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A Load of Rooibos

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The No1 Ladies' Detective Agency is not my cup of tea, Rooibos or otherwise. And it seems most British TV critics felt much the same way. As Stephen Pile in The Telegraph put it...
The whole production was generous to a fault and the fault was this: it was like a blacked-up Vicar of Dibley. The characters were benign, one-dimensional eccentrics enveloped in prevailing sweetness. In a film written and made by white men about black people, it felt twee and patronising
The Vicar of Dibley, in my humble opinion, is a comic masterpiece. That aside, the books had no depth or suspense, were clumsily written and deeply tedious. As an attempt to show a different side to Africa - compared to the normal one we see on TV or at the movies - then maybe it works. On a recent trip to Botswana I really did see a shop named "Really Nice Bakery". It's just that, as I sit in Khartoum on my way to Darfur on the day Zimbabwe goes to the polls and having left behind a country that may or may not have just ended two months of tribal killing, it's not a side of Africa that I see very often. Then again, would anyone complain that PG Wodehouse failed to paint a realistic portrait of Britain? Who doesn't enjoy a good Miss Marple on the telly? As Max Hastings points out in The Daily Mail, "most of our favourite detective story characters inhabit fantasy worlds - Miss Marple in St. Mary Mead, Lord Peter Wimsey in London clubland, Inspector Morse in Oxford." For my money, The Last King of Scotland and Blood Diamond - two vastly different films - captured something close to the essence of parts of Africa. The No1 Ladies' Detective Agency books don't. But as a bit of diverting telly it's probably quite good fun, although I won't be watching it.


amal | March 29, 2008 2:39 PM | Reply

Hey Rob,

I cant believe it got bad reviews, maybe I was blinded by

the fact that it was something positive about Africa for a

change and that there was something from another culture

in the BBC!Anyways, I hope this kick starts a series of

drama set in Africa. By the way please write some more posts

about Sudan. Its interesting to see Sudan through the eyes

of foreign journalist and keep us updated on your visit to


Take care

Madame Monet | March 29, 2008 3:36 PM | Reply

Hi Rob,

I was interested to read your impressions of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series, but do respectfully have to disagree with you! Personally, I loved that series, and found many others who do also.

What I wanted to point out, however is "different strokes for different folks." There are many sub-genres of detective and mystery fiction. I think the people who enjoy the "No.1" series enjoy it for a different reason than people who prefer other types of detective/mystery fiction. What I enjoy about it is that Mama M. (main character) is just an ordinary lady with no training whatsoever. She just hangs up a sign and has to figure out her craft as I, or any other ordinary person would do if they hung up such a sign. I love the way she consults books that she's ordered from abroad, and uses her women's intuition coming up with inventive ways of finding out what she needs to. I would just LOVE to step into her shoes!

Anyway, each sub-genre of fiction fits a different type of person. I teach elementary school in Morocco and introduce many kids to many genres of fiction. I try to help them learn what the names of different genres mean, and also which genres they prefer. I see now why I didn't like certain books my parents suggested when I was a kid. They were all in a genre my parents liked (Realistic stories), which I didn't like then, and still don't like now!

Best regards,

Madame Monet

Writing, Painting, Music, and Wine


nuttycow | April 1, 2008 9:33 AM | Reply

Hey Rob... I also have to admit, I enjoyed No 1 too. For a Sunday "sit on the sofa and don't think" kind of a programme it was ideal!

Andrew Heald | April 2, 2008 1:43 PM | Reply

Now Rob,

I feel hurt. It was only a couple of years ago I saw you

reading from this book aloud in public. And the occasion

was my wedding!

I don't think the books are trying to portray life in

Africa generally, bus Botswana specifically. Just because

Botswana has got its act together doesn't mean that

portraying life there is any less worthy.

Sijui | April 2, 2008 4:42 PM | Reply


Thanks for the heads up on the No. 1 Lady's Detective Movie....I'll definitely watch it! As an African, who lives a pretty humdrum middle class existence, it's great to see another genre of comedy drama that is actually relevant to my experiences of the continent. Too many of us are detached from the doom and gloom narrative that is the overwhelming potrayal of life by the entertainment media. It will be great to watch a piece, other than our own locally produced slap stick comedies that mimics the idiosyncracies of our family lives :)

Anonymous | April 2, 2008 9:16 PM | Reply

So I'm starting to get the feeling I'm in the minority. (Perhaps now is not the time to point out that I haven't actually seen the thing?)

What do you think?