Joanna Lumley is ‘thrilled’ by everything, even being spanked by a Mongolian shaman, in her new Trans-Siberian Adventure

Plus: Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen is the interior design equivalent of the Greek economy

18 July 2015

9:00 AM

18 July 2015

9:00 AM

For keen students of China, this week’s television provided yet more proof that Deng Xiaoping’s decision to open the country to the West has had consequences that he’s unlikely to have foreseen. He probably couldn’t have predicted, for example, that one day a former Bond girl would travel the country finding almost everything ‘thrilling’. Or that a bloke who made his name in a British makeover show would proudly explain to a group of Chinese journalists that ‘I’ve got the sunglasses, I’ve got the big hair — all [sic] of these things are what you’d expect from a celebrity.’

The Bond girl in question was Joanna Lumley, who began Joanna Lumley’s Trans-Siberian Adventure (ITV) in Hong Kong reminiscing about her early childhood there when she had two guinea pigs called Sammy and Michael. (‘Mummy taught them how to whistle.’) But despite being ‘thrilled to be back’, she was soon ‘thrilled’ to be buying a ticket to Beijing where she picked up the train that in Sunday’s first episode took her as far as Mongolia, with regular stops to visit the sites — and to give the slightly bewildered-looking locals a full blast of her breathy charm.

‘I love poetry,’ she told a young poet whose chosen profession meant he was too poor to have a girlfriend. ‘May I wear your hat?’ she coquettishly asked a train conductor as they posed for a photograph together. Sadly, the pupils at a girls’ school weren’t enormously impressed when she revealed that she comes from ‘the country of Shakespeare’. But they perked up considerably once they realised that she also comes from the country of Harry Potter.

At the age of 69, Lumley could be forgiven for wanting to abandon her heroically long-standing commitment to girlishness. Yet, if so, there’s no sign of it here — and she remains one of the few people over ten who can convincingly use ‘gosh!’ as a sincere expression of overwhelming surprise.

On Sunday, she did have moments of sternness. Watching a cabaret that celebrated the Cultural Revolution, she wondered if there was all that much to celebrate, what with the millions who were murdered, tortured and imprisoned. A visit to Tiananmen Square allowed her to remind us briefly of the unpleasantness there in 1989. On the whole, though, she stuck firmly to being thrilled — even when it came to a lengthy border crossing into Mongolia. ‘I do rather love the bureaucracy of borders,’ she said cheerfully. ‘So many forms to fill in.’

The thrills, mind you, weren’t entirely one-way. In the Mongolian desert, a shaman possessed by the spirit of his ancestors started by sending Lumley her late mother’s good wishes — but soon moved on to more earthly matters. ‘You have nice blonde hair,’ the spirit proclaimed in a gravelly voice. ‘It’s the first time I’ve met a blonde woman.’ And with that, the shaman obligingly removed any ‘bad future’ Lumley might have by the apparently traditional practice of spanking it out of her.

Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen: Cracking China
Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen goes east

This week’s other contribution to the China debate came in the form of BBC2’s Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen: Cracking China (Monday). The programme opened with poor Laurence in his Cotswolds mansion lamenting that the loss of a couple of British contracts for his homeware company — inevitably called The House of Laurence — had left him worried about the school fees. His solution was to take his sunglasses and big hair to China, where he felt certain the new middle classes would love a touch of his footballers’ wives chic. ‘Either this works,’ he announced grimly, ‘or I’m going to have to eat kangaroo testicles in the jungle.’

In fact, this sense of jeopardy was cranked up so relentlessly over the next hour that Laurence increasingly seemed like the interior-design equivalent of the Greek economy, with virtually every meeting he had with anybody Chinese described as ‘make or break’.

Still, one advantage Laurence felt he could always rely on was Laurence. ‘I am the brand,’ he declared more than once — sometimes while comparing himself to Coco Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld. And, when the chips were down, he wasn’t afraid to go for the flat-out lie. ‘This is the look that Victoria Beckham, Princess Kate, everyone in the UK is very much into,’ he told the sales staff in one department store about such things as cushions decorated with silhouettes of himself — although in his defence he had the grace to give the camera an unmistakeably sheepish sideways glance.

The programme did perhaps have something vaguely useful to tell us about how to succeed in the Chinese market — apparently by a bit of shameless boasting and a lot of shameless grovelling. Even so, by the end, I’m pretty sure that the only reason you couldn’t hear Deng Xiaoping spinning in his grave is that his ashes were scattered at sea.

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Show comments
  • Richard Eldritch

    I’d have been just as happy if the whole show was about spanking Joanna Lovely ……

    • Paul Evans

      I’m coming over all inappropriate now.

      • Dogsnob

        I hope all inappropriate appreciates the experience.

      • Sue Smith

        She’d old, boys!! Botox on legs.

    • Ridcully

      Please form an orderly queue.

    • Hugh Jeego

      That Mongolian shaman knew a good thing when he saw it.

  • Suzy61

    I was listening to a local radio station during my lunch break this week..they interviewed 3 men who were speaking about their homes and how they felt ‘connected’ to their local guy said he had always lived within one mile of Heaton Park in Manchester (the largest municipal park in Europe), he said it was like living with the most enormous ‘back garden’…..another guy spoke about his central Manchester apartment, and laughed that his ‘balcony’ was bigger than the apartment itself..and then some t@sser chipped in, in much less flat vowels, that he had ‘down-sized’ from 10,000sqm to 5,000 sqm and then launched into some boring diatribe about expanding his business in China…..turned out to be LLB.

