Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy, Monday 24th July, 9pm, ITV
Very occasionally, our lives are punctuated by a ‘where were you when…?’ – what the Americans call a JFK moment. There are only a handful in a lifetime – occasions when something happens of such magnitude that the moment you found out about it is indelibly seared on your memory.
Twenty years ago next month, on August 31st 1997, I went to get a Sunday paper. The headline stopped me in my tracks. Princess Diana had been in a car accident and was fighting for her life. By the time I got home, my girlfriend was awake, and watching the TV, with tears in her eyes. Diana was dead.
It felt monumental, historic, and above all tragic. But at that moment, I couldn’t have begun to imagine the effect her death would have on the national psyche. What followed in the next few days was an outpouring of grief so profound and far-reaching that, in some respects, it changed the country forever.
Now, to mark this unhappy milestone, ITV are showing what promises to be an extraordinary 90-minute documentary about Diana. It promises to be extraordinary because at its centre are the candid and deeply poignant memories of her sons. It represents an extraordinary coup for ITV, and the producers, Oxford Television, as this is the first time the pair have spoken together about the death of their adored mother, and how it affected them. With most royal documentaries that promise intimate access, you get an interview with the royal correspondent from the Daily Express, and a shot of a royal Daimler disappearing at high speed. This is the real thing.
Not surprisingly, ITV are being very guarded about their film. Preview copies are unavailable. But the film promises an original take on a familiar story. The Princes talk about their memories of their mother, and recall the last time they saw her. They discuss the impact of her death, and her undeniable legacy. There are previously unseen photographs, and contributions from Diana’s family and friends, many speaking publicly for the first time. Those interviewed include her brother The Earl Spencer, Sir Elton John and her personal stylist Anna Harvey.
That day 20 years ago robbed a nation of an adored and revered figure, certainly. But more tragically, it robbed two young boys of their mother. As Prince Harry says, in the clip released by ITV: “She was our mum. She still is our mum. And of course, as a son I would say this, she was the best mum in the world. She smothered us with love, that’s for sure.”
Inside London Fire Brigade, Thursday 27th July, 9pm, ITV
This week’s programmes are powerful, sober and important documentaries, a valuable reminder that the box in the corner of the room can do more than show us vapid twentysomethings kissing each other and depict people’s lives falling apart with unlikely drama in Walford.
Like the Diana documentary, this offering from ITV is not available for preview. Given the recent nature of the events covered in much of this opening episode, it’s not hard to understand why. The word Grenfell is now synonymous with disaster and horror and shame, but it only happened a month ago.
When the makers of this three-part series following the London Fire Brigade over a year started out, they could never have imagined the story that would unfold towards the end of that year. Tonight, it hears the candid, raw and, one imagines, profoundly harrowing recollections of some of the fire fighters who risked their lives marching willingly into the burning sarcophagus that was a 23-storey tower in West London. But for their heroism and professionalism, the death toll would have been far above the already-unthinkable total of 80.
Of course, the events of that day loom large over the series – how could they not? – but this is also a look at the varied and challenging nature of a fire fighter’s work. The London Fire Brigade deals with around 20,000 fires-a-year, but they are also required to respond to the obligatory cats stuck up trees, as well as floods and traffic accidents. In a disaster-heavy first episode, the film follows Edric as he is part of the team to respond to the Clapham tram crash that killed seven.
Of course, much of the subject matter is likely to be distressing, occasionally downright harrowing. But if you ever find your faith in human nature tested, programmes like this show people at their best. To risk your life for others is what most of us would consider the ultimate in courage, but for these brave men and women, it’s just another day at work.
The best… and the rest
Saturday 22nd July
Golf: The Open Championship Highlights, 8pm, BBC Two: The best of the action from the third round at Royal Birkdale (with the final round tomorrow) as ever, annotated by the mellifluous tones of the timeless Peter Allis.
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Sunday 23rd July
Wild Alaska Live 1/3, 7pm, BBC One: Liz Bonnin, Matt Baker and Steve Backshall cover the vast Alaskan salmon migration, meeting bears, orca and walruses en route, in what is effectively Springwatch on steroids.
Monday 24th July
Jodi’s Lovely Letters, 7:30pm, BBC One: The enchanting story of Jodi Bickley, a 28-year-old who suffers from anxiety, depression and ME, whose extraordinary letter-writing project has brought joy and hope to thousands.
Call the Cleaners 1/6, 8pm, ITV: Cleaners tackle pretty much the worst jobs imaginable. Jobs so bad, it makes the teenage me look house-proud and pernickety.
Bear About the House: Living with My Supersized Pet, 8pm, Channel 4: Meeting the certifiable types who have decided to share their homes with potentially lethal pets, including a bear, a salt water croc, and a one-tonne buffalo called Cody.
999: What’s your Emergency, 9pm, Channel 4: New series covering the emergency services in Wiltshire.
Tuesday 25th July
Craft it Yourself, 8pm, Channel 4: Upbeat and quirky new series looking at how to hand-make things for your own home. This will have you whittling your own dining table, or knitting yourself a new kitchen, in no time.
Excluded at Seven, 9pm, Channel 4: Documentary following six children who have been excluded from primary school, as they attend a short-stay school in Norfolk.
Wednesday 26th July
Long Lost Family 1/7, 9pm, ITV: Hankies at the ready, as Davina and Nicky reunite families torn apart decades previously. If you’re not positively dehydrated by the end of this, you are a psychopath.
Thursday 27th July
Top of the Lake: China Girl, 9pm, BBC Two: Return of Jane Campion’s outstanding police thriller starring Elisabeth Moss, currently dazzling audiences in The Handmaid’s Tale. This time, the action moves from New Zealand to Australia, specifically Sydney, where a body has washed up on a beach. Some newcomer called Nicole Kidman co-stars.
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