Television Review

I'VE ALWAYS admired Christopher Hitchens' reckless appetite for blasphemy, partly because he penetrates further into the nasal passages of the pious than almost any other journalist, and it's fun to watch their apoplectic sneezing, partly because all dogmas should occasionally be tested against heresy. Those which are genuine will easily survive and those which aren't shouldn't anyway. He has already risked the jihads of devotees of Mother Teresa and Spike Lee, but last night, in Diana: the Mourning After (C4), he took on a still more popular subject - the paroxysm of grief which followed the death of Princess Diana. He did not, rather notably, question the Princess herself (barring a waspish observation that this paragon of charity had left not a penny to charity in her will); indeed, there was a brief panegyric towards the end about her qualities of warmth, beauty and compassion which would not have disgraced the pages of the Daily Mail. But he did question the assumption that reaction to her death had been universally bonding.

It wasn't the best of his television essays, because there was a sense that he had to prop up his target in case it fell over before he could knock it down. "What was and is the significance of the death of the Princess?" he asked at the beginning, implying that this question had been suppressed in maudlin hysteria that her death unleashed. In truth, you could read about little else in the clearing-up period that followed her funeral, the wave of lachrymose display having been followed by a tidal wave of instant social analysis, which contained many different facets of opinion, from disgusted to idolatrous. What's more, his vaunted statistic that 41 per cent of televisions were turned off that day was mischievously selective - a great many were turned off because people gathered together to watch the funeral with friends or family: if Hitchens really thinks there is a vast silent army of refuseniks who spent the day playing Monopoly, then he's kidding himself. It doesn't necessarily follow, of course, that everybody watched for the same reasons or with the same moist reverence - but then that would hardly come as a revelation.

It is true that the mood immediately following the death had its ugly and coercive side. Visiting Kensington Palace on the Wednesday night (empty- handed and in a spirit of historical curiosity), I recall being slightly anxious for my children, who were making what some pilgrims might have deemed inappropriate remarks about Diana's obvious surfeit of cuddly toys. In that extraordinary atmosphere, it didn't seem entirely outlandish that children might be nastily upbraided for being irreverent about the patron saint of kiddy-cuddling. But the objections to this mass expression - amplified by the tabloid newspapers but not invented by them - have a patrician tinge to them, a dread of the mob, which you would not normally associate with Hitchens. Far from delighting in the humiliation of the Royal Family, forced to haul the flag to half-mast in breach of long tradition, Hitchens almost appeared to tut-tut over this offence to protocol, as if his strong republican instincts had briefly been eclipsed by a larger distaste.

He also had to look a little obtuse about the nature of human sentiment - approvingly citing the question of one conscientious objector: "How can you grieve for someone you've never met, or never known?" The answer to which is "incredibly easily", because public figures, and stars in particular, often represent ideas or values. Grieving for such people may be an unwise emotion or even a misplaced one - but it can still weigh heavily on the heart. What's more, to feel insulted or threatened by the specious grief of others, however monolithic it seemed for a time, is surely a touch over-sensitive. Hitchens ended his film with the perfectly sensible injunction: "Get a life!". Which only made me wonder why he'd devoted a portion of his to this matter in the first place.

Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot