Last Night's TV: Queen Victoria's Men, Channel 4: A Taste of My Life, BBC2

The thesis of Queen Victoria's Men was, roughly, that a monarch famous for her lack of amusement was in reality a hot little piece who was gagging for it: Queen Shagtoria, in fact. Well, I say "roughly", but to be honest that's more or less the whole thing. There were times, watching it, when I wondered if they couldn't have saved time and money by hiring a man with a top hat, black cape and ivory-topped cane to twirl his moustachios at a photograph of Her Majesty for 90 minutes, with a break every now and then to murmur, "Hello, you saucy little baggage." This would at least have been slightly less off-putting than all the knowing twinkles at the camera we had to put up with from the actresses playing young and old Vic.

To be fair, there were other times when Rob Coldstream's "documentary drama" showed signs of wanting to go into things rather more deeply, to give a little demonstration of how intimately sex can be tangled up with politics and power. At the start of her reign, the young Victoria was smitten with her rakish Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne. According to one of her courtiers, her feelings for him were clearly sexual, though she herself was probably unconscious of the fact; and in constitutional if not physical terms their relationship verged on impropriety. Melbourne stuffed her household with his Whig allies; after he lost a vote of confidence and was forced to resign, his Tory successor, Robert Peel, tried, not surprisingly, to put his own cronies in place. But Victoria put her foot down, and Peel, hamstrung by her refusal to cooperate, was forced in turn to resign, allowing Melbourne back.

Politics reared its ugly head at a couple of other points in the programme, but by and large the small posse of historians and biographers recruited for the occasion seemed more interested in trying to find new ways of saying that Victoria enjoyed sex – or not so new ways: the blunt assertion that "She enjoyed sex" cropped up at least twice. The main evidence for this was a letter she wrote to Lord Melbourne after her wedding night, telling him that it had been a "bewildering" and "gratifying" experience: as someone pointed out, it's hard to imagine our own dear Queen exchanging such intimacies with any of her Prime Ministers). It's also true that at Osborne, their residence on the Isle of Wight, Albert installed an electrical device that allowed them to lock the door without getting out of bed, though whether this was, as implied, evidence of their sheer randiness or had more to do with the inadequacies of Victorian heating, it's impossible to say.

What is almost certainly the case, but which the programme couldn't quite bring itself to say, is that however much Victoria enjoyed sex, by modern standards she can't have had very much of it: nine pregnancies, in an age when sex during pregnancy was widely regarded as a hazardous undertaking, and an early widowhood must have made sure of that. What she did have was flirtations – with Disraeli, who "made her feel like a woman", and John Brown. It's interesting that the supposedly pious, deferential Victorians weren't above hinting that Her Majesty was having it away with the help. These days, you can attribute practically any debauchery to any member of the royal family (and half the time, it'll be less impressive than the truth), but you've never been able to say that about Liz. The really interesting figure, though, was Abdul Karim, known as "Munshi", Victoria's private secretary in her later years. He was at least partly a conman (he told Victoria that his father was a military surgeon in India, when he merely helped out at the hospital of the local jail), but he managed to maintain his position and Victoria's affection in the face of stubborn and united opposition from her entire court, though I doubted David Dabydeen's story about Victoria yelling at someone who had slighted Munshi, "You are a racist." A bit more about him would have been interesting, and, in general, what this programme needed was a bit less sex and a bit more politics. Sometimes I think there's a lot to be said for Victorian repressiveness.

I was shocked to come across A Taste of My Life, which is basically This Is Your Life crossed with cookery. The premise, that your favourite meals reveal something about you, is sensible, but the way it has been expanded into a format is horrible. Irrelevant captions float on screen in front of the food ("A female lobster is called a hen"), the camera bobs and swivels like a flyweight boxer, and the conversation is peppered with repetitive soundbites and trails for what's coming up next – unforgivable in a programme that last less than 30 minutes with no commercial breaks. The hitherto all-but-canonised Nigel Slater presides over this mess, asking his guests (last night, Rory Bremner) embarrassing questions like "What sort of a friend are you?" and introducing video clips of relatives and celebrity chums cooking the guest's favourite meals, before he and his guest enjoy a final frantic cook-up. Undercooked, oversauced, faintly sick-making.

Brian Viner is away

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before