Fiona and Scott, one of the entrepreneurial couples in ‘Modern Times’
Fiona and Scott, one of the entrepreneurial couples in ‘Modern Times’

Every year, 60,000 new businesses are started by couples. Twenty per cent fail in the first two years, with effects not merely financial but also personal. Having got the gloomy figures out of the way, BBC2’s Modern Times: For Richer, for Poorer (Sunday 10pm) proceeds to watch four couples stake their savings on changes to their careers and their lives, which they undertake with an insouciance verging on the suicidal (at least one pair has no business plan and forgets where the day’s takings are). The resulting film is surprisingly buoyant, even charming.

It helps that you root for the rash but likeable entrepreneurs, even though ex-painter/decorator and rough diamond Scott exits the car on a dual carriageway to avoid the harangue of former model-scout Fiona (“I’d rather be run over”). Their online boutique features, inter alia, decorative animal skulls and antlers. More tensions arise in Covent Garden’s Jamaican patty business, where Theresa (“a benign dictator”) insists that only born Jamaicans can make patties and soup. Husband Andrew, resembling a pugilist bouncer as he hands out free samples, turns out to be a soft-spoken, gently humorous ex-lawyer. In the Cotswolds, former catering teacher Sally and financial adviser Steve are too competitive. She wants to be upmarket, he wants to make money. A blind tasting of her Sicilian orangeade alongside a medium-range Budgen’s version leaves sceptical Steve vindicated. Strangest combination: Barry and Vicky, who share their small shop between her bakery classes and his furniture-making. One has the sneaking feeling that this is a sitcom waiting to happen. Days go by — and so do puzzled shoppers, not quite sure what these premises house.

No spoiler intended, but rest assured — relationships are reassessed, and they survive. The businesses? A damn near thing, as Wellington would have said. Keep your fingers crossed, and for the other 59,996 businesses annually launched by the young in heart, high in hope and — business-wise — triumphantly innocent.

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