Last Night's Television - Electric Dreams, BBC4; Two Feet in the Grave, BBC1

Matters of life and death

"I want to find out whether we can deal with death better," said Richard Wilson in
Two Feet in the Grave, qualified as a tour guide to the final threshold by the fact that he could kick off with a piece to camera from the site of his own demise, albeit a fictional one. Victor Meldrew breathed his last by a railway bridge on a suburban lane, finally released from a lifetime of incredulous rage by a hit-and-run driver, and it made a good starting point for Wilson's reflection on how we might plan for the big family event at which we will all eventually be the guest of honour but none of us can really be said to attend. The general notion was that there was a taboo in place here, fear to be allayed and conventions to be tweaked. Which made it slightly odd that the most consistent theme in the film that followed was how willing people are to face the fact of death, and how imaginative they are about their arrangements. Yes, a lot of people choose Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable" and Whitney Houston's "Wind Beneath My Wings" to play on the crematorium music system, but there are mischief makers who request "Always Look on the Bright Side" from The Life of Brian or, brilliantly, Prodigy's "Firestarter" (disgracefully, the vicars frown on the latter).

Wilson went backstage at the crematorium to see what happened once the electrically operated curtains had closed on the coffin. "Curiously enough, it's not frightening at all," he said, as he peered through the furnace peephole and then, after the ashes had been through a kind of cement mixer to grind them down, he helped to bag up someone's dear departed. It's quite easy not to be frightened by other people's deaths, of course. Most of us manage that with insouciance. But Wilson also met people who clearly weren't too frightened of their own, including a jaunty pensioner who had designed his own coffin in the shape of a carriage from the Orient Express. Sharing space in the joiner's warehouse with this breezy vehicle were a giant ballet shoe, destined to cosset an amateur dancer, and a giant skateboard bearing the defiant legend "Urban Decay".

It's possible that there was a self-selecting bias to the contributors here. Anybody really terrified of death would have declined to take part, so it was bound to be skewed towards the chipper or the professionally philosophical, people whose daily encounters with the dead make them almost comically at ease with them. "None of us wants to look dreadful," said Sheila Dicks, head of the Salisbury College of Funeral Sciences, "and people don't look well when they've died." Sheila, who runs an embalming school, pumps pink fluid into her clients until they're flush with health again, or at least a chemical substitute. Curiously, it was only towards the end of the programme that the emotional aftermath of a death – rather than the mechanical business of disposal – got a proper representation, with the story of Rab Molloy, whose teenage son abstractedly walked in front of a train while listening to his MP3 player. Rab had buried his boy in his own garden, within earshot of the level crossing where he'd died, and then planted a tree on the spot, in whose curling branches he could see an image of the child he'd loved. It was deeply moving, as was the sequence showing the final send-off for a woman who'd had her ashes mixed into fireworks and was scattered with a bang and a blossom of orange sparks. But both stories suggested that there isn't really a problem with people's attitudes to death, only with the conventions that have grown up about how we mark it.

Nostalgia fans of a certain age are in clover this week ('Ah! Remember the old metaphors we used to have to put up with...!). After Monday night's Upgrade Me had them cooing to each other about old technology, Electric Dreams took us straight back to the Seventies again, in an entertaining series that strips a contemporary family of all their mod cons and replaces them with period inconveniences. For three weeks, the Sullivan-Barneses will time travel, clicking forward a year at a time in an immersive timeline of technological progress. Their house has had a Seventies makeover – plunging them into a maelstrom of brown and orange – and they've all been made to wear tanktops and flared jeans and surrender their mobiles, so that what you get is as much social history as gadget trivia. What made me most nostalgic was the arrival of the television repairman, which got me pompously moralising that there was a time when you mended stuff rather than just binning it. Then, watching the dad warily turn the key in his ancient Ford Cortina on a cold day, I remembered another Seventies technological quality – predictable unreliability – and remembered why the telly repairman have been made redundant.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
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.

    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture