Last Night's TV: Wonderland - High Society Brides/BBC2
A History of the World/BBC4

Judging from the title alone it looked as if High Society Brides was going to be the month's least tactful bit of scheduling. During the day we'd learned that the entire nation was about to go on a bread-and-dripping diet and in the evening it seemed we would be able to cheer ourselves up by watching the upper crust uniting their inherited wealth in the holy bond of matrimony. And, judging from the opening five minutes, it looked as if judging from the title hadn't been entirely misleading. Various women with cut-glass accents recalled when they first met their husband ("Shooting... grouse moor in Yorkshire") or exchanged emollient truisms about wealth. "Money can be a lubricant I think, can't it?" said one musingly. "Mmmm... yes... opens doors," replied another. Oh dear, I'm not going to be able to take a lot of this, I thought. Not when so many people are going to be finding the lubricant in short supply.

I should have looked at the name on the credits first – Hannah Berryman, a director who has pulled this trick off before, in crafting a film that looks dismissably superficial on casual inspection but then turns out to have hidden depths. Because – like an earlier documentary she made about the children who sang on Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall – High Society Brides turned out to be fascinating, a one-sentence pitch ("let's find out what happened to five of the 'girls in pearls' who appear in the front of Country Life magazine") that unfolded into something rich in all the right ways. And much less rich in terms of money than you might have feared. "I am an example of toxic debt," said Arabella (who was the "posh Page Three" for January 1990). "This is what it looks like... I am one of those mortgages that Northern Rock shouldn't have given but they did... so I own this house and most the country own this house too." Don't get too excited, because it's minuscule, the sort of place Arabella's forebears would only have visited if they were taking gruel to the sick.

Arabella wasn't the only one who found that the upper-class gel's life plan – get married, provide an heir and a spare, live happily ever after – hadn't quite panned out. Catherine Sackville-West had lived for real the plot line that's been keeping Downton Abbey going for the last few weeks – exiled from her childhood home in Knole because of her mother's failure to produce a male heir and then contracting a disastrous marriage herself with an American social climber, who departed after just eight months with a substantial chunk of her money. Sally Cochrane had unwisely assumed that her husband would sober up once he got married, only to find that it took him several decades before he finally got round to it, and that she had to leave him first. He'd expected to follow daddy into a job as land agent for the Duke of Buccleuch but it turned out that he was better at sowing wild oats than cultivated ones, and he now gives driving lessons for a living.

Social mobility can only mean one thing if you start near the top, but Berryman's film was also a tribute to the almost religious conservatism of the upper crust, its most spectacular case study being Henrietta Tiarks, a Sixties It-girl who had finally snared the Duke of Bedford. While the other debs in the film had been given a forced instruction in the adaptability of circumstances, the Duchess was still sticking to the toff's party line, particularly when it came to gender politics. "You haven't got female lions and elephants and monkeys all changing their roles because they feel women should be equal," she explained patiently. "All we're supposed to do is breed... so the men go out killing the animals... we look after the babies, we cook the food." You'd think owning your own safari park would give you a better grasp of leonine biology than that, but then the Duchess looks like a woman who doesn't want to think too deeply about the social arrangements that have put her where she is. We shouldn't think it had been easy, she wanted us to know. The only way she and the duke had been able to get away from the pressures of Woburn Abbey was to run away to a tiny cottage in Suffolk and play poor for the weekend. "And when I say tiny, it was smaller than this room," she added for emphasis. The fact that the room was larger than many people's houses seemed to have passed her by.

Rather mystifyingly, Terry Deary – the author of the Horrible Histories series for children – had dropped all the bad puns and enlivening corniness for his contribution to A History of the World, a new BBC4 series. Perhaps – despite the HISTRY numberplate on his Mini – he wants to be taken seriously as someone who can talk to grown-ups. Or perhaps he thought that the history in this case – the Battle of Towton in 1461, the bloodiest engagement of the Wars of the Roses – was simply too horrible to sustain gags. Given that the death toll was 28,000 – more than the first day of the Somme – I'm ashamed to say I'd never heard of it before, and an unscientific survey revealed that I'm not alone in my ignorance. Post-traumatic amnesia on a national scale? Or an indictment of trendy, non-jingoistic history teaching? Either way it was good to have the blank filled in.

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
The Rolling Stones at the Roundhouse in London in 1971: from the left, Keys, Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor and Mick Jagger

Music ...featuring Eric Clapton no less
Arts and Entertainment
In the dock: Dot Branning (June Brown); Union boss claims EastEnders writers are paid less than minimum wage

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Roger Christian wrote and directed the 1980 Black Angel original, which was lost until 2011

film
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Green (Hand out press photograph provided by Camilla Gould)

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones reviewWarning: Spoilers aplenty
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
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.

    Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

    ‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

    Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
    The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

    The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

    ... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
    12 best olive oils

    Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

    Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
    Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

    Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

    There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?