Opinion

Paul McNamee: Listen to women. It's the only way

Chaps, don’t bluster on as if we know the answers. Don’t insist our voice is the loudest in the room. We really don’t know as much as we think. 

A protest meeting by the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) outside the Queen's Hall in central London. Image: PA

Richard Briers has it.

This, I grant you, is not something you hear very often. Richard Briers appeared in two key British television programmes over a generation ago.

Both of them, Ever Decreasing Circles and The Good Life, could be dismissed as comfortable sitcoms, familiar to a certain age-group and lacking a visceral punch. But they are much more than that. They stand up to re-watching, especially if you don’t quite remember the details of them.

Ever Decreasing Circles is a very 1980s show. It sees Briers star as Martin Bryce, an increasingly exasperated man in Thatcher’s Britain, a man who feels out of time as success eludes him and new money rubs his nose in it, upsetting established routines. His new next door neighbour is Paul –brash, flash, dashing, the antithesis of Martin, and always trying to woo Martin’s put-upon wife Ann. (This is the first incarnation of ‘Bad Paul’ on TV. Now, if a Paul appears in a TV show, he’s a wrong ’un).

The show is, at times, very moving. It touches on a sadness Martin and Ann feel about not having children, though never addresses it overtly. Briers, as the jaded, jealous, frequently annoying and underachieving Everyman is terrific. It’s the other side of the 1980s loud success.

The Good Life is something else again. An older show, with more gags and better cast, it sees Briers as Tom Good hitting a midlife crisis (though he’s only 40!) jacking in his job so that he, with his wife Barbara (Felicity Kendal), can become totally self-sufficient, living without a need to be part of the rat-race.

For men, sometimes the lines can be difficult to follow

Next door neighbours the Leadbetters are the upwardly mobile foils, allowing Margo (Penelope Keith) a great line in withering put-downs. It’s running again on a comedy channel and it feels incredibly timely. Not just because it’s funny but because, really, it’s all about sexual politics. It’s about how Tom tries to make things equal, how he doesn’t always achieve it. How others judge, how people judge themselves. And how, ultimately, change comes and it must be embraced.

As we hit the centenary of the vote for women, the world finds itself in a new battle over rights for women, over what is unacceptable and over new changes that are necessary. For men, sometimes the lines can be difficult to follow.

But as that confused man Tom Good realises, after advice from his pal Jerry Leadbetter, there is a simple way around this. Listen to women. Just listen.

Chaps, don’t bluster on as if we know the answers. Don’t insist our voice is the loudest in the room. We really don’t know as much as we think.  And if we really are confused, ask and then actually LISTEN to what we’re being told. What comes back might not always be comfortable to hear. But it’s the only way.

This was clear 100 years ago. This was clear 40 years ago. That it has to be repeated must be something of a frustration to women.

Maybe now finally it’ll be time to stop repeating.

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