Brian Donaldson finds a bunch of documentaries which want to give mums a really bad name
In an age where some people believe that the Royal Family have a secret assassination wing, it’s perhaps not a good idea to have an indiscriminate dig at those guys. So, here goes: does the estate of Princess Margaret have some incriminating photos of senior Channel 4 chiefs? Surely this is the only rational explanation for the rash of dramas and documentaries about the poor gin-sodden deceased soul that have cropped up on the channel over the last couple of years. And just when you thought there was clearly no leg-room for squeezing out more airtime of the old duck, here comes Snowdon and Margaret: Inside a Royal Marriage (Channel 4, Wed 15 Jun, 9pm •••).
The twist, if it can be called such a thing, of this one is that we are privy to the tortured mind and ecstatic libido of one Tony Snowdon, a man who couldn’t stop breaking the rules of relationships and society while snapping the rich and famous of the day. As this documentary, and all others that have come before it, enjoys telling us, the pair were the Charles and Di of 60s royalty, with the media adoring them together and revelling in the scandal when they were apart. Inevitably it all ended terribly, albeit in a modern fashion, with a divorce (the first legal regal separation for four centuries) and while Mags bore the brunt of the public’s wrath at the time, it’s clear that Tone was the bad egg in all of this. Though, equally as predictable, it seems like it was all his negligent mum’s fault.
Not sure exactly who was to blame for the nasty way Charles Manson turned out, but this is not the raison d’être behind Most Evil: Cult Followers (Five, Wed 25 Jun, 11.05pm ••). What this sordid programme seeks to do is present a sliding scale of gore (a monstrometer maybe?) and decide who was the cruellest killer of them all. In this episode, the subjects are those who directed murderous proceedings rather than actually raised a blood-soaked hand in earnest. So, Dr Michael Stone (the Peter Snow of the show) revisits the cases of the Manson Family’s Tate-La Bianca slayings and the Jonestown massacre in which Reverend Jim Jones ordered 918 of his acolytes to lay down their lives with a gobful of arsenic. So, what makes a previously free-thinking person turn into a slavering disciple of Satan? Probably their mum, eh?
When 34-year-old Sass Willis was a kid, her parents separated. Asked to choose who she wanted to live with she arrived at the agonising decision of plumping for dad. Mum responded by saying she would never be forgiven and walked out of her daughter’s life forever. Now a grown woman with a full but unfulfilling life, Willis has been handed the glorious opportunity of hanging out with the Kuna Indians where she finds a walking, talking mannequin doll of a woman whom she soon calls mom.
While you can feel your licence fee being sucked away during the opening credits of Tribal Wives (BBC2, Wed 18 Jun, 9pm •), your soul also disintegrates by the second. This series features six women hanging tough with a different distant tribe for a month and getting accustomed to a brand new way of life, ending the four weeks with an altogether fresher perspective on existence. Quite why we need to see any of this for an hour when there are repeats of The Young Ones lying dormant in the Beeb’s basement is another matter.
Down in the nether regions of posh houses in Victorian days were ladies who sweated and slaved away serving their masters’ needs, feeling lucky if they were ever granted eye contact. Upstairs Downstairs Love (Channel 4, Mon 23 Jun, 9pm •••) shows one scenario when the strict moral codes of 19th century Britain were transgressed when Arthur Munby took a shine to his mucky maid, Hannah Cullwick. This dramatised doc tells a story which is perfectly quaint and romantic, up to the point when Hannah takes time out from licking Arthur’s boots to black up and satisfy one of his more socially unacceptable fetishes. The pair eventually married with Hannah feeling empty at her now leisurely life when there was hard labour to be done in the pantry. Like forming a Black and White Minstrel troupe.