TV blog: Prince Charles: Inside the Duchy of Cornwall

Benjie Goodhart / 17 October 2019

A new documentary examines Prince Charles' ancient royal estate, the Duchy of Cornwall.

Prince Charles: Inside the Duchy of Cornwall, Thursday 24th October, 9pm, ITV

You’ll never guess who owns a B&Q in Milton Keynes. I mean, really, you will NEVER guess. Well, I suppose you might, as his name is at the top of this article, but if it wasn’t, you’d never have got it. So I win. Good, glad we got that sorted.

I mean, when I say he owns it, I’m not saying he’s particularly involved in the day-to-day running of it. He owns the property in which it is housed, rather than the franchise itself. Although if the whole royal thing ends up going badly wrong, he’d probably be pretty good at flogging fence panels.

This two-part documentary looks at the Duchy of Cornwall, the ancient royal estate that Prince Charles has run for 50 years, and turned into a billion pound business. I mean, he had a decent start – owning land and property covering over 130,000 acres across the UK is a cheeky little asset to have up your sleeve – but this fascinating and oddly endearing documentary shows just how seriously Charles takes his duties as custodian of the land and its assets.

If, like me, you’d always just assumed the Duchy of Cornwall was a picturesque little estate near Newquay filled with people in medieval cottages baking organic artisan biscuits to be sold in Waitrose, you’re in for an awakening. The estate is split up all over the country, and includes the aforementioned B&Q in Milton Keynes, as well as Dartmoor Prison. (If you commit a bad crime, you are sent to Dartmoor Prison. If you commit a really bad crime, you are sent to B&Q, Milton Keynes). There’s also an army training area, a housing estate in South London, a large portion of the Scilly Isles, and over 700 farms. And the Kennington Oval, for heaven’s sake!

Last year, the Duchy made a £21 million profit. Even if you subtract the amount my mum spent on Duchy Organic biscuits, they made a £17 million profit. But the whole enterprise isn’t just geared around chasing the loot. Many of the farms are rented at below market rates to help young farmers get started in business. On a visit to the Scilly Isles, the Prince (referred to throughout as The Duke, as this is about his Duchy) meets a tenant who was given a Duchy grant to get back on his feet after his cobblers burned to nothing. (I know, sounds painful!)

It’s little wonder, then, that the Duke’s tenants seem to uniformly love their landlord. He seems to genuinely care about the welfare of the people to whom he lets. People like Michael, an ageing uplands farmer who still grazes his sheep on Cornish moorland and round them up on horseback. He and his wife Margaret have had the Duke round for tea, and he’s returned the favour, hosting them at Buckingham Palace for a picnic. The next logical step would probably be a joint family holiday to an all-inclusive in Tenerife.

At the heart of the Duchy is Poundbury, Charles’ oft-derided model town near Dorchester. It’s true that the colour of your front door has to be approved by committee, and a couple of young people interviewed say the town has no soul. But show me a teenager in a rural town who thinks it does have soul. And the town’s mandate insists upon 35 per cent affordable housing, in buildings identical to those of their wealthier neighbours, so there is much here to applaud.

This documentary, the first of two, boasts impressive access not just to the inner sanctum of the Duchy, and to the people who work there, but to the Duke himself. He comes across as a decent, sympathetic and visionary landlord (he embraced organic farming when most people thought it was hippy nonsense). And this is a charming, well-constructed documentary, a good news story in an era of precious few of them. Get it while you can!

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Bill Turnbull: Staying Alive, Thursday 24th October, 10pm, Channel 4

I like Bill Turnbull. Really like him. I think everyone does, with the possible exception of Bill Oddie (if you haven’t seen it, google their hilariously testy exchange from Breakfast TV in 2008). Seeing his twinkly-yet-authoritative presence on BBC Breakfast every morning used to get my day off to a distinctly cheery start. He could teach a thing or two about bringing dignity and gravitas to breakfast television to certain morning TV anchors, believe you me.

Anyway, the fact that I am so fond of Turnbull makes this documentary a particularly tricky watch. Because, not to put too fine a point on it, Bill Turnbull is dying.

It began with aches and pains, and problems peeing. In November 2017 he was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, and told it was incurable. “Not immediately terminal,” explains our Bill, “but terminal after a number of years.” The illness has spread to his bones. Now, after a gruelling course of chemotherapy, lasting nine months, and 73 episodes of Game of Thrones, he’s back in front of the cameras, presenting this one-off documentary. “Now I’m doing anything I can to learn how cancer can be staved off or, who knows, even cured.”

More than that, though, this is an intimate diary of someone with cancer, and his family. It is the story of what it is like to live with the disease, in the likely knowledge that it will ultimately kill you. It is a story of tragedy, adversity and anguish, but also of courage, humour and love. And not bloody well giving up. Sitting with his wife, both of them tearful, he says: “I often think about what my father used to say. ‘If you’re in difficulty and don’t know what to do, you’ve just got to sit tight and ride hard.’ So that’s what we do.”

