Grace Dent on TV: Births, Deaths and Marriages, ITV

The human capacity to carry on loving rang through the hour

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The Independent Culture

TV has been bubbling along nicely for me this week, and not merely because Channel 4 chucked Joe McElderry down an Austrian mountain, or even because The One Show had a rather exciting nine-person ping-pong game, or that charming couple on Channel 5’s Age Gap Love, her aged 78, him 39, indulged in intimate snogging and then a round of Mr Whippy 99s. No, there was more than this, much more. The weather outside is still frightful, but my TV planner is so delightful.

I’m very much enjoying the Sky Atlantic double whammy of HBO’s Girls followed by Looking, currently livening up Mondays. Looking is a gentler, San Francisco-based, Queer as Folk-ish drama for the Grindr app generation. I spent the first 30 minutes of episode one feeling slightly frustrated at the fluffy conversations and angst over the search for Mr Right, but by the second half was tangled up wholly in Patrick, Agustin and Dom’s tangled web of angst and frottage. Oh yes, there’s sex. Not tons of it, but, suffice to say, don’t watch Looking with your nana unless your nana is pretty laissez-faire about three-way bumming.

Of course, Girls and Looking form part of what is known in my lounge as “Mad Monday” on account of the televisual gift of two doses of Coronation Street and one EastEnders. If one is very hardcore, there’s a trip to Emmerdale – Hollyoaks on tractors – at 7pm as a delicious hors-d’oeuvre. The term “Mad Monday” was coined in an interview by footballer Wayne Rooney’s wife, Colleen, in an interview, where she described the perfect night in for her and Wayne, having their tea on their knees with two trips to the Rovers and one down the Queen Vic.  I like anyone who is serious at this level about the act of sitting around in an idle manner watching television. Joe McElderry, you did not leap in vain. Dappy from N Dubz, never think that month you spent locked in a cheaply built plaster-board Borehamwood prison was remotely wasted.


Another lovely, highly endearing waste of time this week was part one of the ITV series Births, Deaths and Marriages looking at the work of the delightfully affable registrar team at the Old Marylebone Town Hall in London. Liam Gallagher loved this place so much he got married here twice. I cannot fathom if this is the mark of a highly complex or non-complex mind. One would imagine that after Liam’s doomed fandango with Patsy Kensit, he might have mooched around in an oversized fishing jacket swearing off weddings for good. But, oh no, back he went to Marylebone Town Hall for Nicole Appleton. He’s not alone in his foolhardiness. This theme of the human capacity to carry on loving rang through the hour.

Divorcées told of decades where they swore they’d never sign another wedding certificate, yet here they were in a silly suit and shoes with the price-tags still on the bottom, making their love legally bound once again. Tommy, the Irish registrar – the natural star of Births, Deaths and Marriages – says that although everyone who walks into Marylebone has a very different story, they are all propelled by love.

There are the people trying to register the deaths of an elderly parent, or the quick passing of a newborn baby with a heart defect who didn’t last the week. There’s the couple registering the birth of the little bundle of screams and impatience who arrived in the back of a car in a pub car park last Friday. “I dunno what happened,” one new father in the waiting room mumbled, his shell-shocked expression speaking volumes. “It felt like me and her had a couple of days of romance and then the next thing, well, y’know.” He nods at the baby in the pram. His girlfriend shakes her head and laughs. Yes, we all know what happened. Life.

And each time life happens, people like Tommy keep an official record. Tommy has the sort of soothing voice that call centres use in crisis situations as he sounds like a lovable, wise Father Ted-style priest. You’d call Tommy, incandescent with fury, to cancel your internet provider and he’d not only talk you down from anger, but talk you around to renewing your annual contract. One needs men like Tommy when you’re sent to tie up the loose administrative ends after, say, losing a mother as we saw in the show. Because until this point a death can feel so ethereal, the funeral plans almost prettily diverting and the trip to see the body macabre to the point of non-believability.

But at Marylebone, this is where the government officially takes tally, and a man like Tommy will ask you the simple question: “Name of the deceased?” and one might need to take a deep breath and say the name out loud officially, and perhaps even spell out the middle name, and then recite their date of birth. “It was at this point,” a woman who was kind enough to let this process be filmed told us, “I realised. That’s it, she is dead.’

A glorious, emotional hour of hatches, matches and dispatches. If they could have only cajoled Liam Gallagher in for a third “once in a lifetime” day, I’d have loved it even more.