Stephen Fry finds out what makes the South so distinctive, from West Virginia coalminers and bluegrass musicians in Tennessee to an Alabama parole board's deliberations.
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This is America's national cemetery at Arlington.
Today is Veteran's Day.
To Americans, Arlington is hallowed ground, a symbol of just how united the United States can be.
But in fact, the cemetery rose out of the appalling carnage
of America's Civil War when the south fought bitterly to separate from the north.
Arlington is in the State of Virginia, a southern state.
For years, I've been intrigued and bewitched by what seems to be America's most characterful region.
A place of cotton, courtesy, gospel music, mint juleps, divine accents
and sultry Southern Belles.
I'm heading south to find out what makes Old Dixie so distinctive.
But where exactly does the south start?
Well, nearly 250 years ago, two surveyors named Mason and Dixon
drew a straight line on the map marking the southern border of Pennsylvania.
It became known as the Mason/Dixon line and effectively marks where the north ends and the south begins.
Apparently, it really does physically exist.
I'm determined to try and find it.
It definitely should be here.
It's definitely the right road.
I think I'm going to have to break the habit of a lifetime and actually ask someone. Good lord.
Excuse me, hello.
-Sorry to bother you.
I'm looking for the Mason/Dixon line.
As a matter of fact it's out this way on the road.
You wouldn't mind showing it to me?
That's really kind, thank you.
-OK, right here.
-It's down through here. Where the turkeys like to be.
I believe that's it.
-Oh, is this it here?
-It sure is.
Here's the Mason/Dixon marker.
The south starts here.
West Virginia. That's fantastic.
Yes, it is.
West Virginia is just at the beginning of the south, a long way from the heart of Dixie.
The Appalachian Mountains that form the spine of the state
are as prized for the treasure that lies within them as for their beauty.
I'm going deep inside to hunt for it.
So you do all your smoking up here, basically?
'Coalmining is far from a dying industry in West Virginia.
'50% of the electricity generated in the United States comes from coal.'
This is Stephen Fry. A pleasure to introduce him to you.
What did that noise mean just now?
-That's a CO monitor alarm.
Just to check that the alarm's working, not that there is...
-There's some who don't have moustaches.
But nobody seemed to mind.
-But it's a bit scary. How do you know they're miners?
-What's that alarm?
-We have a lot of different alarms going off as we're getting ready to start.
This seam is about 350 million years old, so every day, we're fighting Mother Nature.
-Are you ready?
-I'm so ready.
-All right, guys, let's go.
-Welcome to our world.
-Why, thank you.
-No secrets in an elevator I guess, huh?
No gas in an elevator too!
-Is this the first time you've been underground?
-It sure is, yes.
Apart from the underground railway in London. Thank you.
You know, in the main airways you've got all this air obviously...
-When we get up to the face, just kind of watch what you're doing.
-Keep your hands inside the vehicle.
Keep your glasses on too.
Well, this is a hell of a commute. I'm guessing you don't have Wi-Fi or cell phone coverage down here.
No Wi-Fi, no cell phone coverage.
When we go out of here, everybody turns their lights out.
-So you can see how dark it is.
-That's a good idea, yeah.
-It's the darkest dark.
-It's the darkest of dark.
'In this vast subterranean city, whose tunnels cover a staggering ten square miles,
'the exposed coal is sprayed with white limestone to help reduce the coal dust and risk of fire.'
-This is it. The end of the road for us.
-Things are going to change drastically now.
-Well, see you again tomorrow, thank you very much. Extremely enjoyable.
-Thanks for the ride, right?
'It's hot, dark and for a man of my height, incredibly uncomfortable.'
Standing up isn't really an option. is it?
-That cuts the coal? This? My word.
-They call it the beast from the east.
-You've come to the best mine in West Virginia.
-I'm glad to hear that.
-Bless all these men in his holy name, amen.
-God speed safe.
ROAR OF MACHINERY
-That there? That's methane?
-You can smell it a tiny bit.
-No, you can't smell it. It's odourless.
-What am I smelling then?
-Er, probably sulphur from the water.
-You get used to it.
