Grace Dent on TV: A Very British Wedding

I don't know why this wedding involves a vodka syringe, but if you actually like people it's a delight
  • @gracedent

A deeply charming, thoughtful programme about British weddings appeared on TV this week. One which made me quack with laughter, then have a little weep within its all too brief 58 minutes. Yes, I know, TV weddings – I've had it up to here with them, too. Those Big Fat Gypsy ones on C4, less jovial now they've been tarred with the “unethical” telly brush. And let's be honest, BBC3's Don't Tell The Bride is about as cosy to watch as bear-baiting.

I lost patience with Four Weddings on Sky Living, in which four rival brides attended each other's big days, dragging a dark cloud of bonfire-piss with them, then sat about in Monsoon shrugs wrapped around spam-like arms, slagging off the chicken en croute. The winner was given a holiday as recompense for their national humiliation.

Furthermore, benevolent soul that I am, I question the wisdom of any woman who puts Amy Childs and her heroically daft chum Harry Derbridge in charge of designing their big day on Channel 5's Celebrity Wedding Planners. Personally, I'd be wary of putting Harry Derbridge in charge of making a lemon-curd sandwich.

Alas, there's not a lot of love in the room during British TV weddings. But then up popped A Very British Wedding, which has gained excellent, nosey, warm-hearted access to British-based Sikhs, Ukrainians, Chinese, Nigerians and several other nationalities' grand days. This is a fabulous series if you're one of those maverick individuals who gives a stuff about other people and wants to learn more about them instead of sitting on your arse, blaming them for everything. I realise this wouldn't be the most persuasive pitch in a TV commissioning meeting.

Sasha and Vlod from Ukraine were not invited on TV to talk about jobs, migration, money, healthcare or what they have left back home. They were there to discuss love and their plan to have a big, brassy Ukrainian wedding. This appears to involve sharing a big loaf of bread, playing a game that involves a vodka syringe and a bossy sister-in-law dressed as a Carry On nurse, blokes dressed as brides, a fake health check in the street, a shed-load of beer and a game involving a two plastic potties. I don't completely understand the cultural significance of this, nor will I unless I move to the borders of Russia for 12 to 15 years. But I'm having a go; it's good to talk.

There's a great moment in the opening titles when a cheery yet bewildered Caucasian sitcom-type Anglican vicar is standing in the middle of his church, which is packed with hundreds of British African women in full headdress, undulating and clapping. “Oooh, blimey. What's going on there?” he shouts as the service takes another bewildering turn and he struggles to keep up. They're laughing, he's laughing — it's a nice scene. In fact, there is a fine sentiment running right through this show of cultures blending and bending, of new generations forming new traditions. Goodwill; biting our tongues; letting the youngsters get on with it; letting granny have her own way — these happen at weddings worldwide.

Kami and Dav live in Yorkshire and are besotted, gaga, crazy in love and want a big traditional wedding: six weeks separation, dancing sessions, cookery lessons, and a huge, emotional service in a gurdwara (a Sikh temple). Then there's a massive party in a Doncaster sports hall with a full-thrust bhangra band, and an evening of weepy send-offs: mums crying, brothers crying, everyone throwing rice. Kami's dad died four years ago and she misses him at every turn. It's impossible not to be rather choked as Kami leaves her mum's house for the last time to move in with her mother-in-law, with all the uncles and cousins out in the street snivelling, and everyone promising everyone else they'll look after her. I'm not Sikh but I understand every tiny emotion.

I also understand the frustration of Vlod's best man when he is not allowed to carry the large, symbolic loaf of bread into the registry office. “No food and drink in the room,” announces the council official. “Why? You scared of rats?” the best man asks, genuinely. “No. We don't have rats,” she laughs, then sees he's sincere. “But we need to bring in bread. It's cultural. It's, um, religious,” he says. The truth is, he doesn't want to spend the ceremony standing outside holding a white bloomer as big as a Shetland pony. “This is a civil ceremony,” says the official. “There is no religion.”

Many of Vlod and Sasha's family can't attend the wedding due to paperwork, finance or passports. The families chat on Skype throughout the day but it only seems to exaggerate the distance between them. Vlod carries a piece of embroidery he'd made with his mum years ago, which she had posted to him. He leaves the dancing behind and stands outside the reception hall, a hulking Ukrainian builder, and has a tiny cry. “Are you ok, Vlod?” asks the producer. “Yes, yes,” he replies quickly, pulling himself together. And the party goes on.

Ian Beale has pulled another very attractive women on EastEnders. Yes, completely feasible.