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Friday, 18 November 2011

Guest Blog: Why 'Don't Tell The Bride' is proper, Reithian telly


writes Shelagh McKinlay


Image Credit: BBC
“Best sci-fi wedding of the century!” so said Luke, bezzie mate to Charles, groom to bride Lauren, in this week’s episode of the BBC Three hit “Don’t Tell The Bride.” 


The fact that there isn’t much competition in the best sci-fi wedding category mattered not a jot to the lads, who had just pulled off the staging of a wedding in Newcastle’s Discovery Science Museum, with robot waiters, dry ice, a David Bowie look-a-like, and a cake covered in little green men. 


That may sound outlandish, but compared to some other “Don’t Tell the Bride” nuptials it was pretty tame. We’ve had brides jumping out of planes, grooms planning to get married on a roller coaster and an exchange of Haribo jelly sweetie rings. 


I love “Don’t Tell the Bride” (DTTB). If you haven’t seen it, the idea is that a young couple receive twelve thousand quid to pay for their wedding – but on the condition that the groom plans every aspect of the day. The bride has no say at all, not even in that holiest of all holy wedding rituals; the choosing of the shoes. 

On the surface, DTTB appears to be a reasonably genial bit of fluff from the jeopardy school of reality telly. In fact, it's a brilliantly subversive exploration of the emasculation of young men, the complicity of women in their own domestic servitude and the perversion of romantic love into a licence to print money. 


No really, it is. 


Like all acts of genius, the basic premise is deceptively simple. In fact, the central conceit of DTTB is a dazzlingly sadistic paradox. “Look!” it says to the brides; “we will give you this big fat cheque so that you can have your dream wedding! The only catch is, er, you basically have no guarantee of getting your dream wedding!”


In so doing, the programme exposes the tender spot where fantasy meets finance, revealing a procession of brides who, in signing away their interest in their special day, are essentially saying that the money is the dream. 


Some might think this a bit harsh. Perhaps the brides-to-be sign on the dotted line not just for the cash, but as a test of the groom’s love? This is the chance to show the world that her man has a telepathic understanding of her hatred of Lily of the Valley (prompted by the way the smell reminds her of the time that Granny wet herself in the tea tent at the Highland Show.)


If so, she is frankly deluded, particularly when you consider the relationship histories of most DTTB couples. The men in DTTB make George of George and Mildred look like Bluebeard. They can’t (or don’t) cook, clean, wash their own clothes or manage money and can only rarely be trusted to dress themselves. Some do hold down jobs, but mostly they play on the Xbox and leave their dirty underwear on the breakfast bar while the brides bark orders like Mussolini in a maxi dress. 


Rather than tell their husbands-to-be to shape up or ship out, the womenfolk roll their eyes theatrically and continue to control freak their way to a lifetime of nagging, carping and ploughing a lonely furrow of picking dried Special K off the carpet. All because they have bought into the bizarre notion that their partners are oversized toddlers incapable of independent thought. 


Image Credit: BBC
Talking of independent thought, the other fascinating cultural insight gained from watching DTTB is that the brides all dream of the same dream wedding. Strapless A-line dress? Check. Princessy shoes? Check. Hand tied bouquet? Check. Years of exposure to glossy mags and Hollywood weddings have brainwashed an entire generation of young women into thinking the world will end if they don’t get married in a bloody castle. 


And that’s where the premise of DTTB really gets interesting and, ultimately, rather uplifting. The genius of the programme is that, more often than not, it ends on a note of genuine and heartfelt emotion. 


Why? Because the hapless chaps pull triumph from the jaws of disaster and do so by joyously flouting the rules of the perfect wedding. While the brides want “the norm”, the grooms want something different; the brides yearn for faux sophistication, the grooms want to have FUN; the brides aspire to a wedding that will win approval from other women; the grooms want a wedding that is personal and means something to them.
I’m not kidding when I say that “Don’t Tell the Bride” is subtly subversive and challenging. It speaks eloquently of modern love, marriage and the deadening effect of aspirational consumerism. It also makes me cry like a baby at the sight of two young people happy and in love, and if that’s not proper Reithian telly, I don’t know what is. 


Posted by Shelagh McKinlay for the custard tv. Follow Shelagh on Twitter & read her blog!


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