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CHRISTOPHER STEVENS on last night’s TV: How Esther and her husband’s love was written in the clouds

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CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: How Esther and her husband’s love was written in the clouds

Esther Rantzen: Living With Grief

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Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby

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The phrase I loathe, which is urged on us constantly by social media, is ‘making memories’. Apparently, we’re supposed to spend all our spare time and money doing just that.

It’s as if we’re being told: ‘Don’t enjoy this lovely moment now, when it’s happening. Store it up for a dose of bittersweet sadness in the future, when it can be a reminder of everything that’s gone.’

Esther Rantzen was skirting around her memories in the heartbreaking documentary Living With Grief (C5), a discussion of the ways bereavement shatters lives.

Dame Esther’s hectic career has never been about making memories. She’s got shelfloads of them on VHS and film reels, all the programmes she made with her late husband, TV producer Desmond Wilcox, and the miles of family footage they shot together.

Esther Rantzen was skirting around her memories in the heartbreaking documentary

Esther Rantzen was skirting around her memories in the heartbreaking documentary

She can hardly bear to watch them. ‘I don’t look back, I’m not interested in my own emotions,’ she declared defensively.

For the sake of the cameras this time, she forced herself to view a recording from a birthday party in the 1990s, when her husband — who died in 2000 — hired a plane to fly a banner over their house, proclaiming his love.

It was a beautiful scene, lit up by the couple’s deep affection for each other as much as the glorious sunshine. Esther managed about a minute before snapping shut the lid of the laptop.

She didn’t want to relive her past. The more wonderful a moment was, the more it burns when the person who shared it has gone. But she hasn’t been able, until now, to clear out those shelves either.

To reclaim her husband’s sprawling office, which filled a barn at her Hampshire home, would feel almost like exorcising him, she said.

Poetry recital of the night:

Boxer Chris Eubank told Piers Morgan on Life Stories (ITV) his chat-up line, when he met his wife, was to spout a poem by Kipling — not the inspiring If, but The Female Of The Species (Is More Deadly Than The Male). Well, it beats Roses Are Red…

Attempts at analysing her own grief stuttered, halted either by flippant remarks or her famously brisk dismissals of anything she perceives as self-indulgence.

Instead, she sat down to interview people who had suffered their own losses, and here she was on firmer territory. As a sensitive yet persistent interviewer, she is peerless.

The rawest story came from Mandy, 61, who was taken to hospital with coronavirus at the same time as Larry, her husband of 40 years. She survived, he didn’t — and restrictions meant she wasn’t even allowed to visit his body in the morgue. All Esther’s subjects had useful insights to offer, eloquently expressed. As she emphasised, there’s no right or wrong way to grieve, but anyone who is mourning a loved one would find slivers of consolation somewhere in this 90-minute programme.

If you’re the sort who does believe in ‘making memories’, the Swinton Estate on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales might be a charming spot to do it.

But you’d better hope your stay is more memorable than presenters Giles Coren and Monica Galetti made it look, in Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby (BBC2). After last week’s astonishing visit to a breathtaking cliffside palace in St Lucia, this was a painfully slow and dull trudge.

Giles and Monica learned to cast a fly-rod on the lawn, and were so absorbed that they managed to do or say nothing interesting whatsoever.

Then Giles went fishing. He was bored, we were bored, it dragged on and on.

At least BBC2’s riverside chums Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer can feel their jobs are safe for now.

Meanwhile, Monica admired the blue paint on the walls of the library. She might as well have watched it dry. It couldn’t have been any less exciting.

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