Now when we get up right near the face you can see the coal...
Oh, my goodness.
-And this you can see, to get a better idea.
You've probably got about 1,100 foot of mountain on top of you.
-So when it collapses, you know about it?
-Oh, you know about it.
-You feel it?
-You hear it. You see it and you feel it.
-It's a crumble, a rumble.
-You feel it before it even collapses.
You can feel it breaking, you can hear it above you and then it'll collapse.
Charming, but best left to the experts, one feels.
It's at about this point that I find the prospect of continuing
my journey south into the state of Kentucky strangely appealing.
"Unbridled spirit" is the State of Kentucky's new motto.
We'll find out about the spirit later on, but "unbridled"? Well, this is prime horse country.
The Kentucky Derby is of course world renowned.
Thoroughbreds are big business here and Kentucky's top bloodstock auction house is Keeneland,
where the most expensive horseflesh in the world is traded.
I love the smell of horses, I love the smell of horses.
And according to breeder Tom Van Meter,
prime stallions are not allowed so much as a sniff of a mare until their racing career is truly over.
You can touch him.
So we're talking about immensely sexually frustrated creatures if for 3 or 4 years of their prime manhood
they are not being allowed to mate, I would have thought?
-Yes, but, Stephen, but...
..if they are successful racehorses then...
-They really do get...
-They get all they want, all they need,
-3 or 4 times a day.
-But they don't know that.
..if you believe in reincarnation,
you would want to come back as a thoroughbred racehorse, that could run! OK?
Now if you couldn't run, you know... they're going to get cut off.
Apparently the services of the most expensive stallion
can cost as much as 300,000 for one impregnation.
-This is pimping on a massive scale.
-That's exactly what it is.
Speaking of genetics, the eldest of Tom's five children, Griff Van Meter,
is a Kentuckian from top to bottom.
If I say Kentucky to a foreigner, they always say Kentucky Fried Chicken and Kentucky Derby
but there's more than just those. There's definitely an identity here.
You get people that stay in Kentucky for life and have been here for life
and that's what I really enjoy about it because this is where I belong.
I actually have a tattoo of the State of Kentucky kinda on my ass.
Well, this is British television and there's nothing we like better than to look at an ass.
I would love to show you my ass.
-And in that...
-Is that the shape of Kentucky?
-That's the shape of Kentucky.
If lost, return here, er, type situation.
So that wasn't just one drunken moment you'll regret for the rest of your life but a proud statement
-of your Kentucky...
-Exactly, it's permanent and I'm proud every time I see it and it's always refreshing...
A refreshing bottom is a fine thing to have!
Today is the tail end of the 3 week sale but the auctioneers try to keep up the excitement.
-This is yours?
-Oh, we've got a bid over there. Only one more to sell.
Here we go, we sold it.
We sold this horse.
-The way the auctioneer speaks, it's just breathtaking, it's hypnotic.
AUCTIONEER SPEAKING VERY FAST
Was that "bidded up here"?
-Bidded up here.
-HE REPEATS VERY QUICKLY
-Do you tailor it to the kind of product you're selling?
So how would you sell chickens?
Chickens tend to be more country and high pitch and kinda, you know...
-That's fantastic! Do you know what that is? It's suddenly... that's banjo picking!
-Yes. It is.
It's the same sound as banjo picking. It's Kentucky Blue Grass.
Welcome to Sunny Kentucky.
You know what galls me when the weather's like this?
People always say, "Well, must make you feel right at home!"
We don't get rain like this, this is preposterous.
We get a nice steady English drizzle.
Of course what you need in weather like this, I always think,
is sort of internal central heating, you know?
Not all American industry is high-tech.
This Kentucky bourbon distillery preserves the style and methods of the distant past.
We've had the unbridled part of Kentucky, now for the spirit.
We're the smallest, slowest, oldest distillery in the United States.
Chris Morris has the enviable post of Master Distiller.
Both my mother and father worked here.
Every night, I remember Mum cooking dinner and she'd always have a glass of bourbon on the counter.
I'd come through the kitchen as a small boy and say, "Mum, can I have a sip?" And I'd take a sip and...
