All Change at Longleat review – there’s nothing like watching poshos feuding in their natural habitat
This documentary about the Marquess of Bath’s handover of his £190m estate to his son Ceawlin had a family on a ‘British ranch’ pumping privilege instead of oil
All Change at Longleat
Tuesday 15 September 2015 07.09 BST / http://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2015/sep/15/all-change-at-longleat-tv-review
You can read about mad poshos all you want, and I do – Nancy Mitford novels, Evelyn Waugh, anything with Harold Nicolson – but there’s nothing like seeing them in their natural habitat. And so to All Change at Longleat, BBC1’s new documentary about the gradual handover of the £190m estate by Alexander Thynn, aka Marquess of Bath, aka the one with the wifelets, coloured waistcoats and worse murals, and long one of England’s most irritating eccentrics – to his son Ceawlin.
The pair are on no-speaks, because Ceawlin – pronounced, pleasingly in this tale of a feuding family on what is basically a British ranch pumping privilege instead of oil, “Sue Ellen” – has removed as much of his father’s grotesque artwork as possible from the apartments he has taken over. Lord Bath now lives in the top flat, visited by various wifelets, while Lady Bath spends much of her time in France. I wouldn’t consider that nearly far enough away myself, but the rich are indeed different.
Though this is not mentioned in the programme, according to the papers, Sue Ellen is also on no-speaks with his mother because – he claims, she denies it – she objected to him marrying Emma, the daughter of a Nigerian oil tycoon, and adulterating “the bloodline”. As Sue Ellen has no discernible chin or forehead, I say they should all be grateful for any new DNA they can get. Otherwise, by 2050, Longleat is going to be full of giant noses being wheeled round by staff until they realise they can just tip the family into the lion enclosure and take over the place themselves. Emma herself has the gimlet eye, composure and self-confidence that bodes well for her and Longleat’s survival
There are moments when you almost warm to Sue Ellen. He grew up with his awful father, the wifelets – his mother was already mostly abroad – and, of course, those murals. Was it a happy childhood, he is asked. “Y …aaaah,” he says uncomfortably. “Happy bits … not such happy bits. It was what it was.” When he was very young, he says, he envied his friends, who lived in the village. “Two-up, two-down, ordinary parents?” his questioner suggests. “Yah,” he says, visibly torn between truth and family loyalty. “It would have been a very different life.”
A shame, then, that he has chosen to hike village rents, formerly subsidised by the estate, to commercial levels, forcing many long-time residents and farmers out. This has clearly caused more anguish and hostility than the programme wants, or has been permitted by the family, to acknowledge. The new liaison officer from the Longleat management team, Michael, is sent to a village meeting, after relations with the previous lot broke down. One resident explains that there was a great lack of communication between the two sides. “Mmm,” says Michael, uncommunicatively. “Communication.” Another mentions the need for affordable housing. “Yup,” says Michael, making a note of – you suspect – precisely nothing on his pad. Because the rents have gone up so much that the people working on the estate cannot afford to live there, someone else explains. “Mmm,” says Michael.
Mmm. What is the point of having one’s own village on one’s own essentially self-sufficient estate, if one cannot use it to avoid having to do shitty things to one’s fellow human beings? Is that not the minimum price to be paid for privilege? If we’re still going to have lords with tenants-for-life on their land, if we’re still going to have 70% of the country owned by the 160,000 families who found themselves on the right side of history in 1067 (as we do), then can’t we – at the very least – keep the noblesse oblige element too? Or must the Thynn family and their ilk wax ever fatter?
Sex, feuds, a barmy aristo... how did the Beeb make this so boring? : CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night's TV
By CHRISTOPHER STEVENS FOR THE DAILY MAIL
PUBLISHED: 00:58 GMT, 15 September 2015 / http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-3234669/Sex-feuds-barmy-aristo-did-Beeb-make-boring-CHRISTOPHER-STEVENS-reviews-night-s-TV.html
This ought to be a godsend for any documentary maker. England’s most flamboyant and eccentric aristocrat invites you into his stately home, the backdrop for gargantuan feuds and sexual extravaganzas.
He offers access to the mansion’s most secret corners. His heir co-operates with enthusiasm, even though father and son are not actually talking.
And if this extraordinary upper-class soap opera isn’t enthralling enough, there are lions and hippos outside the window. And Neko, a 53-year-old gorilla, so magnificently disdainful that he deserves a seat in the Lords himself.
We were hauled into a Horningsham parish meeting, where villagers were sounding off and the estates manager was dutifully writing things down in a notebook.
The last ten minutes were spent dragging round Horningsham fete. Even Lord Bath, slumped in a deckchair, looked bored out of his skull.
This was dire stuff. And yet the good material was there, just waiting to be plucked. The documentary started with a look inside Lord Bath’s ‘penthouse’, an annexe at the top of Longleat House where the 83-year-old peer retreats and refuses to emerge when his wife is at home.
He showed off his office, an antique desk onto which several binbags of paper had apparently been emptied. ‘This is the urgent section,’ he explained, indicating a heap of documents under a fruit bowl.
Lord Bath has been on the frostiest of terms with his son ever since the boy and his new bride moved back into Longleat and dismantled one of his famous murals.
It’s hard to blame Ceawlin: the wall paintings are done in oils, an inch thick, and they stink — literally and artistically. Many of them are obscene beyond description, too.
But it’s also hard to blame the Marquess for feeling so outraged. Ceawlin and Emma have replaced the murals with shiny gold wallpaper. If once the rooms looked like a Moroccan drugs den, now they seem to be modelled on an Indian restaurant in Bromley.
With his taste for the psychedelic and surreal, Lord Bath would have enjoyed Britain As Seen On ITV (ITV) which felt like nostalgia on LSD.
Of all the weird snippets discovered in the telly archives, nothing was stranger than the sight of a very young Richard Madeley in bow tie and tuxedo, sashaying down a staircase at a nightclub in Leeds to interview Marc Almond of Soft Cell about the New Romantic fad for lace and mascara on boys.
Compilations like these are dependent on their researchers. An obsession with the bizarre and a twisted sense of humour are essential, and someone here has those qualities in sackfuls.
We saw a Sixties news report about a school for trainee rock ’n’ rollers, run by a trouper from the music halls, and Swedish guitar teacher Ulf, who had his own morning show in the Seventies.
There were singing milkmen, a Wurlitzer organ in a car showroom, and a disco dancing contest with lotharios in gold lamé.
Mostly culled from local news, TV reports like these always did feature eccentrics and oddities. A few decades on, just like Lord Bath, they look even nuttier.