Like many viewers of the Last Tango in Halifax on the BBC, I cannot help noticing the extent to which kitchens feature in this series, almost to the point of being characters in their own right. In the complicated lives of the two leads Gillian and Caroline, the kitchen is the social hub for their large extended families. Gillian’s is a ‘4D’ family – four generations sharing the space – and Caroline’s a fine example of the ‘blended’ family that includes steps and exes.
Both the programme’s kitchens are large and characterful spaces. Caroline’s is elegant and aspirational, a good match for her wardrobe and her status as a high-achieving woman in charge of a private school. The floor is new gleaming wood, there’s an Aga of course, an island with a tall stalk of a mixer tap that nicely mirrors all the tall stalked glasses of wine characters drink to signify their sophistication and their stress. A chandelier sparkles over the island where people perch on stools. Otherwise they pace about the room, iPhone clamped to ear. French windows provide access to the garden and a route round the side of the house to Celia’s quarters. A lot of this design is very much in line with Johnny Grey Studios’ work, but not all of it. Johnny immediately spotted the way the stools around the island do not provide comfortable seating, the knees of the characters pushed to one side, unable to fit under the counter – a classic design mistake. Some of the cabinetry is clearly standard units so cannot be classed as bespoke – a possible reason for being unable to accommodate, in this case, multi-tasking functions.
Gillian’s kitchen is pure farmhouse, an open plan living space, presumably made from two rooms where one end is relatively cobbled together kitchen units, clothes washing machine included. The family spend much of their time in here, Gillian maybe the exception due to her bed scenes, mechanical work on the tractor and employment in town. The soft seating is key, the sofas and fire making this a true living room-kitchen.
If the substance of this kitchen is right though it does not match Caroline’s luxury for obvious resources-related reasons. The ideal kitchen would be a blend of the two, both down to earth and spacious with lots of wood, a well planned central island, softer in shape and easy to walk around, with a raised height food bar and place to perch. A sofa, wood burning stove, and French doors into the garden. This would take care of a deficit of both kitchen and give the characters a chance to pace up and down in the garden too. Bonding with nature is known to help calm you down.
I wonder whether the designers at The Red Production Company, the programme makers, considered any of this? How much does it matter to make kitchens on TV work?
I have a feeling we will never know if Cheryl (the offensive blond policewoman) gets the new kitchen she wants as her relationship with Robbie founders – but my guess is not.