-"I don't like that." Now, of course, my reaction would be very different.
-You like it very much.
-It looks like a Victorian prison.
-Those bars date back to Prohibition.
Of course, I'd completely forgotten.
-We're in the country...
-..where for 15 years or so...
-..alcohol of any kind was federally prohibited.
We do the usual distillery tour thing and charming it is too.
But the part that really interests me is the little tasting session.
What it all comes down to is this gorgeous brown liquid.
Yes, the whiskey has to speak for itself and it speaks in a language that, if you're a wine connoisseur,
you might be very familiar with it. Vanilla, caramel, a hint of dark chocolate and maple syrup,
baked apple, black pepper, cinnamon, tobacco leaf, coffee bean and a little bit of pecan in every glass.
Wow, now to me that's almost a poem.
But is there any more to it or is it actually just subjective,
or is there some precision and science in that?
Well, it is science. If you say, "I have a hint of cinnamon," that's cinnaldehyde.
That is the same chemical that makes cinnamon be cinnamon.
Now, nose that one and it should have some distinctive oak notes.
Yes, it is woody, definitely.
-Discernibly woody notes.
-Yep. It's a sort of dusty wood, isn't it?
We have a sample here that is one of my favourite types.
-It should be creamier, sweeter...
-Hmm, try that one. Compare it to this one.
-Which is still awful smooth.
Butterscotch, honey, black pepper, coffee bean, cherry, vanilla kernel...
Chris, don't think me pretentious.
This smell is an autumnal walk in the countryside,
probably about seven miles from Aldershot on the fringe of an old wood, a spinney -
or a copse possibly, if not a spinney...it's a copse definitely -
and there's a slightly wet Labrador panting and a little bit of that Labrador's breath is in here...
I think Stevie should have a little lie down.
The next morning, I thought I'd drive the taxi to London.
No, that wasn't last night's whiskey getting the better of me, London really was calling.
London City Police.
I thought the black cab would appreciate a stop in London
and besides, it was time to tidy up my act.
-Come right in, sir.
-Nice to meet you.
-Have you ever been to London, England?
-I've not been.
Well, it's a bit bigger than London, Kentucky.
-Have you had many Londoners come in?
-No, sir. To my knowledge, you're the first.
-I'm the first Londoner!
-I do like your accent.
-Well, I was going to say the same thing. I think yours is mighty fine too.
We have this phrase "a short back and sides".
A short back and sides, no. What we call "burrs",
-which is about a quarter of an inch all over and we call it burrs.
-And some people call it "butch".
-In this locality.
-Butch and burrs.
-Burrs like the animal?
-Er, like a chestnut burr.
Oh, a burr. Not a bear but a burr.
I tend to think of Kentucky as being quite southern in its ways but you're kind of in the middle.
-Well, kinda in the middle but I'd say we're more southern really.
We love it. Did you realise we have the World Chicken Festival?
-You have the World Chicken Festival?
-Haven't you fellas heard about that over in England?
-I don't know how I came not to have heard of it.
-I'm ashamed of myself.
-They named it after Colonel Sanders.
-Of course, Colonel Sanders is a Kentucky man.
-And the barber I work with cut Colonel Sanders' hair.
-He came in, in his big white suit.
-He really did look like that and dress like that?
-Let me tell you there are lots of Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants in London, England.
Lots and lots. On a Saturday night, the smell of a congealing thrift bucket fills the air. Right.
And people dress up as chickens, I expect?
Well, yes, some of them do.
I know it's a thing Americans like to do - to dress up as a chicken.
-Well, not all Americans obviously.
I got the impression that all Americans like to dress as chickens. I may be wrong.
-Well, thank you, Jim. That's...
-You cut a fair amount.
Oh, terrific. Well, it's, erm...it's quite shocking. I look, er...I don't know what I look like.
-Do I look younger?
-Or maybe I look older? But I look different.
Blue Grass music might be named after Kentucky Blue Grass
but it's played with enthusiasm just across the state line in Tennessee too.
And in this former school on Friday evenings, enthusiasts gather for an extended jam session.
Every corner is filled with the best sort of informal music making.