He cries quite a bit, does Bill. That’s partly because he’s on hormone treatment that makes him more emotional. And it’s partly because – well – wouldn’t you? I don’t think I’d ever stop.

He has an emotional reunion with Sian Williams, his co-presenter on BBC Breakfast for many years, and herself someone all-too-familiar with the rigours of cancer. She claims that he once advised her never to cry on camera. I fear that boat may have sailed. To Timbuktu and back. Twice. He asks Williams if having cancer changed her. She says she sees it as a gift, one that has made her appreciate life all the more. Honestly, the resilience of the human spirit never ceases to amaze me. I may have something in my eye. Or maybe I’m on hormone treatment.

Bill speaks to a cancer specialist, who admits that there is some medical evidence that cannabis can help in the fight against cancer. But it is still illegal in this country, even for medicinal purposes (while, incidentally, what is effectively heroin is considered fine – go figure!) So he is forced to go and see Jeff Ditchfield, a man who supplies cannabis for free to those with a medical use for it. Bill has misgivings about breaking the law. For heavens sakes, Bill, you’re not loading up a bong and sticking on Dark Side of the Moon, you’re trying to cure cancer – cut yourself some slack.

Anyway, with these medicinal uses, they generally remove the psychoactive element to the cannabis, so it has no effect, right? Right??? Ah. Perhaps not. Bill seems to be giggling. And giggling. And, indeed, giggling. It is a marvellously funny bit of television. Bill Turnbull is stoned off his box. That is not a sentence I expected to write.

Feet finally back on terra firma, Turnbull is making the most of life. He’s hanging out with his family (who are, predictably, all delightful) and still commentating on home games for his beloved Wycombe Wanderers (as if he wasn’t suffering enough…) Hear him shrieking joyfully “Wycombe Wanderers have won 1-0 against Barnsley,” and you’d think he’d discovered the mystical land of Shangri-La rather than watched a routine win against a distinctly average football team.

There’s still time to meet up with Nick Robinson and Stephen Fry, former cancer sufferers both, and to meet a man who seems to have extended his life with an extreme vegan diet. He cooks a meal for Bill. It looks about as appetising as a toilet brush. Bill laughs. He goes home, and embarks on a vegetarian diet of his own. And on he goes. Still sitting tight. Still riding hard. Best of luck, Bill.

The best… and the rest:

Saturday 19th October

Great British Ships 1/6, 8:30pm, Channel 5: Return of the series presented by engineer Rob Bell, looking at some of the most iconic ships from the nation’s illustrious sea-faring past. Tonight, Captain Cook’s HMS Endeavour.

Sunday 20th October

Great Canal Journeys, 8pm, Channel 4: More gently beautiful observations from the divine Pru and Tim as they take to the waterways once more, this time revisiting the Oxford Canal, where they first fell in love with boating over 40 years ago.

Harry and Meghan: An African Journey, 9pm, ITV: When the Duke and Duchess of Sussex embarked on their African tour recently, they took with them not only baby Archie, but the rather larger figure of Tom Bradby, who was given plentiful access to the couple throughout.

Monday 21st October

Travel Man: 48 Hours in Dubrovnik 1/4, 8:30pm, Channel 4: Richard Ayoade returns with his gloriously offbeat travel show. In this first programme, he visits Dubrovnik with Stephen Merchant.

Long Lost Family Special: The Unknown Soldiers, 9pm, ITV: Davina McCall and Nicky VCampbell present what promises to be a deeply moving one-off special dedicated to searching for the remains of World War I troops with no known graves.

The Day California Burned, 9pm, BBC Two: A look back at events in November 2018 when a wildfire in Northern California killed over 80 people.

Tuesday 22nd October

The British Tribe Next Door 1/4, 9:15pm, Channel 4: This looks like one of those TV oddities that could be either horrific or rather brilliant. Scarlett Moffatt and her family are going to stay with a remote Namibian tribe. But they are bringing with them…a brick-by-brick reconstruction of their house, complete with all the mod cons.

Wednesday 23rd October

Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs 1/8, 8:30pm, ITV: The series returns, with the consistently irresistible combination of Mr O’Grady and some furry friends, residents of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.

Grand Designs: Home of the Year 1/4, 9pm, Channel 4: Time of the annual property-porn extravaganza, featuring Kevin McCloud and others exploring some of the best architecture the nation has to offer. Tonight’s focus is on innovative homes, including a house in Eton made entirely of cork.

Thursday 24th October

The Accident, 9pm, Channel 4: Sarah Lancashire and Joanna Scanlan star in this new drama written by the brilliant Jack Thorne. When some teens break on to a construction site in a Welsh town, tragedy ensues.

Friday 25th October

The World’s Most Scenic Railway Journeys 1/6, Channel 5, 8pm: This should be a blissful, aesthetically pleasing hour, looking at the journey taken by Canada’s iconic Rocky Mountaineer train.

Natural World: Weasels: Feisty and Fearless, 8pm, BBC Two: Do you know the difference between a weasel and a stoat? A weasel is weasily recognised, a stoat is stoatally different, I’ll get my coat.

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