TV blog: A Very Royal Wedding

Benjie Goodhart / 25 October 2017

ITV’s beautifully researched documentary looks back at the wedding of the Queen and Prince Philip 70 years ago.

A Very Royal Wedding, Monday 30th October, 9pm, ITV

Do you know what the 70th wedding anniversary is? No, of course you don’t. Why would you? Nobody gets to their 70th wedding anniversary. It’s a bit like having a speed limit of 300mph on public roads. I mean, to stay married for 70 years, you’d have to live a good way towards your hundredth birthday. And have a partner who did the same. 

Anyway, the answer is, it’s the platinum anniversary. I know this because I looked it up. And I looked it up because, amazingly, the Queen and Prince Philip will reach this extraordinary milestone next month. And, to mark this occasion, ITV are showing this one-off, 70-minute documentary looking back at the day itself, and at the balm it provided for an embattled, exhausted and hungry post-war Britain.

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The film, presented by the suitably plummy and affable Alexander Armstrong, is beautifully researched and illustrated with a wealth of colour archive footage. It features the recollections of many of those who were there on the day, including Prince Michael of Kent, who was a Page Boy, and royal pal Lady Myra Butler.

Of course, when discussing matters of state from seven decades ago, the first thing any of us need to know is what Jilly Cooper, Joan Collins and Sheila Hancock thought about it – and luckily, we’re not disappointed here! But if their participation is something of a mystery, and strikes a discordant note, interviews with people like the seamstress who sewed the queen’s buttons onto her wedding dress add a charming colour to the narrative.

The dress itself was a complicated business. Not only was it kept top secret (the designer whitewashed all of his windows, and had a member of staff sleep next to it every night) but a scandal was only narrowly averted when it was discovered the silk worms used to spin the dress’ silk were from China, and not the recently vanquished Imperial Japan.

Every aspect of the wedding is examined here, from the flowers (all grown in the UK) to the wedding presents (including hundreds of pairs of silk stockings – the idea of the public saving their coupons to send to the Queen is strangely moving). There is much talk of the wedding ring, which was built to an “understated and simple design”. Mind you, it’s easy to make the design simple and understated when it’s topped off with eleven diamonds, including one of over three carats.

There’s also the recreation of the wedding cake, which was a multi-tiered, nine-foot-tall wedding cake, made by McVities, no less. And then there were the parties. It sounds like everyone had an absolute knees up. Lady Myra Butler even recalls: “I think it must have been the king who led the conga-line.”

Read about the secrets of long-lasting celebrity marriages

The Great British Bake Off: The Final, Tuesday 31st October, 8pm, Channel 4

Way back in the mists of time, flying through the ages of history, all the way to late 2016, the nation was reduced to a state of unbridled apoplexy by the fact that a cookery show was moving from one terrestrial channel to another for its eighth season. Never mind Brexit, the last time the nation had been this riled up about anything, the Roundheads and the Cavaliers went toe-to-toe at Little Big Horn in the first skirmishes of what proved to be the Hundred Years War (my history may be a little sketchy).

Next, when Mary Berry and hosts Mel and Sue departed, the show was written off before it had even relaunched. The whole ludicrously expensive project was doomed to failure, and Channel 4 and everyone else involved were certain to come out of the fiasco with eggy-choux-batter-mix all over their collective greedy faces. (I should point out I have no idea if choux batter has egg in it. Or if choux is even made with a batter. I will be unlikely to feature in season nine).

And then, when the show finally went out – well, yeah, people actually found they quite liked it. But the adverts. Oh, the adverts! It was like viewers had never watched commercial TV before. But pretty soon that died down too, when people suddenly remembered most of the TV they’d seen over their lifetime involved ad breaks. Besides which, those adverts were what allowed the broadcaster to buy the show in the first place, preventing it from going to Netflix, or Sky, where you’d have had to pay for it, or to ITV, where it would have been presented by Kate Thornton and Paddy McGuinness, and featured members of Girls Aloud as guest judges.