I would say that it runs deep in your blood and it becomes a part of you
and you feel the land, you know, in your heart.
-Like that, yeah.
-It's one of those styles of music that once you've heard it...
-It's in your blood.
Just what I was going to say.
I'm a descendant, of course, of Scots-Irish, that came over...
across the ocean, you know.
-And they brought music with them?
-They brought jigs and reels?
I do the three fingered style picking that Earl Scruggs developed, er...
-He learned a lot from Snuffy Jenkins who was his teacher.
-It's a good name, isn't it?
Oh, yes, wonderful, wonderful!
-Do you have a name as a band or...?
-Gap! Gap! Sorry.
Real slow, real slow.
I've got it now. Mountain Gap.
-No, not Mountain! Moun'ain...
-I got it, I got it, thank you very much, thank you.
-You talk funny over there, don't you?
-Do you think?
-Oh, yeah, yeah.
Wonderful. ..But Tennessee isn't all plucking, picking and slapping.
There is a world renowned university in the town of Knoxville and I have an assignation there.
Now, I'm supposed to meet a woman called Rebecca, that could be her code-name of course, in a car park.
Ah, Rebecca! Stephen. How do you do?
-Nice to meet you, Stephen.
-How nice to meet you.
-We try to avoid advertising our location.
-Away from prying eyes?
I just need to shut the gates behind us.
I can see black... what we would call bin liners.
Every black plastic you see is actually an individual.
-A human cadaver?
-A dead body in fact?
There's over 180 individuals, er, cadavers out here.
Our title is the Anthropological Research Facility.
-Most people know of us as the Body Farm.
-The Body Farm?
What would you say is the main purpose?
To do time since death - that's how long someone's been dead - research,
-in a scientific way.
-So are we going to see a few maggots and things?
-Because, as long as I'm prepared, I don't mind.
I have to tell you something now, which is that,
in all my 50 years on this planet, I have never seen a dead body.
-So I don't know how I'll respond. I'm sure I'll be grown up about it.
-Just watch your step.
-That's an electric fence that we keep on at night, it keeps out the larger critters.
Because animals obviously feast on... Well, there's a dead body.
-Oh, my goodness.
This is, what we call late stage decomposition where all, almost the skeleton's left.
It's, erm, yeah. It's a sight that, you know, artists and poets and writers have written about
since humans could write, that of the oddity of a human skull,
knowing that what I'm speaking out of now is no more than that
and that's what we all are, we're all a composition of bones and flesh
-but, to look at it, you wonder where the human is in a way, don't you?
-Do you see a skull through my skin?
-Unfortunately, I should say yes.
I have a really bad habit now when I do see people, especially new people,
I will sit there and I kind of imagine what they look like underneath, particularly the skull.
So my noble macrocephalus frontal regions, for example,
you would instantly see bespoke a man of immense sensitivity and grace?
No, you wouldn't! You'd just see a particular category of skull.
Oh! Oh, my goodness.
What have you got in there?
Right now there is an individual in the bin. They've been here since July so they've been here a few months.
So they're over the worst of smell and insects, are they? Or not?
-They're over the worst insects.
-You're warning me that there's going to be a bad smell?
-Yes. I would not stick your head over until it's open.
Oh, my... Oh, good gracious...
-You can see the maggots.
-I can see the maggots, yes, thank you.
It's...a great seething, living... appalling-smelling thing.
It's as if it's clawing inside you to try and scoop out every living part of you and turn it into death.
It's just unspeakably horrible, I can't... You've...
-I have a really bad sense of smell.
-Oh, do you?
-Yes. That's something...
-That's a lucky thing, you're better off in this job than wine tasting.
You see, in some ways, the worst of what it is to be human.
Terrible things like murdered children, and murdered anybody,
plus you see the human body in its most dreadful state.
The goal is to help grieving families and help put a name to an unknown skeleton and get that closure
but part of you has to realise that this is a research object and you can't get emotionally attached to it.
-One thing on this foot you'll see is ants.
-Yes, yes, I can.
Well, ants are common to find on a fresh individual,
especially in someone's home, and doing entomology, which is the study of all the insects,
is one of the best indicators of time since death.
