I Do at 92, Tuesday 13th December, 10pm, Channel 4
When 81-year-old Margaret joined a dating website, she specified that she wasn’t interested in one night stands. She wanted something a little more romantic. In spite of this, she ended up meeting a date in a service station, where he spent the entire meal asking her to reveal her bosom. Only he didn’t quite phrase it like that. When she refused, he left. This may be the single least romantic moment in all of human history. But Margaret persevered, and ended up meeting Victor, 77. They hit it off immediately, and three years later, they’re engaged. She’s hoping it’s more successful than her first, loveless marriage. “We got married because I was expecting,” she says. I assume she’s still talking about her first marriage.
This heart-warming one-off documentary looks at three couples in their autumn years who are giving love another go and taking the marital plunge. Seventy-six-year-old Derek has been unlucky in love. His two failed marriages left him bereft – after one, he contemplated suicide. Intimidated and confused by women, he fell for Carolyn, now 70, but waited 18 years to ask her out. That two-decade case of the jitters meant that, when he finally asked her out, he had to make up for lost time. On the second date, he proposed. But he’s worried that the secrets in his past might scare her off.
Best of all is Georgina who, at 94, has more pizazz, vigour and lust for life than your average 21-year- old. She is marrying Ray, her 86-year-old toy boy, who she met at the care home they both inhabit, when she invited him to sit at her table, the saucy little temptress! Six months later, they were engaged. Mind you, there’s no point in planning an eight-year courtship at that age. Especially if, like Ray, you were given three months to live over a year ago. He’s dying of cancer. But he’s also living, enjoying the days he has left, sucking the marrow out of life. Which is probably easier to do when you’ve got someone like Georgina on your arm. I’d happily marry her myself, but for the 50 year age gap. And the fact that my current wife might object. (Then again, she might not…)
This is charming fare, largely because the schmaltz factor isn’t overdone. It would be easy to go all soft focus and show endless shots of the couples going on leafy walks together and mooning over each other like a couple of doe-eyed teens. But instead, it shows the relationships, warts and all. There are arguments, there are health scares, there are pre-wedding jitters and financial worries. And there is love, and tenderness, and romance. It’s only right to give the last word to Georgina: “Being in love at 94 is just as exciting, and just as tantalising and breathtaking.”
Dating in later life: the facts
Vicious, Friday 16th December, 9pm, ITV
If you write about television, everybody expects you to have seen everything. They’ll mention a rather niche documentary from 1982 about itinerant fruit pickers of Guatemala, and then look affronted when you tell them that you may have missed it, on account of being, y’know, nine at the time. It simply isn’t possible to watch everything, which is my excuse for not having watched Vicious before. Never mind, I’ve managed to jump on to this particular bandwagon just in time to see the final ever episode, an hour-long Christmas special.
For those similarly unfamiliar with the show’s charms, Vicious is a sitcom about an ageing gay couple, Freddie (played by Sir Ian McKellen) and Stuart (Sir Derek Jacobi), who have been together for 50 years, and who spend their time cattily sniping at one another. The action takes place almost entirely in their Covent Garden flat, where they are visited by a steady stream of neighbours, most notably Violet (Frances de la Tour) and Ash (Iwan Rheon).
The comedy has split reviewers, with some hailing it as a nostalgic treat, and others branding it “appalling”. Writing in the Evening Standard, the late Brian Sewell called it "a spiteful parody that could not have been nastier had it been devised and written by a malevolent and recriminatory heterosexual".
So, appalling or brilliant? In truth, Vicious managed to pull off the seemingly impossible trick of being both at once. Most of the comedy is more hackneyed than a London taxi, with punchlines that began to lumber towards delivery sometime in the reign of King George VI. Much of the show’s humour comes from old people using bad language, which on several occasions seemed to reduce the studio audience to a state of unsuppressed hysteria, but which struck me as facile and patronising.
And yet there is so much to admire here. It goes without saying that the performances are uniformly excellent, with McKellen and Jacobi clearly relishing the hammier side of their roles. But there is also a deep and rather touching well of tenderness in the script, with the uproarious comedy and farce interrupted with moments of silence and pathos that are tiny gems. One exchange, which culminates in Stuart saying of Freddie “Sometimes he breaks my heart” is close to perfection.
The best… and the rest
Saturday 10th December
Secret History: Pearl Harbour: The New Evidence, 8pm, Channel 4: Looking into the longstanding conspiracy theory that Washington and London allowed Pearl Harbour to happen in order to galvanise US opinion in favour of joining the war. PS There are too many colons in programme titles these days. Just pick one name and stick to it.
Walt Disney, 8:45pm, BBC Two: the first of two documentaries investigating the life of one of the great entertainment moguls of history, speaking to friends, family and colleagues, and using archive footage, to get a rounded picture of this complex man.
Sunday 11th December
Planet Earth, 8pm, BBC One: The last in this majestic, stunning series looks at how wildlife is adapting to, and thriving in, our cities. Expect lots of shots of monkeys stealing food.
Read Benjie's review of Planet Earth II
Monday 12th December
Supershoppers Do Christmas, 8pm, Channel 4: Andi Osho and Anna Richardson present a show packed with advice on how to save money at Christmas (eat and drink less, don’t buy presents for those dreadful grandkids, turn down the heating, drink tapwater, eat roadkill etc).
BBC Music Awards 2016, 8:30pm, BBC One: Fearne Cotton and Claudia Winkleman present yet another awards show, where we will be treated to a live performance by Robbie Williams, who will be marking the 15-minute anniversary of his last live appearance on TV.
When Phillip Met Prince Philip: 60 Years of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, 9pm, ITV: The nation’s two most popular Phil’s (sorry Collins, Mitchell etc) meet several times over a year to discuss the DofE awards, and much else besides.
Muslims Like Us, 9pm, BBC Two: This two-parter aims to reveal more about the diverse and varied Muslim diaspora by placing ten Muslims with contrasting views in a house together. That’s an idea that could catch on in TV.
David Blaine: Beyond Magic, 9pm, Channel 4: The magician performs his unique brand of street magic for celebs including Travolta, Depp, Schwarzenegger, and some chap called Beckham. Likely to be jaw-dropping.
Tuesday 13th December
The Royal Variety Performance, 7:30pm, ITV: David Walliams presents proceedings live from the Hammersmith Apollo, where the Prince of Wales and other royals will be performing for Barry Gibb, Sting and Gary Barlow. Or maybe it’s the other way around. And, surprise, surprise, Robbie Williams will also be taking to the stage.
Wednesday – Friday: Basically nothing new. Pop on some carols and do some wrapping. Don’t leave it to Christmas Eve like last year.