Queen Elizabeth: Love, Honour and Crown, Sunday 21st March, 9pm, Channel 4
Let’s face it, it must be really weird, being a royal. Sure, you get a few nice palaces, you don’t have to travel in economy, and you have access to all the swan that you can eat, but the rest is pretty hellish. You spend your life opening new station concourses, you have to pretend to be excited when someone gives you tulips that you will never even see in a vase, and everyone’s always gawping at you. Plus, you have no idea if your jokes are actually funny, because everyone laughs at them anyway.
And then you’ve got the fact that you’re on the telly all the time. It used to just be the occasional news bulletin. But then news became a 24-hour service. And in recent years, there’s been an absolute explosion of documentaries about the royal family. Channel 5 offers a schedule consisting almost entirely of shows about farming, bailiffs or the royals.
And now they’re even the subject of a ruddy massive global drama. The Crown, based on real life but also wildly reimagined for dramatic purposes, purports to be a factual drama, but is inevitably 90 per cent speculation. And I say that as an enthusiastic fan. In my domestic life, I get furiously annoyed if my wife and I have a disagreement about what one of us said, or the tone in which we did so. To have my actions imagined by someone else, to be publicly misquoted and have the misquotes echoing around the world in the name of entertainment, would finish me off.
So, this weekend, spare a thought for the Duke of Edinburgh. He’s 99, has just had heart surgery, and spent a month in hospital. Now he’s been released just in time to get home, sit down and watch a documentary picking apart his marriage, his career, and potential infidelities, and his worst arguments.
This intriguing documentary looks at the Queen’s reign (coming up to an astonishing 70 years!) and at how she has been torn between her duty to the nation and her loyalty to her family. In effect, then, it covers pretty much the same ground as The Crown, only does so in under 60 minutes, as opposed to 60 episodes.
Events start with the wedding of Philip and Elizabeth. They got married in 1947, which means they’ve been married almost 74 years. That is absolutely absurd. My wife thought she deserved a medal when we made it to ten years last September. Apparently the couple wanted a small, low key wedding (small and low key being relative concepts) but were encouraged down a more flamboyant route as a way of lifting the spirits of post-war Blighty. “Don’t worry that your house is a crater and you’re eating turnip jam, here’s an impossibly rich woman in a golden carriage for you to look at.”
Apparently Philip was not everyone’s first choice to marry the Queen. According to Ingrid Seward, Editor-in-Chief of something called Majesty Magazine, for a start, he was a complete pauper, who only had “the clothes he stood up in.” Again, I think the relative concept may come into play here. And, speaking of relatives, two of his sisters had married prominent Nazis. Above all, though, it was seen as desirable, after they were married, that he remain faithful, and that the marriage shouldn’t end in divorce. Which, come to think of it, is pretty much the idea of all marriages, royal or otherwise.
The programme goes on to look at the success of the royal marriage, despite the odd hiccup, and the role the Duke has played in modernising the monarchy and shaking things up. It also looks at the story of Princess Margaret and her relationship to Group Captain Peter Townsend, and sheds an interesting new light on a familiar tale.
Recently declassified documents help to add a different perspective to much of the story here, whether it is dealing with personal relationships or affairs of state. What becomes clear, in case there is anyone who ever really doubted it, is that being the Queen is not exactly all ballgowns and tiaras.
This Is My House 1/6, Wednesday 24th March, 9pm, BBC One
I make no bones about it: I love TV. I mean, I really, really love it. People who proudly announce that they don’t have a telly freak me out. I want nothing to do with them. They are second only to people who ask “What star sign are you?” in terms of people I don’t want to talk to at a party. (Parties. Remember them?)
But even I have to admit that TV shows are all a bit samey. I mean, you switch on the TV at any given moment and you’re likely to get either a police drama, some form of talent-reality-competition, a cookery programme, or a cookery-talent-reality-competition. One of the (admittedly few) benefits of the last year has been that it made television look at new formats, or old formats in different ways, and the industry was forced to find creative solutions to the problems of social distancing. But now we appear to be heading back to normality (hurrah) and that means back to the same old, safe telly.
Thank heavens, then, for This Is My House. I don’t even know how to describe this new six-part series, except to say that it is unlike anything else I have ever seen, and offers 60 minutes of riotously good fun.
I’m not even sure what it is. It’s like a weird hybrid of Through the Keyhole, Call My Bluff and Would I Lie to You, only it’s not really like any of them. Is it a gameshow? An entertainment show? A scripted reality show? Well, it’s all of those things, and yet none of them.
Episode one comes from Fern Maxted’s house (a rather chic converted barn) in Ashford, Kent. Presenter Stacey Dooley arrives, to be greeted by four individuals, each claiming to be the real Fern, and each with their own character and backstory. One of them is indeed the real Fern, the other three are actors.
Next, there is a celebrity panel of judges: Comedians Bill Bailey, Judi Love and Jamali Maddix, and actor Emily Atack. They are joined each week by a guest judge (this week: Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen) and are asked to watch a series of short films, featuring the four ‘Ferns’ in the house. They must ascertain which one is the real Fern. If the real one is able to successfully convince the panel of their identity, then they will win £1000. Otherwise, they win nothing.
