes prime-time

exposure on BBC2; and the belief that he might actually learn

something.



I expect he did. There were some telling moments in the programme, not

least the moment a lowly trolley-pusher asked him how he spent his

day.



Adriano’s lame reply: ’Well, I have a lot of board meetings. I’m on the

board of the group, and then there’s the supermarket. I also chair the

bank’ - cut to employee nodding incomprehensibly.



None of this compared to the board meeting with other directors.

Staggered by some of the shop-floor practices, Adriano invites a wary

manageress from Chichester to tell him and the board where they are

going wrong.



By this stage the board, who are obviously not used to hearing what the

staff think, clearly thought Adriano was off his rocker.



There, in a moment, were Sainsbury’s troubles illuminated for all to

see: a centralised, command-and-control organisation completely out of

touch with its front-line troops, who for their part were too

intimidated by the top-down culture to tell them the truth. Clearly a

nice and decent man, Adriano by this time resembled nothing so much as

the John Major of British retailing circa 1997.



Unlike Major, however, Adriano doesn’t have a book to promote, which is

the only valid reason for participating in fly-on-the-wall

documentaries.



So next time TV executives come a-wooing, just say no.



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