Last Night's TV: God save the Queen, she's a human being
Monarchy: The Royal Family At Work, BBC1; Help Me Love My Baby, Channel 4
Tuesday 11 December 2007
Two iconic women dominated the schedules again last night, one being honoured by a state banquet in Estonia, the other talking lasciviously of "lashings of eggnog cream". One was the Queen, the other Nigella Lawson, and you've probably guessed which was which, although I couldn't help wishing it had been the other way round: a little stiff protocol might stop Nigella flirting with the camera in such an unseemly fashion, while I have no doubt that lashings of eggnog cream would do Her Majesty a power of good.
A further power of good is being done to her by Monarchy: the Royal Family at Work, a kind of update in five parts of the 1969 documentary Royal Family, which, impeccably reverential though it was, some hoary royalists hold responsible even now for diminishing the mystique that surrounded the Windsors, and encouraging the media intrusion that would ultimately let the nation into the secret that Charles wished to be reincarnated as Camilla's tampon.
Monarchy, though, is licensed media intrusion, entirely tampon-free, and none the worse for it. The Queen comes across not only as irreproachably industrious, which even the most fervent republican would acknowledge her to be, but also admirably sound. Last night we saw both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown nervously kowtowing in her presence, very much in the manner of head boys summoned to the study of a benign but firm headmistress, and looking a little ill-at-ease to find themselves no longer cocks of the walk.
The cameras followed Blair's final visit to Balmoral as Prime Minister. Doing a truly uncanny Dame Helen Mirren impression, the Queen made effortless small talk to which Tony didn't seem quite equal. "The garden's looking very nice, isn't it?" she said. "Have you seen the new gazebo?" Blair either hadn't or wasn't at all sure what to say about it. Maybe he was too preoccupied with his legacy and didn't want to risk going off on an inappropriate tangent, saying that yes, he'd admired the new gazebo, and frankly the world was very much better off without the old gazebo, a monster of a gazebo, and, y'know, he made no apologies for his part in getting rid of it. Instead, he just muttered something in the affirmative and smiled like a Cheshire cat.
The Queen does have a strange effect on people. The wife of Britain's ambassador to Estonia twittered like an anxious budgie before, during and after the royal visit to Tallinn, pronouncing herself and her husband lucky, very, very lucky, that such a thing was happening on their humble watch. Estonia, I can tell you, was the 132nd country that the Queen had visited during her reign. That was my second-favourite fact from this programme. My first was that ermine is made from the winter coat of a stoat.
Anyway, back to Tallinn, where the maitre d' of the establishment hosting the state banquet vos vorried about table number three, vich had von chair zat vos completely vobbly. His accent was infectious. I prayed that ze ambassador's vife vouldn't get ze vobbly chair, since she vos vobbly enough already. The maitre d' also confided that he had hidden a box of tissues behind the flowers in case Her Majesty felt the urge to sneeze. And people say we should get rid of the monarchy. What other head of state would inspire such tender solicitude from an Estonian waiter? President Kinnock?
Whether or not the royal nostrils were tickled and the tissues deployed we did not discover. But we were allowed in on a briefing with the lucky, very, very lucky British Airways crew given the job of getting the royal party safely to the Baltic. Gin and Dubonnet in a 70:30 ratio for the Queen, bitter for the Duke of Edinburgh, and a selection of newspapers with the Racing Post uppermost, or next week you'll be cleaning the Terminal Four lavs at Heathrow, was more or less the message.
The message of the documentary Help Me Love My Baby was altogether more upbeat: no matter how despairing a new mother gripped by a form of post-natal depression might be, parent-infant therapy can show her a way through.
The therapist was Dr Amanda Jones from the Anna Freud Centre in London, an extremely pretty woman in the hallowed tradition of media psychoanalysis. Generally speaking, psychoanalysis is not synonymous with pulchritude. The hairier the chin the better the shrink, is a reliable rule of thumb, and that goes for the men as well. But television changes the rules and Dr Amanda Jones is a find. She'll be back on the box; I'll stake my couch on it.
Last night she helped a 21-year-old woman called Sophie, who loved Mia, one of her twins, but felt hostile towards the other one, Gracie. Sophie's feelings were predictably entangled with memories of her own mother, who behaved monstrously towards her, and whose eyes she thought she saw in Gracie. Dr Jones helped her sort out the tangle. By the end, Sophie and Gracie were smiling at each other, and I was cheering.
Monarchy: The Royal Family at Work BBC1
Help Me Love My Baby. Channel 4
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