The Weekend's TV: The Genius of British Art, Sun, Channel 4
When Piers Met Lord Sugar, Sat, ITV1

Royal appointment worth keeping

"The Tudors invented the portrait," said David Starkey in The Genius of British Art. "Eh?" I thought. Come again, Dr Starkey?

I know you're passionate about the period but that's a tiny bit of a stretch, isn't it? Next thing you'll be telling us that they invented eggs and the rubber band. But I had interrupted too soon it seems, because Dr Starkey hadn't finished with his sentence. "And the portrait in turn gives us our idea of the Tudors," he concluded. The thought briefly occurred that the first half of this sentence (tendentious to the point of barminess) was only there to dress up the second half (self-evident to the point of banality). But then I got distracted by Henry VIII's armour, called in evidence by Dr Starkey as a hammered-steel affidavit for the accuracy of Holbein's portrait. To be fair, Dr Starkey has his powers of distraction too, and he drew us close in at this point for an anecdote about his one- time mentor, the Tudor historian G R Elton. Not a big man for visual aids, Professor Elton, but apparently he did have one lecture-hall party trick, when he would draw a simplified, stick-figure rendering of the famous portrait of Henry standing, legs apart, like a bouncer bracing for trouble. Dr Starkey replicated it, too, to show us the geometrical solidity of the image Holbein had created and make a slightly tenuous link between this masterpiece of the Northern Renaissance and agitprop posters of Marx and Lenin.

The connection wasn't anything like as fragile with the next portrait he looked at in detail – that which appeared on the title page of the Great Bible, distributed to every parish by royal decree and bearing the wildly presumptuous image of Jesus Christ handing down the scriptures to Henry VIII, so that he could pass them on to his loyal subjects. Jesus looks a little like a civil servant in this picture, hovering tactfully behind Henry's shoulder so that he can hand over the paperwork at the appropriate moment. Every bit of power resides in the big man. That was the essence of Starkey's opening contribution to Channel 4's series of "polemical essays" about British art – the notion that official state portraits are designed to enhance the authority and status of the sitters, and while that fairly obvious statement might not strike you as the stuff of polemic, it was done with reasonable flair, taking us from Holbein's power-projection to Diana, Princess of Wales's artful use of vulnerability. Starkey presented her as an instinctive master of media manipulation, crafting her photo-opportunities to conjure into being the sympathetic words she wanted printed underneath them. I'm not sure that he fully took into account the extent to which she was fitting into a template that the tabloid press had designed for her, but it was intriguing nonetheless to think about how the command of public loyalty eventually came down to the question of who could look most fetchingly pitiable.

The Tudors had Holbein. We get Piers Morgan, who from time to time will pitch up at the doors of the rich and famous to craft a flattering portrait. It will be ornamented with emblems of their wealth and success and it will use as its principal medium the bantering interrogation – the vanity of the famously portrayable now being centred on their ordinary human approachability, paradoxically conveyed to us by a form (the exclusive-access documentary) that simultaneously underlines their apartness. "None of us know the real man behind the persona – until now," boasted the voiceover at the beginning, which is fairly reliable sign that a bit of persona engineering is about to take place. In the case of Saturday night's programme – When Piers Met Lord Sugar – it was Britain's favourite entrepreneur attempting to show that he isn't a grumpy monster after all, but actually an affable, avuncular figure with an unexpected taste for road bikes and Lycra cycling gear.

I gritted my teeth for this one, because of Morgan rather than Sugar, who appears to combine a touching pride in his social elevation (there were pictures of him with the Queen in virtually every room) with a refreshing indifference to public opinion. But – though this too emerges through gritted teeth – Morgan was actually not bad at all, teasing his subject in ways that at least tested his good temper. "Sort of thing I'd expect to find in Elton John's house," Morgan said pointedly, when he came across a flamboyantly camp pair of mirrored statues in the Sugar dining room. I don't think there were any huge revelations, particularly for Sugar addicts who've already read the autobiography. But those who haven't may have been surprised by how candid Sugar was about the ways in which his parents had failed him, and how, in return, he had failed his mother. He may be a driven man, but you sense that, these days at least, he's in the driving seat, confident enough to know that an acknowledgement of weakness isn't weak itself. It's almost unthinkable I know, but might he have talked these things through with a professional? He joked at the end about taking a psychology course and starting a new business: "How about Ampsych – I could do discount. Thirty minutes' analysis for £39 quid." "Your only advice would be the same for everyone," Morgan replied. "Get over it." His Lordship laughed a lot at that, and he wasn't just faking it to be polite.

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
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.

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map