Birth, Deaths and Marriages, ITV - review: 'A moving documentary registers approval'

 

Sad tears, happy tears and tears in celebration of our common humanity. I haven't cried so much during a television programme since Hayley croaked it in Coronation Street. A fly-on-the-wall documentary set in a London register office might not sound like gripping viewing, but as the title of this ITV programme made clear, all human life is here: Birth, Deaths and Marriages (ITV) was a triumph.

It was filmed during one summer at Westminster Register Office, in Old Marylebone Town Hall, the site of 200 registrations a week. Some of these are celeb-orientated and this documentary did waste time fawning over the marriage certificate of Paul and Linda McCartney and pointing out where Liam Gallagher got hitched. This being the summer of 2013, there was also some inevitable Royal Baby fuss. Alison, the head registrar, and an otherwise sensible-seeming woman went completely swoony following her audience with Prince William: "He's got really blue eyes! And you don't actually notice his bald patch, because he's so tall!"

It was the ordinary commoners, however, who really plucked at our heart strings. There was happy couple Holly and Simon who recruited two strangers off the street to witness their spur-of-the-moment civil ceremony. There was Suzanne, registering the death of her husband after an evidently blissful 40 years of marriage, and – most heartbreaking – Tony and Rebekah who returned to the office twice in two weeks, first to register first the birth of their baby daughter Joanna and later to register her death.

It was a comfort to see that even 10, 20 years into the job, the registrars were still affected by stories like these. These were no faceless bureaucrats, particularly Tommy, who displayed a pleasing mix of professional finesse and soppy sentiment. "You see almost every kind of emotion in this building when you are registering, but the one thing that tends to unite them is love," he said. "That's palpable in almost every registration that you do."

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