-Because different insects hatch and thrive in bodies at different times.
In some of our more basic studies you can look at the soil around the body
because things are leeched from your body into the soil so, if there is something in question,
you can test that and say, "No, there is a body that decomposed here, you need to tell us the truth now."
This garden of earthly remains might at first glance seem rather a grizzly and morbid place to be
but actually I think it should fill one with a kind of optimism
because it's being used for extraordinarily good purposes
to catch wicked people and to ease the burden of suffering from grieving people and, er...
I might genuinely consider leaving my body to such an institution.
It might as well do some good, it's done so little good on this earth,
it might at least do good when my spirit has flown away.
Whisking my offended nostrils as far from Knoxville's Department of Forensic Anthropology as possible,
I revel in the pure air of the Smoky Mountain National Park as I head for the North Carolina state Line.
These colours are amazing. I feel a photo opportunity coming on.
Hello, who's this?
He seems to be chewing at the base of a branch at the end of which is a luscious supply of berries.
So I assume the idea is to chew right through, the branch will fall to the ground,
he'll scramble after it, hopefully take a bow
and then carry home his prize of a whole basket of fruit for the day.
And he's done it! He's bitten through!
Now he's just got to make sure, what an achievement, yes!
Give it a rock, don't fall off, old thing.
Now, he's rather disappointed that it hasn't simply fallen to the ground but it's a bit tangled up.
If there's one thing animals can do, it's persevere.
Still in the Smoky Mountains, it seems to me there's only one way
to see this beautiful part of North Carolina at its absolute best. I've never done this before.
-Shall I just climb in, yes?
'I shall throw caution, and myself, to the winds.'
I'm not sure how much I like looking down over the edge.
I'm happy to hold onto things.
It's quite scary.
-You guys are over a mile high.
-Really! Are we?
-Over a mile high.
The thing to me about America is you only have to rise up a little in any part, even a densely populated part,
and you see how much is wilderness and how much of it is unoccupied mountains
and extraordinary geographical and geological systems.
I was a bit nervous as we were ascending but, we're now so high, it's pointless to be nervous.
GAS JETS ROAR SUDDENLY
-We were descending at a very, very, very fast rate.
-Good lord! My ears are popping, I'll give you that.
-All right, Stephen, we're going to try to get down to treetop level here.
It's a great place to just look in the canopy.
We're moving at 34 miles an hour, which is extremely fast in a hot air balloon. Too fast.
-I take it you know about those power lines?
-Yes, I see those and thanks for warning me!
I have had a squirrel jump in before. He did about 200 circles.
I don't know who was more alarmed!
I bet in his family they still tell that story of the day Nutkin had that adventure.
It's that silence apart from when you're pressing the burner.
-It's absolutely amazing.
I'm going to try to get close enough to this tree so you can pick one of those little...
Here we go.
I might get one of these...fruits.
-Don't lean out too far.
-Don't tell me that now!
-Ah, there you go.
-That's going in my souvenir bag.
-A little pine tree.
-How cool was that?
From the foothills of the Appalachians in North Carolina
to the lowland coast of South Carolina, the vegetation changes radically.
Gullah can be found here I'm told.
Gullah is a language, a culture, preserved where the freed African slaves lived on
in these isolated swampy, inhospitable islands.
This is the landscape that the unwilling visitors from Africa would have first seen all those years ago.
Anita Prather is a descendant of slaves brought to this coast and revels in Gullah culture.
Most of us came from rice producing countries in Africa.
Because of those specialised skills, we cost more
and, er, we were requested.
Because of that system we were able to maintain more of our Africanisms
than a lot of other Africans that were brought here.
So that's why Gullah is still so prevalent in this area.
SINGING AND CLAPPING
Now you've used this word "Gullah", what does that mean?
It is the blending of different cultures of the West Africans that were brought here
with that of the Europeans that became the masters of the plantation
with that of the native Americans that were the original owners of the property of the plantations
so you have the blending of all those different cultures.
Good gracious, what does that mean?
When you are here, the deer is not here.
But when you are not here, the deer is here. D-E-E-R as in Bambi.
