Last Night's Viewing: Elizabeth Taylor: Auction of a Lifetime, Channel 4
Great British Menu, BBC2

 

It's a strange day when you find yourself grateful to Mickey Rooney for providing moral compass but, after 90 long minutes of Elizabeth Taylor: Auction of a Lifetime, that was where I found myself uttering an enfeebled cheer that someone, at last, had offered a tiny counterpoint to the programme's dazzled infatuation with glamour. Mickey, who was in at the start of Taylor's career on National Velvet, said that he thought her obsession with expensive trinkets was a bit "sad". A truly beautiful woman, he observed, doesn't really need precious stones. A truism, I guess, and not what I really hankered for, which was some Old Testament howl of rage at the shallowness of the rich (preferably backed up with a flame-thrower). But in the absence of anything better it had to do.

Elizabeth Taylor genuinely was beautiful, of course, and pretty spirited too, on the evidence of the archive here. "We haven't quarrelled in at least 48 hours," Richard Burton joked in a joint interview the couple gave. "Ha, ha..." she added meaningfully, "stick around." She also had an extraordinary presence on screen, when cast in the right things, and spoke out for people with Aids before the whole of Hollywood decided that it was a cool thing to do. But her fetish for high-end bling was surely the least attractive thing about her, rather than an added lustre to the legend, as most of the contributors here seemed to believe. "She would play with it the way a child would play with her dolls," one friend said, recalling her habit of spreading her loot on the bed and whiling away an afternoon trying it on.

There was certainly something infantile about her compulsive need for extravagant gifts and it made those who loved her almost as childish. "I get my hands on a few dollars occasionally," said her third husband, Mike Todd, "and I think there is no better way in the world of spending it than trying to spoil Elizabeth." What a cretinous failure of imagination that was. Nothing better to do with your millions than feed the acquisitive itch of a movie star? And yet this folly was so widely accepted as "glamour" that the prices achieved when her baubles were finally auctioned off vastly exceeded the Christie's estimate, based on intrinsic value alone.

Michael Waldman had constructed his film (quite effectively, it's only fair to say) around that sale, telling the stories behind the major lots, which offered a glittering aide-mémoire to Taylor's life and lovers. And it wasn't all a tedious bore. I quite enjoyed Ward Landrigan's contributions – Sotheby's head of jewellery back then and several times dispatched as bagman so that Taylor wouldn't even have to wait an extra day to get her latest trinket. When Burton bought her La Peregrina pearl (or pretended to buy it with her money), Landrigan had to deliver it to her suite at Caesars Palace, where she promptly lost it in the "Pepto-Bismol pink" shag pile. He noticed just in time that her lapdog was choking on a jewel that had been worn by Mary Tudor and several Spanish queens.

The moral tawdriness of all this couldn't go entirely unremarked even by a film as starry-eyed and uncritical as this. By the end of the Seventies, the voiceover noted cautiously, "the conspicuous consumption of their lives was veering on the decadent". Which is a bit like saying that the Hindenburg's arrival in New York didn't go entirely as planned. You did try, Mickey, but honestly, "sad" just wasn't enough.

What a feast of cliché Great British Menu has become. This year, apparently, the chefs have been "pushed to their absolute limit". They also had "so much to play for", feared that they might have "bitten off more than they can chew" and were using ingredients that "could make or break them". It's Michelin stars for the eyes, Pot Noodle for the ears.

Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit