MY CHILDHOOD: JANET STREET-PORTER

My Childhood is an innovative psychological biography series which takes well-known individuals back to their past to unravel the experiences and influences that have helped to shape them into who they are today. Probing interviews with a clinical psychologist, combined with a physical journey down memory lane, make for a fascinating and revealing portrait of how an individual’s beliefs and character are formed.

BAFTA Scotland for Best Factual Series, 2006.


BEHIND THE SCENES

It quickly became apparent that Janet did not take on this project because she wanted to discover something fundamental about herself. As far as she was concerned there were no unanswered questions. Nor did she take it on because she was interested in revisiting her past. Most of the places she went back to over the course of the filming she held in very low regard. Her purpose was simply to try and beat the system – to effectively outShrink the Shrink.

Her tactic was to do what she does very well. To try to put the psychologist (and frequently the director as well!) on the back foot so that she could keep hold of the reins. From the opening question of my master interview at her lovely Clerkenwell home, she was dismissive of the whole undertaking. When she first walked into the studio for her initial appointment with Dr Barry Connell, she used a combination of diversion tactics and confrontation in an attempt to unsettle proceedings.

But the beauty of this programme is that it’s all about psychology. Moments that would almost certainly be cut out of other programmes actually provided interesting insights here. Every time she blocked Dr Connell’s questions or countered with one of her own, every time she threw her handbag at me (three in total, but only one made contact) we got a greater understanding of our subject. I soon came to realise that my best course of action was to let Janet get on with the business of being Janet. And make sure that the camera was always pointing in the right direction.

I won’t lie. Over time I became rather fond of her. Over time.

I felt it was important for us to have another commentator on Janet’s life. Given her hostility towards her mother, this would have been the ideal interview. But as Janet’s parents are no longer with us, I turned to her sister. I can still remember my nerves as I picked up the phone to ring Pat – her participation could be crucial, but was I was about to be on the receiving end of Janet Mk 2? Hardly. Pat was a joy. And when Janet was around her she was a much softer person -she no longer felt the need for posturing.

For all that, even though Pat came along for the ride, Janet didn’t exactly warm to the experience of revisiting her mother’s Welsh homeland. My over-riding memory of the trip to Wales is a bout of food poisoning from the hotel that Janet had recommended. And of having a handbag thrown at me.

Before her second meeting with Dr Connell, Janet (after much coaxing) agreed to fill out a psychological questionnaire. Based on her answers to a series of randomly placed control questions, the analysts said that they felt she was responding honestly. And to my mind the most interesting thing to come out of this test was the conclusion that not only is Janet “disagreeable” but that she goes out of her to be seen as “disagreeable”. It’s as if it’s part of her ‘brand’.

There’s no doubt that Janet is very self-aware, and it was this in the end that made me truly warm to her. But I could never quite get over the fact that she refused to see any way in which her parents and her early years had influenced the way she’s lived her life. To the outsider, I think the links are clear throughout this programme. But Janet, for all her self-awareness, simply couldn’t see it.

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PROGRAMME INFO

Producer/ Director/ Edit Producer: Nic Guttridge
Camera: Jon Sayers
Series Producer: Ian Lilley
Duration: 60mins
Production company: Endemol UK
Network:BBC3
First broadcast: January 2006 at 10pm

 

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