It's a fact about the south, it seems closer in history down here than it does up in the north.
Does it offend you when you see a Confederate flag on the hood of a car or...?
Not at all. I had a lot of students who wore Confederate items, but I was their favourite teacher.
A lot of it didn't have to do with, "I'm wearing it because I hate black people,"
but, "I'm wearing it because I feel this is part of my heritage."
-I think sometimes we get offended without really understanding what people are really feeling.
Gullah is the one culture that brings us altogether because it connects us all. So, cousin, how're you doing?
-I'm doing very well.
And so to Georgia.
Georgia in my mind... is the heart of the south.
Today is the third Thursday in November, a date every American knows.
Thanksgiving Day, when thanks are given for the safe landing of the Pilgrim Fathers.
The thanks take the form of a feast of turkey, cranberry and pumpkin pie.
Americans will cross the country to be with their families.
I've been invited to celebrate it at an old plantation house in southern Georgia.
-Well, hello there.
'Jeannie and Swannie, two of the daughters of the house home for the holidays,
'are full of plans for exciting activities.'
-Stephen, while you are here, we're going to put you to work.
-We're going to put you on a horse and then you can just go out and round up cows.
I've a horrible feeling that the getting on alone is going to be...
Oh, it'll be a piece of cake.
'Let's be clear, horses don't get on with me. I don't get on with horses.
'Never mind the "with", I don't get "on" horses, but these dear people seem so keen and confident
'that, even against my instincts, it seems churlish to refuse.'
And we have a very special breed here called the Tennessee walking horse.
I like the sound of that - not a galloping horse, not a throwing-rider-off horse...
They're very smooth.
This is Shadow. Shadow is the one horse if we could clone, we would.
Really? Because he's nice and gentle?
-He's very, very smooth and they can put people who don't know how to ride on him.
-People like me for example?
They smell your fear, you know.
-Oh, he's wonderful.
-I think I believe you.
He's dirty! Why didn't you wash him off?
-Stephen, I personally guarantee this horse.
-That's very nice to hear.
-OK, put your left foot there.
-That makes sense.
-And then just grab...
-Where am I putting my hand?
-Grab a hold of his mane. There you go.
Sorry. Shadow's the name, yes?
Excuse me, Shadow, I'm sorry.
-Good boy. No, don't do that to me.
-You're on your own, have fun.
He's not going to jump over the fence, is he? Good boy.
No, no, whoa. Calm down. Whoa!
Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!
Whoa. Whoa. Whoa.
So much for the walking. You call that walking?
Stephen, I don't know what to tell you. I apologise. That's never happened before.
Whenever I've been on a horse, the horse's owner goes, "That's strange, he's never done that before."
I love horses from a distance. They make very good watercolour paintings.
When they run against each other to see who's fastest, I'm happy to watch it on television.
I know they mean well, but they're also rather stupid.
That's it. Now, I get my foot down there, don't I?
Thank you so much.
Oh, well, we got it.
Never, ever again. Never, do you understand?
You can tell all your brothers and sisters they won't have to put up with me, ever, on a horse!
Somebody said the word "bloody" and the word "Mary" quite soon after it, which I like the sound of.
It's... Oh, yeah, it's what you call like hot tub...
Cheers. To your American thanksgiving.
Well, thank you and thanks for your hospitality, your famous southern hospitality, which is no lie.
You're in the south, you're drinking and frying.
What else does the world have to offer?
Ah. Miss Schmoe, how do you do? I'm Stephen.
'Miss Schmoe is the matriarch here and a mere 91 years old.
'Her visiting older sister, Aunt Sneed, is a remarkable 98.'
Your grandfather might have been old enough to have known the Civil War.
Oh, yes, I have an ancestor, a grandfather who fought in the Civil War.
So if I touch you now, I can say I'm touching someone, who touched someone who fought in the Civil War?
-Yeah, that's right.
-You see, to me, that's amazing.
-We still have a hangover of that war, if you want to know the truth of it.
-Is that right?
There's no animosity here.
We get along good with our black people and they get along good with us and we work together
and they've contributed a lot to our civilisation.
