ALL clergy scrutinise royal nuptials for one reason above all: to identify which elements of the ceremony we will have to spend the next few years trying to dissuade brides-to-be (it is rarely the grooms) from seeking to replicate on their own Big Day.
In The Royal Wedding: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (BBC1, Saturday) there was one overwhelmingly positive relief: they chose the Common Worship rather than the sub-1928 version of the sacrament hitherto beloved by most of those who think that a church wedding is all about tradition, and are affronted by our suggestion that it might possibly be all about God. This significant advance makes the more problematic details (festooning the church with foliage, accompanying the signing of the registers with a succession of soupy transcriptions of romantic orchestral pieces when you have a splendid choir sitting idly by) fade into insignificance.
The five-hour programme veered uneasily between uncritical celebration of what it depicted, and far more interesting attempts to explore the significance of the event: that is, what is really different in this royal bride from all her predecessors; what her background, profession, and campaigning will bring to the royal family; and what that reveals about Britain today and our place in the world.
The commentary followed the BBC’s conviction that it must demonstrate how completely it has turned its back on the tradition of imparting magisterial information about what is going on, who is taking part, and why they are wearing this or that detail of uniform (in other words, exactly the kind of thing that anyone who chooses to watch such a programme is interested in).
What the camera dwelt on, again and again, was the presence of celebrities. George Clooney and Victoria Beckham were there! These, it seemed to suggest, are today’s royalty. Our hereditary monarchy is respected because it can assemble such a stellar congregation; which is merely a reflection of how social glory has exchanged places.
A range of experts was called on to pontificate on different aspects of the event — focusing, above all, on the wedding dress. No one thought to invite anyone who knew anything about liturgy, or the theology of marriage. For all that, it was glorious and moving.
The scurrilous caricature of our betters, in the spirit of Gillray and Rowlandson, continues to flourish on TV: the saccharine compilation of programmes about bride and groom that clogged up all the channels received their antidote in The Windsors: Royal wedding special (Channel 4, Tuesday of last week).
It is hard to imagine anything ruder than this ensemble piece, lampooning more the stereotypes of “the Firm” than our real princes and princesses; the characters have taken on a life of their own. At its heart lies Harry Enfield’s sublime riff on Prince Charles. I like to think that the supposed subjects find it a great hoot.