    We all had a good laugh in the office.

  • Gilbert White

    If she had settled down with a nice young man like Ken Barlow and spent her spare time in the Rovers Return instead of running off with Rod Stewart none of this nonsense would have happened to her.

  • James Lawrence

    Hardly relevant but always worth remembering that this is the lady who more than anyone has helped bring the Gurkha Regiments to the point of abolition.

    • Blindsideflanker

      No it is very relevant , for she used her celebrity status ( something she is trying to advance here) to not only bring about the demise of the Gurkas, who under her interference, have become some of the most expensive soldiers in the British Army, but dumped the cost of her bleeding heart on Aldershot . If she wanted to engage in a bit of flagellation all she had to do was walk down the main street of Aldershot where she would get a lot of rotten vegetables thrown in her direction.

  • I can say ‘gosh’ because I’m an American (by golly by gum).

    Always loved the lovely Lumley (though Rigg and even more, Honor Blackman were my fave Avengers ladies). I wonder though: did Joanna ever have more than paint-on sliver eyebrows? And why did she marry that unsexy stick-man, once upon a time? (He co-wrote Are You Being Served? and seems to be embarrassed about it.)

    • blandings

      Diana Rigg was one of my teenage pin-ups.
      It was the nose and the quizzical expression that did it for me – I was an odd child.

      • Ha! Well it wouldn’t have been her bustline, would it?

        • blandings

          I’ve always been a leg man.

          • My what? Haven’t had a man in two decades, or rather more.

          • blandings

            Are they as good as I imagine?

          • They keep me upright, so from that standpoint they’re excellent : )

          • blandings

            Oh well – I guess I asked for that.

          • :^*

          • blandings

            That’s a funny face!

          • It’s supposed to be a kiss, but I agree that it looks just as like having sucked a very sour lemon (which happens to be my favourite fruit, though somewhat nicer when sweetened).

          • blandings

            I accept the kiss and return it.
            My (admittedly not very good) tales about Germans upset a girl called Sue.
            I’m an acquired taste – like a lemon.
            Off to bed now. Goodnight.

          • Goodnight, Blandings baby.

          • Sue Smith

            I’m a grandmother of 4!! I was once a girl, though I still have a great sense of humour (but not about Germans being Nazis) in case somebody happens to say something funny. For those of you who don’t like Germans I’ve got three words for you:

            Bach, Beethoven, Brahms

          • Sue Smith

            Hard to tell from behind the zimmer frame.

    • Sue Smith

      That was decades ago – you’re showing your age, whereas Joanna isn’t showing hers. Whoever said chemicals were bad?

      • Callipygian


        • Sue Smith

          Those TV programs were decades ago!!

          Ever heard of Botox? Lumley is 70 years old in May, old darling!!

          • Callipygian

            AYBS? was certainly on when I was a toddler, but it was also shown in America years after it ended — in seemingly interminable re-runs — so it had an afterlife in the 1990s (I don’t know about later).
            Yep, heard of Botox: in fact I know more about it than ever because my new book on poisons and toxicology discusses its source. Not something I’d ever have a use for, myself.

          • Sue Smith

            My 39 year old son, when I tell him this about Joanna, says “yes, but she’s poised”. Do you think he meant “poisONED”?

          • Callipygian

            Botox is fine as long as you don’t ingest it :^0

          • Sue Smith

            I’m not sure I agree with the idea of rat poison being put under my skin. But Joanna has remained a “babe” forever (which has got to make you wonder why anybody at 70 wants to be a “babe”!! Mrs. Billy Connelly said on Australia TV a few years ago that “I want to remain a babe”.)

            Now, if there was something which could improve my memory I’d be interested. That’s the real secret to a healthy retirement and life – staying mentally agile and engaged. And that’s part of the reason I write on comments sections of good news media; I like the discussion and debate and it keeps me sharp.

            As the song-writer wrote:
            “Oh, I give no quarter to Kern or Cole Porter
            And Gershwin keeps pounding on tin”!! 🙂

          • Callipygian

            At least it’s not warfarin!

            I love Kern, Porter and Gershwin myself, if Oscar Peterson (RIP) is playing them.

          • Sue Smith

            I can take them straight, jazzy or Ella.

            We’ve been watching Joanna’s railway program from China/Mongolia/Russia and apparently Ghengis Khan killed 40 million people. That must have taken a looooong time!!

  • blandings

    Headline caught my attention.
    More of the same please Mr Editor

  • Dogsnob

    But darling, life is a series of thrill dots which are to be joined.
    That last series, when she oohed and aahed and went all wind-chime, gazing at the Northern Lights.
    I’ve seen ’em, they’re OK. Half a minute, tops and then it’s time to do something else.

  • davidshort10

    I can’t understand why the Spectator calls JL a ‘Bond girl’ when that was a tiny, tiny part in OHMSS almost 50 years ago. She has done so much more since. It feels as if editorial is influenced by a leering old Brillo Pad in the MD’s chair.