Last night's viewing - Mummifying Alan: Egypt's Last Secret, Channel 4; Young Apprentice, BBC1

 

Shame I'm not going to be around to see it, isn't it?" said one of the contributors to Mummifying Alan: Egypt's Last Secret. "I quite like documentaries." I think he'd have loved this one, because Channel 4's film about an attempt to re-create the mummification process turned out to be completely engrossing.

Alan's problem, though, was that he wasn't simply a contributor to the documentary. He was also its main raw ingredient. A Torquay taxi-driver with terminal lung cancer, Alan had replied to an advert seeking volunteers for an experiment designed to assess the theories of an archaeological chemist called Stephen Buckley. Stephen, who has a home-made mummification lab in his garden shed, was keen to step up from testing his ideas on pig's trotters and try out a whole human. And Alan – a game sort of chap, by his wife's account – agreed to provide the body. "It's not going to go away, is it?" he said about his impending death, in a sequence filmed before he met the final eligibility criterion.

The next time we saw Alan, he was on a pathologist's trolley with a tag around his toe, and, to be frank, he wasn't looking great. At least not by comparison with the living Alan, though these things are all clearly relative. The pathologist and mortician who were to tackle the next stage thought he was in great shape: "He's thawed out quite well, actually," said the man whose job it was to eviscerate him in classic 18th Dynasty style. Good taste turns out to be a relative affair too, because the film that followed was an odd mixture of the unblinkingly grisly and the decorous. "Yep... I can get my hand in," said the pathologist as he rummaged around in Alan's torso feeling for his liver. "Question is, can I get it out again?" But when he tugged Alan's lower intestine out through the narrow slit he'd made, the screen was tactfully fogged. Either that or the camera operator had simply fainted.

Apparently, there is no hieroglyphic version of "Embalming for Dummies". The Egyptians left no written record of the recipe because the process was simply too sacred and secret to be bandied around. So Buckley had worked out his process by careful analysis of existing mummies, convinced by recent findings that every schoolboy's favourite fact about the procedure (that the brain was hauled out through the nose with a hook) isn't actually necessary and also that the finest mummies had probably been desiccated in a salt solution. So, after a quick varnishing with resin and sesame oil to protect his skin, Alan went into the brine for 35 days, prior to being pulled out again and left to dry. Nobody pointed out that this sounded horribly similar to the way in which you cure a side of bacon.

Alan's wife, who seems to have had time to accommodate herself to his unhysterical view of death, said she thought that her feelings would have been much the same if he'd been buried or cremated. But in neither of those cases would she have been able to visit three months later and hold his hand, as she did here, pinching his flesh through the linen wrappings. Sensibly, I think, she didn't stick around for the final unwrapping, when we got to look Alan in the face for the final time. All those involved declared themselves well pleased with the results. I thought he'd put on a bit of weight, myself, but there was no question that "Torquay's Tutankhamun", as he'd described himself before death, had made it to mummy status. And the film that would have been impossible without him proved to be memorably strange – part memento mori, part history lesson, part study in human curiosity. I wish Alan could have seen it too.

The girls' team won in Young Apprentice, largely by modelling their ice-cream business on Ryanair. They made their customers pay for the cone as an extra and looked very much as if they'd have liked to add a Scoop Labour Surcharge as well.

Arts and Entertainment
Woody Allen and Placido Domingo will work together on Puccini's Schicchi

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
The sixteen celebrities taking part in The Jump 2015

TV

Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge has announced his departure from Blink-182

music
Arts and Entertainment
The episode saw the surprise return of shifty caravan owner Susan Wright, played by a Pauline Quirke (ITV)

Review: Broadchurch

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

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.

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

    Pot of gold

    Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
    10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

    From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

    While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
    Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore