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 and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

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.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all