If it sounds completely bonkers, that’s because it is. But it is also tremendously good fun. The four ‘Ferns’ are all distinctly catty with one another (it’s fair to say that Fern 1 and Fern 2 in particular will not be exchanging Christmas cards) and the whole thing is magnificently silly. One of the Ferns, incidentally, is a man. Some of the panel are unconvinced, but Judi says, reasonably: “His name could be Fernard.” Although that would make more sense if anyone in the history of humankind had been called Fernard. Another, more plausible suggestion, is that Fern is short for Fernando.
As if that didn’t put the cat among the pigeons enough, Fern 1 is an American, who claims to have moved to Ashford thinking it was an international travel hub, only to discover it’s “basically a glorified bus stop.” I hope she’s not the real Fern, she’s going to have trouble with the neighbours. Fern 2, meanwhile, claims to have grown up next door, and overseen the barn conversion along with her pilot husband, while Fern 3 moved there from Sevenoaks with her three kids.
Another marvellous twist is that all four claim to be married to Mark, who appears at one point but is not allowed to speak. The stories they all concoct over a brilliantly inventive hour are superbly daft, just like life. One claims to be “about 40 per cent vegan” when caught out in a lie, one gets very upset about a sexually suggestive bottle opener, and one licks the sofa to prove it’s her house. As the show builds to its climax, the dog runs into the room. Everyone waits – who will he run over to? The answer… Stacey…
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The best… and the rest:
Saturday 20th March
The Windsors: Inside the Royal Dynasty 1/6, 8pm, Channel 4: New series exploring the history of the royal family in the 20th and 21st Centuries. First up, we have the little-know story of Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson. Ooh, I wonder how this will turn out. I’m surprised not to have heard about it before. Next!
Grace Kelly: The Hollywood Years, 9pm, Channel 5: Documentary looking at the glittering career of the Hollywood icon, featuring archive material and interviews with historians, biographers and journalists.
Sunday 21st March
All Star Musicals, 6:30pm, ITV: John Barrowman hosts a new show in which celebrities perform classic musical numbers. Those taking to the stage tonight include ‘Judge’ Robert Rinder, Jessica Hynes and… Robert Peston.
Midsomer Murders, 8pm, ITV: Episode nine squillion of the cosy detective drama sees DCI Barnaby investigating a case involving some aristocratic bee-keepers with a honey empire. Guest-starring Griff Rhys Jones and Imogen Stubbs.
Line of Duty, 9pm, BBC One: Jed Mercurio’s smash hit series about a unit investigating police corruption returns for its sixth series. As ever, Vicky McClure, Martin Compston and Adrian Dunbar star as the beleaguered coppers, while this season’s guest baddie is Kelly Macdonald. For the love of God, could we please find out who ‘H’ is in this series.
Monday 22nd March
Covid: Who Got It Right? 7pm, BBC One: In tonight’s Panorama, Jane Corbin examines the Covid policies of nations all over the world, and asks whose approaches worked the best… and the worst.
Football’s Darkest Secret 1/3, 9pm, BBC One: Three-part documentary series looking at the widespread cases of child abuse that poisoned the game at youth level from the 1970s to the 1990s, and the code of silence that went with it. Featuring the personal accounts of many of those abused, this is powerful, disconcerting and important television.
24 Hours In Police Custody, 9pm, Channel 4: A 23-year-old man with a history of violence is suspected of a string of offences, but the police are forced to let him go. Not, it turns out, for long.
Hoarder Homes: No Room to Move 1/6, 9pm, Channel 5: Documentary series following clearance experts and cleaners as they visit the homes of hoarders who have filled their houses with stuff. Paul, in Bath, has a very full house indeed – complete with rat droppings in the kitchen and maggots in the bedroom.
Tuesday 23rd March
Kate Garraway: Finding Derek, 9pm, ITV: Cameras follow Kate Garraway and her family as they cope with the illness of Derek Draper, Garraway’s husband, who is still in hospital and seriously unwell 12 months after contracting Covid 19. Plus, she meets others whose lives have been similarly affected by the pandemic.
The Detectives 1/5, 9pm, BBC Two: A wealthy man suspected of links to the drug trade, has been kidnapped in central Manchester. When police find evidence of torture, the case becomes even more urgent.
Strangers Making Babies 1/4, 9pm, Channel 4: A new series following a group of women using co-parenting sites to find a platonic partner with whom to have children.
Wednesday 24th March
The Great British Menu, 8pm, BBC Two: Series 16 of the cookery competition that sees established chefs battling it out in a competition to cook a course in a lavish banquet for a specially selected audience.
First Dates Hotel, 9pm, Channel 4: Return of the series that sees hopeful singletons travelling to a hotel in rural Italy for a blind date. If you can’t find love surrounded by la dolce vita, where can you find it?
Thursday 25th March
Live International Football, 7:15pm, ITV: The first of the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers sees England take on perennial whipping boys San Marino in a match that will almost certainly yield three points, and tell us almost nothing about the state of the England team.
Sort Your Life Out, 8pm, BBC One: Stacey Solomon challenges the Yaku family to declutter their over-stuffed home by getting rid of half their possessions in seven days. Probably the kind of thing we could all do with doing, but does it make for good telly?
Black Power: A British Story of Resistance, 9pm, BBC Two: Feature-length documentary looking at thew 60s and 70s through the eyes of the young black people growing up in that period who refused to accept racism, and instead stood up to fight against it.
Friday 26th March
Churchill 1/6, 9pm, Channel 5: Documentary series exploring the life of Britain’s most iconic and revered Prime Minister. Tonight, the early years of a man born into the aristocracy and raised in the sumptuous Blenheim Palace.
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