And now, here we stand, almost nine weeks after the first episode, and the whole thing has been an unbridled triumph. The show, which needed to have 3 million viewers to make a profit for its new broadcaster, has had consolidated viewing figures of 9 million, making it the nation’s second most popular show behind Strictly. It’s also proved a hit with the critics, who have had to reluctantly put away their sharpened cake slices and admit that it has really worked. Not that you should ever pay attention to critics, mind – utter charlatans, the lot of them.

The key to Bake Off 2.0’s success has been simple enough – don’t change a winning formula. The changes forced upon them (the new presenters and one new judge) proved sufficient to refresh the show. Everything else (the location, the tent, the gingham, the format, the tone, the music) could remain the same.

I admit, I wasn’t that fussed about the departure of Mary Berry (dons tin helmet, assumes new identity at secret address) and I warmed to Prue Leith. But I was worried about the departure of Mel and Sue, who are, of course brilliant. I needn’t have fussed. The inspired double act of Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig (one of my favourite people in the world) proved to be similar enough to keep the faithful happy, and quirky enough to be appropriately Channel 4.

As ever, though, the show is about the bakers and their bakes, and the selection of contestants this year was simply fantastic. What a collection of warm, talented, funny, likeable people. Of course, we didn’t get to know some of them terribly well (who remembers Peter?) but those who stayed were welcome guests in our living rooms each week. Lovely, lovely Liam. Flo, the glamorous granny who rapped so brilliantly on Jo Brand’s spin-off show Extra Slice. Julia, who was always nervous, always smiling, and had that wonderful accent. Handsome Tom, as he was immediately known in our office. Yan, who brought a smidge of science into everything she did. Stacey, who looked like a ball of stress, but produced week after week.

And so to the final, and the last three. Kate, the only person in the tent to approach Paul Hollywood in terms of orangeness, is brilliant, but for my money it’s a straight shootout between Sophie and Steven. To be honest, after all the toing and froing of the last nine episodes, you could almost have guessed as much after week one, with Sophie’s extraordinary champagne-bottle-cake and Steven’s equally remarkable sandwich-and-loaf-cake. Right now, you couldn’t get a piece of grease-proof paper between them, so I’m not even going to hazard a guess. It’ll be fun finding out, though.

Lastly, and maybe most importantly of all, this show seems to me to have a lot to say about us, as a nation. The contestants, a motley crew of ethnicities, ages, genders, sexualities and the rest, seem to form such fundamental and lasting bonds, and are so relentlessly and genuinely supportive of each other, it is a triumph of the human spirit, and an inspirational example, in a time when there seem to be so many forces trying to divide us. One of the reasons I have always despised The Apprentice is that it seems to mean-spirited, so adversarial, so aggressive. This show, with its warmth, its decency, and its utter niceness, is its antithesis.

Read our interview with Prue Leith

The best… and the rest

Saturday 28th October

Harry Potter: A History of Magic, 9pm, BBC Two: Documentary examining the physical artefacts that inspired JK Rowling to write some barely-known books about a wizard chap called Harry Potter. Famous fans also read extracts from the books, while we meet the uber-fans who indulge in wand-making and playing Quidditch. Yes, I know it’s a fantastical game played on flying broomsticks. You tell them.

When Harry Met Meghan: A Royal Romance, 9pm, Channel 4: It’s the battle of the Harrys tonight, as Channel 4 wheels out Windsor to go head-to-head with Potter.

Sunday 29th October

Blue Planet II, 1/7, 8pm, BBC One: What is there to say about this? It’s David Attenborough. It’s the BBC’s Natural History Unit. It will be heart-stoppingly beautiful and jaw-droppingly riveting. But you knew that already, right?

Read our interview with David Attenborough

Great Canal Journeys, 8pm, Channel 4: Oh cruel schedulers, how could you? On at the same time as Blue Planet is C4’s reliably charming meander along the nation’s waterways in the amiable company of Timothy West and Prunella Scales. Tonight, they are in the Norfolk Broads. Tip: Watch this at 9pm on Channel 4+1. That’s free, that advice. Don’t say we never give you anything.

