Britain’s Tudor Treasure: a Night at Hampton Court, review: Whets the appetite for 'Wolf Hall'

Starkey and Worsley put aside their feuding to mark the palace's 500th year

Ellen E. Jones
Sunday 11 January 2015 16:00
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Lucy Worsley and David Starkey, the presenters of 'Britain’s Tudor Treasure: a Night at Hampton Court'
Lucy Worsley and David Starkey, the presenters of 'Britain’s Tudor Treasure: a Night at Hampton Court'

Here was something to whet our appetites for the upcoming adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. Britain’s Tudor Treasure: a Night at Hampton Court (Sat, BBC2) marked the 500th year of the palace on the Thames with a re-creation of one of the most spectacular events in its history, the 1537 christening of Henry VIII’s son and heir, Edward. Even more momentous, perhaps, was the truce this special programme marked between formerly warring TV historians Lucy Worsley and David Starkey.

Their collaboration went without a hitch – even Tudor court heralds, responsible for enforcing the correct etiquette at ceremonies, would have been forced to concede that. As chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces, Worsley was our guide to the palace. She introduced the overwhelming splendour of the Great Hall, the room where Jane Seymour gave birth (still in existence, and now used as a meeting room, apparently) and the little prince’s special rocking chamber, “where servants called ‘the rockers’ would have rocked him in his cradle”.

Starkey, for his part, did an excellent job of explaining the mindset of the wife-beheading, daughter-dismissing king in the lead-up to his son’s birth. You might even say that the historian’s own history of making sexist remarks in public added a flavour of authenticity to the speculation.

They did have one minor disagreement, over the design of Edward’s font (the structure used to hold the baptism water) but were kept too busy with the bustle of preparation to bicker. There were sweet wafers to be baked, beeswax candles to be moulded and cloth of gold and silver to be admired. “The polite word is magnificence,” said Starkey, surveying a length of it, “the real word is ‘bling’.” The re-creation of Lady Mary’s outfit showed off these Tudor textiles a treat, although they were only slightly more splendid than the embroidered red-on-black coat Worsley wore for the occasion.

When, at last, all 90-something volunteers were costumed, it was as if the court of King Henry VIII had risen from the grave, ready to process once more through Hampton Court Palace. Starkey was in his element when shouting instructions on correct deportment: “You, sir! That is an instrument of authority!”

Speaking of stiff, formal processions, is there anything more cringe than the judges’ joint musical performance on The Voice UK (Sat BBC1)? Series four opened with a rendition of Republica’s 1996 hit “Ready to Go” sung by Sixties sex bomb Sir Tom Jones, hip-hop windbag will-i-am, the ever-apologetic Kaiser Chief frontman Ricky Wilson, and pop poseur Rita Ora.

Tom Jones judging on 'The Voice'

Mercifully, it was soon over and straight into the blind auditions, performed, as always, while the judges are seated with their backs to the stage. On The Voice, the most memorable auditionees are the ones who look nothing like they sound, and there were plenty of those, but this episode also included a second category: auditionees who’ve already had a brush with fame. Emilie Cunliffe, 16, is the daughter of Kym Marsh, aka Michelle from Coronation Street, and there was also Paul Cullinan who once played Bungle in children’s TV show Rainbow. Neither of them got through to the next round, although judge Ricky did at least seem impressed by the Rainbow connection.

Then, halfway through the nonsense, new judge Rita Ora was struck with a dangerous epiphany: “I’m starting to understand it now. It’s like everybody can sing who comes on, everybody. So, it’s like, what can you say to someone who can obviously sing?” Best not to pull at that loose thread, Miss Ora, or the whole thing will come unravelled.

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