Brian Donaldson finds that messianic figures and hair issues dominate the fortnight’s documentaries
They say that getting hitched is one of the most stressful events in anyone’s life. But what if you are sharing your big day with a woman you barely love while another 2000 weddings are going on in the same city? Probably happens in most major metropolitan areas. Yet, on 1 July 1982, all these marriages took place simultaneously in Madison Square Garden and marked the high water point for the movement known as the Moonies, a good old-fashioned religious cult led by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, a man who claimed he was the Second Coming, but was so un-omnipotent that he couldn’t fill out a form properly and was convicted of income tax fraud.
In My Big Fat Moonie Wedding (Channel 4, Wed 5 Dec, 10pm •••) we meet some of the still shell-shocked Brits, Europeans and Americans who were sucked into the world of Rev Moon and gave themselves up to his bizarre bidding. Most have long since abandoned his teachings and practices having felt betrayed by the seemingly random way in which their betrothed was chosen for them in Moon’s crazed lottery of love.
Televisually-wise, the National Socialist Party of Germany seem to have been lying low of late, so thank christ for Hitler’s Favourite Royal (Channel 4, Thu 6 Dec, 9pm •••), the latest in the High Society season which, for one week only, we’re choosing to childishly call Heil Society. In which we meet the tragic figure of Charles Edward, Queen Victoria’s youngest grandchild, a relatively unloved soul who was packed off to Coburg and transformed overnight into a German Duke. Forced to take arms for his new fatherland in WW1, he fell into a bad crowd in the late 30s and ended up being implicated in the ritualistic slaughter of thousands of physically and mentally disabled Germans and his road to infamy was guaranteed. Naturally, this is a story which the Windsor lot have been content to keep fairly secret but their game is up, thanks to that pesky Channel 4.
No one forced Matthew Collings to make This is Civilisation (Channel 4, Sat 1 Dec, 8pm •••) judging by the boyish relish with which he assaults his subject. This four-part series has the guy who used to have massive sideburns but is now allowing us to witness a dignifed hair loss, chatting about the greatest artistic moments and monuments of history and examining how they have shaped our world. It’s a decent enough premise, but the titles of the episodes are a bit weedy: this one is called ‘Feelings’ and shows how the art from Renaissance Italy onwards proved that we all had, you know, feelings. It was time to end all this stiff theological lip nonsense, especially with someone like Goya banging the drum and seemingly predicting the horrors of Abu Ghraib.
Another man who once had a fine head of hair was Eric Clapton who you can almost glimpse envying Sir Melvyn’s impressive swathe during their chatty catch-up in The South Bank Show (ITV1, Sun 2 Dec, 11.10pm ••). Twenty years ago, with old Slowhand nearing the end of a long haul with booze and pills, Bragg tried to engage him in discussions about his magisterial celebrity and the link between taking drugs and making art. Whether or not age has softened Mel’s interview technique we can’t say, but he certainly lets him off the hook about his alcohol-fuelled public comments in 1976 which seemed to promote the Enoch Powell School of Harmony Fostering. Clapton couldn’t be a racist: some of his best friends were black blues legends.
Who can say where Sporty, Scary, Posh, Baby and Ginger will be in another 20 years but with The Spice Girls on Trial (Five, Wed 12 Dec, 9pm •••) we investigate the legacy a decade on from their loud and proud arrival. Was Girl Power a man-made marketing tool or a genuine statement of intent for a new generation of ballsy women? Were the Spicers to blame for the rise in female bulimia and binge drinking or are they simply a product of their era? Such weighty questions are yours to ponder as a live phone-in will record the nation’s verdict. It’s not on the BBC or ITV, so we might just be able to rely on the results.