This is the week we almost drowned in Jubilee programmes. Sadly, many of these were unavailable to reviewers, possibly because to criticise such a programme would itself amount to lèse-majesté, or perhaps they just hadn’t finished the edit. But I doubt we’ve missed much. This weekend BBC1 (Friday) was running A Jubilee Tribute to the Queen, presented by Prince Charles. Maybe he’s said that it’s all very well banging on about her sense of duty, but it didn’t do much for family life, and he still can’t get over how, after six months touring the Commonwealth, she famously didn’t kiss her little boy but shook his hand. I doubt it. The royal family are their own greatest fans, as you can see at Balmoral, where the grounds are crammed with memorials to dead kings, queens, princes, etc.
The same evening, ITV has Elizabeth: Queen, Wife, Mother presented by Alan Titchmarsh. If his previous encounter with Prince Charles is anything to go by, it will not be in the tradition of Jeremy Paxman. Titchmarsh’s style reminds me of an Edgar Allan Poe story I have just made up, called The Dog, in which the hero is shackled to the floor of a dungeon while a very friendly labrador licks his face, and licks, and goes on
The TV people have an insoluble problem. If the Queen isn’t some distant, unknowable, godlike figure, there’s no point in having her. At the same time we are desperate to feel that they’re all just like us, as much Royle family as Royal Family. Meeting the Queen in an informal setting is, apparently, one of the commonest dreams British people have, and Sky Arts 1 rather nimbly nipped in with Walking the Dogs (Thursday), based on the 1982 incident when Michael Fagan got into her bedroom. Except in this drama, starring Emma Thompson as HM (I hope they got permission from Dame Judi Dench, who can freeze directors with a glance), he was called ‘the intruder’, since impersonating a monarch is fine, but playing an Irish nutter could lead to trouble.
In Helen Greaves’s short play, the palace security staff ignore all the warning bells as they did in real life — one servant was walking the corgis — and Queen and nutter have a long and intimate conversation, mainly about his failed marriage. And eat dog biscuits. It was rather sweet, and evoked sympathy for both. Only the sound of a police siren warned of Fagan’s imminent fate — he was banged up for six months in a mental hospital, then released. I doubt Elizabeth I would have been so forgiving.
Sky Arts is trying hard now, and it has grabbed Melvyn Bragg’s The South Bank Show (Monday), theme tune and Melvyn included, from an indifferent ITV. The show, about the National Theatre’s Nicholas Hytner, has kept its immemorial traditions. Melvyn asks his subjects the secret of their wonderfulness, and they say it’s all because of the brilliant people they work with. Once we’d got past Hytner’s naive astonishment that you can show an audience an empty stage and they’ll believe it’s Illyria (actually, Shakespeare made the same point some time ago — ‘think when we speak of horses…’) it was interesting to watch him at work, especially transferring One Man, Two Guvnors to Broadway, where, in spite of being set in the Brighton underworld of 1963, it is entirely unchanged and is doing such business that you can pay $238 for a good seat. Hytner is a national treasure, and James Corden, who was a hopeless chat-show host, is a dazzlingly good comic actor.
I watch daytime television so you don’t have to. New this week was May the Best House Win (ITV1, weekdays). It’s an acknowledged knock-off from the hugely popular Come Dine With Me, but without food. People take turns to snoop round each other’s homes and rate them out of ten. I once invented a programme called Celebrity Hunt that Slipper in which contestants scurried round a house: ‘Tamsin is looking behind that lovely old brass coal scuttle that Jason’s grandfather brought back from Australia…’) I see now why it wouldn’t have worked.
But if you like shows in which folk say things like ‘his cupboards are immaculate’ and ‘a chair would be nice here’ you’ll love it. I thought it failed because throw cushions are less interesting than really bad Come Dine With Me food, and because it lacks face-to-face bitching.
Finally, after last weekend’s debacle, can we now pull out of the Eurovision Song Contest? Appalling songs, including the winner (especially the winner), perverted voting, vile costumes and this year propaganda for an evil regime — is there anything worth keeping? Europe will be full of prune-faced fury if we do quit, but then Europe wanted us to join the euro.