Grandfather Williams had over 100 slaves and when they were freed, he didn't lose the one.
-He had to just start paying them.
-And they all wanted to stay?
-They wanted to. What else could they do?
# ..Above the fruited plain America, America
# God shed his grace on thee
# And crown they good with brotherhood
# From sea to shining sea. #
Ha ha, congratulations, boys.
Look at those turkeys. Head straight to the kitchen with those turkeys.
Into the house.
Isn't it gorgeous?
Marshmallows that have melted into the sweet potato. Oh, my!
I'd like to raise a toast on behalf of my country.
We were very sad naturally to lose you in 1776 over a...
Are you sure?
..a trifling misunderstanding. Something to do with tea, I believe.
But, obviously, in another way we're very grateful to have lost you
because if we hadn't, you wouldn't be the Americans that you are
and I wouldn't have this extraordinary experience of coming
to what is a very warm and friendly welcoming country. Thank you.
Here's a confusing thought. I'm now going further south, as south as you can go in America,
and yet I'm leaving the true south behind me.
This is my first visit to Miami and I have to say, the word "hole" is certainly close to my lips.
It's not my kind of city.
It's hot, it's got palm trees.
I'm sure it must have a heart and a soul
and a meaning and a kind of delightful centre or something, but I'm yet to find it,
it's just horrible, horrible concrete buildings.
There is another city which is not Miami but Miami Beach.
It's a strip of glamorous beach and maybe it's not quite as revolting.
The thing is all seaside places are the same, because there's beach on one side and then there's a strip
of places with seafood restaurants and bars.
These are Deco, and Deco is a style I like very much.
This part of Miami Beach is a Neapolitan ice cream, really.
It has that feeling of being designed
as a holiday paradise,
and indeed all the dreary things that go with the word "paradise",
like palm trees and huge cut-out parrots
that promise so much and deliver so staggeringly little...
And attractive people.
Attractive people who are very fit and beautiful and instantly therefore look
quite staggeringly ugly as a result, which is one of the great jokes that nature plays on the beautiful.
I would rather be curled up in a snowy cabin
sipping a warm whisky
or frankly a mug of Horlicks
than I would spend half an hour in this...rotting place.
It's like the north, less friendly, so although we're further south
than Georgia, we're a lot further north culturally and spiritually.
# It's a long, long while... #
They're called the "snowbirds" -
mainly Jewish retired people who migrate down from the cold north for winter.
# ..But the days grow short... #
On party nights, professional male dancers come into these gated communities
and these dashing young men are welcomed with open arms.
Ladies, we have a lot of gentlemen here tonight.
# Her name was Lola
# She was a showgirl... #
-Dave, Si, John, Russ.
Guys wouldn't go up to ask them to dance, because they want to dance with the younger ladies.
A lot of them are looking for a date for Saturday nights,
so they're willing to pay you to take them out dancing on a Saturday.
Sometimes we go home with torn jackets and pants with holes in them.
Yeah, ripped up, ties comes off, everything.
-Really! That desperate for a dance?
-Yeah, they go after you big.
The ratio down here is 10 women to every man, so..
-Why do you think there are so many more women?
-The women outlive their husbands. Divorced or...
Their husbands have passed away, divorced or whatever.
I hate dancing,
so this to me is a living embodiment of hell.
But I have to say the people are very sweet - it's just what they're gathered
together to do that I find so ineffably, horrifically repellent.
# And these few precious days
# I'll spend with you... #
All right, I admit it.
Some aspects of South Florida have their charms.
But as I leave,
by way of the glorious Everglades,
I can't but feel that heading north
to the State of Alabama
is really heading south again.
My first stop is the state capital, Montgomery.
Martin Luther King was a pastor here
and led the bus boycott out of which the Civil Rights Movement was born.
A lot has changed since the painful and violent times of enforced segregation between white and black,
but there's still pain and drama on show.
I'm here to witness the unique institution
of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Where families of inmates can plead the cause of their relatives
in prison, and families of victims have their say too.
Will you swear the testimony you are about to give will be the truth,
the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
We do hear suffering all day, we do hear cases about murder, rape, robbery,
I mean incest...