Read Benjie’s review of Great Canal Journeys in India

Ball and Boe: Back Together, 9pm, ITV: The celebrated tenor and the legend of musical theatre reunite for a TV special after the success of their first show and album last year. Do expect: some crooning classics and banter. Don’t expect: Much in the way of drum’n’bass or thrash metal.

Read our interview with Ball and Boe in the November issue of Saga Magazine. Download the digital edition today

Monday 30th October

Nigella: At My Table, 1/6, 8:30pm, BBC Two: It’s the return of the cook who manages to get men of a certain age mystifyingly interested in culinary activities. Tonight Nigella’s table is groaning under the weight of Turkish-inspired eggs, Queen of Puddings, a chicken-thing, and emergency brownies. At last, someone who appreciates that a lack of brownies really does constitute an emergency.

999: What’s Your Emergency, 9pm, Channel 4: My emergency is that I don’t have any brownies, since you ask. Return of the documentary series following the emergency services in Wiltshire.

Tuesday 31st October

The Balfour Declaration: Britain’s Promise to the Holy Land, 9pm, BBC Two: A hundred years on from the declaration, which set out Britain’s commitment to setting up a Jewish homeland in Palestine, this documentary looks at the events before and since.

Wednesday 1st November

Hidden Cardiff with Will Millard, 8pm, BBC Two: This is a curious idea. Apparently Cardiff is such a wild place that it requires “adventurer and writer” Millard to explore it on an “exhilarating and sometimes dangerous journey”. It’s Cardiff, not the plains of the Serengeti. They have a Greggs and a Sainsbury’s Local, like the rest of us.

Gino’s Italian Escape, 1/8, 8pm, ITV: Perenially cheerful chef Gino D’Acampo is back with a new series. Mind you, I’d be perennially cheerful if I got to potter around Italy, cooking and eating fabulous food in heavenly locations. And it doesn’t get much more heavenly than the Amalfi coast, where he’s cooking up a storm tonight.

Trust Me, I’m a Doctor, 9pm, BBC Two: One of the great leaps forward in recent years has been the understanding and acceptance of mental illness. Tonight, in a mental health special, the team investigate stress, sleeplessness, and the importance of diet and laughter.

Thursday 2nd November

Harry Styles at the BBC, 8pm, BBC One: It’s a shame this wasn’t scheduled on Saturday, in the battle of the Harrys (Channel 5 could have rolled out something about Secombe or Ramsden). Anyway, the popular singer (ask your grandkids) plays songs from his new album, and talks to DJ Nick Grimshaw (ask your grandkids) about all the wisdom he has accrued in his 15 minutes on this planet.

Ross Kemp Behind Bars: Inside Barlinnie, 9pm, ITV: Kemp, who seems to spend his life in utterly petrifying environments, nips into the UK’s hardest prison for a jaunty ten-day staycation. I wonder if he ever looks at the jobs Judith Chalmers used to do with a degree of jealousy…

First Dates: Celebrity Special for SU2C, 9pm, Channel 4: Celebrities on the hunt for romance, and for money in the fight against cancer, nip out for a slap-up meal and a spot of agonising flirting. At the time of writing, no celebs are yet confirmed, but if you’re expecting Colin Firth and Kate Moss, you may be in for some disappointment.

Friday 3rd November

Bear’s Mission with Rob Brydon, 9pm, ITV: You know you’ve arrived when you are known only by your first name. Mind you, it helps if it’s Bear, as opposed to John. In what should be an entertaining romp, Mr Grylls takes likeable comedian Rob Brydon out of his comfort zone on a weekend gadding about in Wales.

Gogglebox Celebrity Special for SU2C, 9pm, Channel 4: Another of the broadcaster’s popular formats is taken over by slebs intent on raising money for a more than worthwhile cause. This time, it’s the surprisingly fascinating show where we get to watch people watching telly. Better than it sounds.

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