The pedants who say fly-on-the-wall documentaries are cheap, meaningless television could not be more wrong. They are the postmodernist answer to David Attenborough, the Life on Earth de nos jours. Anyone who doubts this should watch My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding on Channel 4 (Tuesdays, 9 p.m. and, if missed, on 4oD).
Not since meerkats exploded on to our screens have television cameras transported us into such a rare and fascinating habitat.
Those uptight commentators whingeing about the antics of the gypsies entirely miss the point. Does one watch Attenborough and afterwards complain that ‘this daft meerkat fell asleep on its feet and toppled over’? No.
Personally, I felt utterly privileged to be able to witness a girl in a wedding dress inlaid with flashing light bulbs. The creation was so big it seemed unlikely she had done anything so prosaic as to put it on. Possibly it had been constructed around her, as she stood lodged in a giant loo roll. The dressmaker explained that they were taking a fire extinguisher to the ceremony just in case the bride went up in smoke.
How beguiling, how irrepressible and life affirming is that? I loved these people. I would rather spend a weekend at one of their big pink bonkers weddings than any smug middle-class gathering of grey morning suits. I want to run away and join them. But of course they wouldn’t have me. And quite right too. Which is why I’m grateful to the wonders of modern television for giving me the chance to experience them up close.