In the Shawshank Redemption, they go to the prison, don't they?
-And they have a big stamp that goes "denied".
-You don't have a stamp?
-There are three of us.
There are 29,000 inmates plus in this Alabama prison system, and there are only three of us.
-Presumably your first consideration is the safety of society?
-Exactly. Whether they are likely to re-offend.
Will you swear the testimony that you are about to give
will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
-And this is your son?
-Tell us what you want us to know about him.
-Well, I know he done wrong...
Since his incarceration, Gianni has accomplished a lot of things...
I, as a parent, have seen a change...
I have never seen a lady change so much...
There is a difference in him now...
This man deserves a second chance.
And that is why I stand before you today and ask that you grant parole at this time to Tim.
One lady, she got mad enough, I think, to hit me one day, and I said, "Do you realise what he's done?"
People can change, you know, and she just...she wanted to...
And the only reason he stopped killing people is he ran out of ammunition.
He said he was sorry for what he'd done and everything to me also.
Every day he tries harder to deal with the pains that he's caused everybody...
I cannot make any guarantees, but from his conversation,
I feel that he's ready to come back into society.
We'll now hear from the victim's side.
I don't think that the time served is enough...
Please do not let him out...
We go to the grave side.
I have children now that are almost...
-my brother's age...
-And I am sure if Keith could choose,
he would rather be in a prison cell locked away than in a deep dark grave.
He committed a serious crime to get in prison and since he's been in prison he has not done well.
The board has voted in this case. We've denied parole today. He'll be set for consideration in four years.
And he told me he asked the Lord to forgive him.
All her speech and everything is what she can do for God.
I'm glad that, you know, she's got religion now and that she's changed her life around,
but there's also a consequence for all these crimes that she's committed.
One of the things I should imagine you get a lot, what you might call...
They find Jesus immediately, and I never knew Jesus to be lost, and they've got 33 disciplinaries
in a 5-year term frame but they've got religion.
If you know better, you do better.
I know it's up to y'all to decide, you know, what his fate...
He's done well and we have every reason expect him to continue,
so we've voted to release him on parole.
-Praise the Lord!
-Praise the Lord.
-I know we have made some decisions that resulted in people being hurt.
We have paroled people who have gone out and committed new crimes. I hate that and I agonise over it.
We make the best decision possible with the information that we have in hand and we go from there.
It's an indication of the size of the US economy and their passion for sport
that this is the stadium of Auburn, a medium-sized college,
and this is their annual game against another college within the same state,
the University of Alabama based in Tuscaloosa, a few hours' drive away.
This fixture has the scale, intensity and hoopla of a grand national final,
but is in reality nothing more than a local derby between amateur students. Only in America!
DRAMATIC MUSIC PLAYS
-How do you do? Have you got any spare paint for me?
Thank you so much.
Pretty damn good, thank you.
I really don't know if anything sums up America better.
It's simultaneously preposterous...
incredibly laughable, impressive, charming, ridiculous,
# God bless America... #
On the next leg of my journey,
I'll be following the Mississippi River from steamy New Orleans to icy Minnesota
by way of parades, prisons, blues, canoes and motor cars.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Stephen Fry was very nearly an American. Just before Stephen was born, his father was offered a job at Princeton University but turned it down. As a result, Stephen was born in NW3 rather than in NJ, New Jersey. In this six-part series he travels, mostly in a London cab, through all 50 states of the country that he could have nearly called home and which has always fascinated him.
Stephen explores what it is that makes the south so distinctive. He joins coal miners deep underground in West Virginia, meets a young man with the state of Kentucky tattooed on his butt, enjoys a delirious session of bluegrass music-making in Tennessee, has an encounter with a bear in the Smokey Mountains, ascends in a balloon above North Carolina, learns the language of slaves in South Carolina, is invited into a Georgian family's Old Plantation house to join their Thanksgiving celebrations (and has an unfortunate encounter with a horse), fails as a dancing escort in Florida and is moved by two very different events in Alabama: a parole board's deliberations and the extraordinary hoopla of a college ball game, complete with air-force jets.