THE CRITICS : Selling Britain down the Rhine

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Indy Lifestyle Online
ONE DOES get so easily riled if one is royal. While we await Di's complaints about being a princess, we had Edward VIII's bitterness to contend with in Secret Lives: The Traitor King (C4). He apparently flounced off to Hitler with any number of questionable confidences, all because Wallace Simpson was made just a plain duchess, not an HRH. What does the HRH matter? It seems to have something to do with curtsying. With the HRH, other people curtsy to you; without it, you have to do it yourself. I can see it might lead to tricky manoeuvrings in the marital boudoir if one person has an HRH and the other doesn't, but really, was it worth selling Britain down the Rhine?

There were other contributing factors, of course. The guy was practically German anyway and according to one royal biographer "a natural fascist" with an instinctive taste for trains that run on time. He also talked too freely when drunk. His father had no faith in him and even his private secretary wrote "I can't help thinking that the best thing that could happen to him and to the country would be for him to break his neck". Instead he fell head over heels for Wallace, a fact that was used by Prime Minister and courtiers alike to force him to abdicate. But while the world swooned in admiration of his romantic gesture, Edward apparently plotted with Hitler to regain his kingship in return for some treachery. Although serving in the British Army, he blabbed all the military secrets that came his way. Was this "naive folly or calculated treason"? Ask any soldier.

Love can't be confused with goodness anymore. After all, Fred West seems to have loved his wife. The Romeos and Juliets of today are all in Quentin Tarantino films. People in love used to wander around trying to be nice to everybody - now they're dangerous to know. It's enough to put a person off. But not Dame Barbara Cartland (ITV). She still believes that love is what the world needs.

"We all have hidden in our hearts a secret shrine in which we have placed a picture of our ideal love. Like pilgrims, we search for ecstasy, the rapture and the wonder of real love, which is both human and divine," she recited in the South Bank Show's profile.

But if love is so spiritual, why are people's physical attributes so important? And why all these virgins in voluminous clothing looking for ecstasy? It's a form of pornography, she just won't admit it. And it surges out of Barbara Cartland at the rate of a chapter a day. Such energy suggests Her Royal Pinkness must have a libido of some magnitude.

She claims her writing is a social service, there to remind the debauched hordes of the existence of something beyond sexsexsex (as she calls it), "which is an entirely physical thing, mostly for men". Some might say her books feed women with unrealistic expectations - Lady Di, for instance, spent her teenage years reading Barbara Cartland and now can't look at a man without hungering for love (or throwing up). The main service Dame Babs has accomplished is to support herself and her two dangling sons in the style to which she decided, at some point in the 1920s, she was entitled. Oh, sure, she has blotches of blue blood scattered about her person, but essentially she bought her way into the aristocracy with the millions she made out of Love.

Melvyn had applied enough Brylcreem to rival Barb's level of hairspray, and seemed charmed by her rush of talk, or perhaps he just couldn't keep up. At any rate he let her get away with the same old nonsense she's already put into writing in her autobiographies. She rattled off huge chunks with such insouciance I wondered if she wasn't just a hologram, secretly transmittedfor a few hours a day from Romance HQ - Cartland Promotions - a seedy back passage of an office in Islington where her highly suspect sons hang out all day. Maybe the real Barb has already been buried under the old oak tree in her garden that she's earmarked as her final resting place.

Melvyn listened happily enough to her account of her involvement with gypsies, school prayers, vitamins, even a weird tale of the smell of carnations in the hallway after her second husband's death: proof, so she said, that there is an afterlife. Melvyn looked a little flabbergasted by this. The only thing he challenged her on was her endless spiel about divorces (like most moralists, Barbara Cartland has one law for herself and another for the hoi polloi).

Melvyn: With the greatest respect ... your first marriage failed. Marriages fail all over the place.

Barbara (stung by this interruption): Well, mine failed for a different reason altogether. Mine failed because he drank secretly and therefore he wasn't a lover.

WHAT? But Melvyn was easily quelled and inquired no further.

"I don't want to buy the Queen a birthday present, sir. She's an anti- Christ," says a policeman in The Thin Blue Line (BBC1). Turns out he means "anachronism". It was the best joke to be found in Ben Elton's cosy little comedy, itself a time warp - farcical nonsense, no real plot, no feeling, a pale imitation of music hall, and a bunch of characters in search of a punchline. Despite the writer's reputation as an alternative comic, the only thing PC about this were the PCs. The final joke depended on two women considering whether they'd be charmed by a man who brought them chocolates and champagne. Has Ben Elton ever met a real woman? Men don't come bearing chocolates and champagne anymore - just a mobile phone, and a condom if you're lucky.

But just when you give up hope of the British race mastering the art of the sitcom (or, alternatively, allowing a return of the American ones that used to fill up Friday nights so satisfactorily), along comes Faith in the Future (ITV), a revitalised sequel to the long-running Second Thoughts. The story concerns the endearingly hapless Faith (Lynda Bellingham) whose plans for the future are barred by her own stretch marks and the sudden return of her daughter (Julia Sawalha) from a trip round the world.

An underlying despair is no bad thing in a sitcom. Faith is so nervous about her first date with a colleague whom she "fancies rotten" that she wears a basque which she has to struggle out of in the loo, and skips the foreplay in favour of gargling. Finally ready, she hurls him against the pillows. "We're not teenagers. I want you, you want me. Let's get on with it," she says, frantically dealing with his buttons. Their tousled forms on the bed after they've given up hope of rumpy-pumpy were a delight.