Married life uncoveredBMJ 2003; 326 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.326.7400.1219 (Published 29 May 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:1219
Mr and Mrs: The Wrights
BBC 2, 28 May at 9 50 pm
On the front of last week's TV Times were a handsome doctor and a pretty nurse complete with old fashioned uniform and starched cap. They were from a prime time series set in a nostalgic era when doctors and nurses fell in love, married, and lived happily ever after. They were, of course, fictional.
On Wednesday evening a real, contemporary doctor and nurse, married for seven years, appeared in the first of four “fly on the wall” documentaries, each of which will feature a different marriage under stress. In this first programme, the problem was that the husband is a urological surgeon.
“Mark and Kibi let the cameras into their lives for 12 months to film the warts and all, day to day reality of their relationship,” said the publicity. The truth was less labour intensive. The film crew turned up intermittently when stress levels were predictably high— when Mark passed the final fellowship examination, when the family went to the airport to go on holiday, or when Kibi put their house on the market without consulting Mark. This guaranteed those great television moments when people argue or fight back tears.
A camera was set up in their home so that Kibi, like a lone round the world yachts-woman, could confide just how tired she felt and how awful things were. Further footage came from Kibi's sister, cheerfully dissecting the couple's marriage, libidos, and chances of staying together.
The programme skirted the obvious question—why did they do this? In an accompanying interview, Kibi explained that she had answered a flier seeking volunteers by saying, “I'm really fed up and I don't care who knows it.” This was television as a weapon in the battle of the sexes, aimed at women viewers unimpressed by the European Cup Final on another channel.
Mark took part because he “wanted people to see that it's not a cushy life being a surgeon.” If anyone were naive enough to think that, then he is unlikely to have disillusioned them by discussing his marriage over a glass of wine, buying an expensive Georgian house, or being called away (as the voiceover put it) on a research trip to the United States.
I doubt if the programme altered the image of surgeons one way or the other. Mark's job, despite a glimpse of transurethral surgery, came across as glamorous. Viewers of programmes like Big Brother are used to seeing people discuss their sex lives on camera. Those who cannot stand voyeurism would switch off.
Volunteering for television is a high risk business. The director has her own agenda. At the end Mark and Kibi said they had weathered this rough patch but sadly it is their indiscreet bickering that will linger in the memory.