Last Night's Viewing: The Queen's Mother-in-Law, Channel 4 Them from That Thing, Channel 4


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The Independent Culture

If your mother had been born deaf, applied bandages to bloody leg stumps in a war, been driven from her home under threat of murder, claimed she'd had sex with Jesus, been kidnapped when you were 11 and locked in an asylum where Sigmund Freud zapped her ovaries with X-rays, you'd probably be a bit eccentric (your mother certainly would be).

It didn't stop there for Princess Alice of Battenberg, otherwise known as The Queen's Mother-in-Law. The Freud-ovary revelation wasn't the only "hang on..." moment in a documentary of the life of Prince Philip's mother. Princess Alice went on to shelter a Jewish family in Nazi-occupied Athens and later became a nun who founded her own religious order called the Sisterhood of Martha and Mary.

I like to think I wasn't the only viewer who knew nothing of her crazy life. As the narrator told us at the top of the programme, which previously had been entitled The Other Queen Mother, the relatively boring life of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon has been far more widely explored. Alice, meanwhile, was "one of the Royal Family's best-kept secrets".

Perhaps the film's most striking image was of the Queen's coronation in 1953. A sad, solitary figure is shown passing through Westminster Abbey in a grand procession, her incongruous grey floor-length nun's habit lending her an almost eery ghostliness. By then Princess Alice had, shall we say, lived a bit. She was born in Windsor Castle in the presence of her great grandmother, Queen Victoria, and defied her deafness to speak clearly and lip-read in three languages. She fell in love with Prince Andrew, the youngest son of George I of Greece, as a teenager and moved with him to Athens, where she had four daughters.

After surviving war with Turkey, when Alice ran battlefield hospitals, the family was later forced to flee from revolutionaries to Paris. They carried their one-year-old son, Philip, in an orange crate.

Alice's deafness left her isolated, while exile placed strain on her marriage. She began to experience "religious delusions", believing she had been intimate with Christ and Buddha. A psychiatry unit in Berlin diagnosed paranoid schizophrenia.

Doctors called in Freud, who prescribed X-rays of Alice's ovaries in a misguided attempt to tweak her hormones. Worse followed: after discharging herself, Alice was later bundled into a car and taken to a Swiss asylum, where she would remain for almost three years, abandoned by her family and lost to Philip, who was just 11. He would become, one biographer said, "a dog looking for a basket", but no one among the talking heads could express what effect his mother's trials had had on him, or his adult personality.

Alice later "disappeared", before starting her new life as a nun and only rejoined the firm for the Coronation. Later, she stalked the corridors of Buckingham Palace while smoking Woodbines for two years before her death in 1969. How did she get on with her daughter-in-law? One suspects that, at least, will remain secret.

By "them" they mean those people, and by "that thing" they mean several different things, or programmes, that have been funny on Channel 4. They (the people) include Kayvan Novak (Fonejacker), Sally Phillips (Smack the Pony) and Blake Harrison (The Inbetweeners). But they were upstaged in Them from That Thing, a two-part sketch show with a hit-rate of, I'd say, about 40 per cent, by "proper" actors such as Simon Callow, Bill Patterson and Denis Lawson. The highlight: a libidinous Callow in a satin dressing gown receiving his order of one banana from a supermarket as a ruse to flirt with the delivery boy, saying: "I've been running short of these yellow bitches."