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Home > Media

Telejism: Lizzie Bardsley

The central gizmo of Channel 4's Wife Swap is simple: two wives, usually from very different backgrounds, swap homes for ten days. Cheap, car crash TV ensues.

But this week Wife Swap inadvertently became a scathing critique of the dependency culture, all thanks to one woman: Lizzie Bardsley.

10 October 2003

Lizzie Bardsley is a mother of eight who's dependent on state benefits to the superficially impressive tune of £37,000. This week she swapped lives with upwardly mobile Emma Spry, working mother of two, who lives in a £180,000 house with husband Colin.

At first glance, this seemed like a slightly tasteless reworking of Cinderella - one which would have ended with the prince (Colin or the show’s producers) telling Cinders (Lizzie) to fuck off home and scrub some floors, cash the child benefit, buy the week’s supply of Superkings etc.

But instead, Lizzie, a living, breathing doley stereotype not wholly dissimilar to Waynetta Slob, promptly decided mild-mannered Colin was a 'wuss' because he does the cooking. As part of the 'swap' ethos, Colin took Lizzie for a nice meal. Her response? She embarked on an aggressive and unreasonable rant about whether fellow swappee Emma was going to seduce her husband, Mark.

The experiment came to a sudden halt when Lizzie discovered that Colin left his previous wife to marry Emma (by this time Emma and Colin had been married for 10 years). Lizzie decided Emma was a home-wrecker and returned to her beloved Mark. End of experiment.

But in the three short days the experiment lasted, Lizzie was pictured chain smoking, despite being asthmatic, and sitting watching daytime TV instead of looking after Colin’s two kids. Meanwhile in the other (council) house, Mark's main activities appeared to be swearing, arguing, skiving and drinking.

Of course, TV can make people look worse than they really are, especially when it's selected highlights of them floundering in an unfamiliar environment, but Lizzie and Mark may as well have offered their services to Conservative Central Office, to star in a propaganda film about feckless benefits claimants.

As is customary at the end of each swap, the two couples met for a drink and a chat. Normally this involves the men sitting looking embarrassed while the women make polite criticisms of the other’s cooking or child-rearing abilities.

Not so with Lizzie, who launched into yet another deranged rant about Emma, someone she'd not met until now, calling her a slag and generally coming across as common, rude, aggressive, jealous, thick and possibly slightly unhinged. Perhaps the oddest thing about Lizzie was that she seemed incapable of understanding they were taking part in a TV entertainment show - a bit like an eliminated Fifteen to One contestant 'settling the score' with a claw hammer after the show.

During this final meeting, a telling exchange took place:

LIZZIE: Do you think I'm a scrounger? EMMA: Yes.

So congratulations to Lizzie Bardsley, who will find herself a hate figure for as long as it takes the programme to be forgotten about. And who, with a bit of help from Mark, is responsible for making millions of viewers believe the unemployed should be culled like badgers.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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