News, Culture & Society

DEBORAH ROSS: Dumbed dahn? Nah, it’s a right royal hoot

Danny Dyer’s Right Royal Family

Wednesday, BBC1 


Flirty Dancing

Thursday, Channel 4


As soon as it was announced that Danny Dyer would be making a history programme for the BBC, accusations of ‘dumbing down’ came thick and fast. Orlando Figes, professor of history at Birkbeck College, even referred to it as ‘a new low in dumbing down’, although personally, Orlando, I won’t be satisfied until David Starkey fronts a programme called, say, Just Really Old Things, while Mary Beard hosts Extreme Makeovers: The Roman Way, and Simon Schama demonstrates how people during the Great Plague thought they might be cured by plucking a live chicken and rubbing its bottom over any sores. (They did do this. It’s true. I learned it from Horrible Histories.) 

Ruff and ready: Danny Dyer as an Elizabethan nobleman. ‘I’d rather watch back-to-back episodes of You’ve Been Framed than read Shakespeare,’ he once said

Ruff and ready: Danny Dyer as an Elizabethan nobleman. ‘I’d rather watch back-to-back episodes of You’ve Been Framed than read Shakespeare,’ he once said

The fact is – and it’s actually very simple, Orlando – you can have both. This isn’t to say I wouldn’t watch Simon Schama rubbing himself all over with a plucked chicken’s bottom, because obviously I would, but there is nothing mutually exclusive going on here. A broadcaster can, after all, put out EastEnders and King Lear, even if King Lear is very, very boring. Sometimes I am minded to complain to the BBC about all the ‘clevering up’ they do. Why should we have to put up with it? What is it with you and these iambic pentameters? 

Dyer, who stars as Mick Carter in the aforementioned EastEnders, but who is just as famous for being an all-round geezer, basically, has made his own position clear. ‘I’d rather watch back-to-back episodes of You’ve Been Framed than read Shakespeare,’ he once said. (This is not his best quote by far. There are lists of them online. Look out for the one on his wife buying scented toilet paper.) 

As for Danny Dyer’s Right Royal History, it hasn’t come out of the blue. Instead, it comes on the back of his wonderfully enjoyable Who Do You Think You Are?, first shown in 2016, when he thought his family history would be full of ducking stools and ne’er-do-wells, but instead he discovered he was a direct descendant of Edward III, his 22-times great-grandfather. Bit of a con, maybe, as it is estimated that descendants of King Edward, legitimate or otherwise, are believed ‘to be in excess of four million’, but the show was a joy and it did Danny’s old nut in, right enough. He wept and said he was going to buy a ruff, ‘just to bowl about in it, you know?’ 

Here, in the first of two episodes, he promised ‘a right nutty royal caper’ as he set out to live and breathe his ancestry. ‘I wanna taste it. I wanna smell it. I wanna feel like a royal.’ He is driven past Buckingham Palace. ‘Why ain’t I plotted up there?’ he asked. Four million of us could be asking ourselves that, I suppose, yet it’s more fun to play along. He was given a family tree that went even further back, showing he was related to even more kings, as it would, and set off to Sweden to investigate his 33-times great-grandfather, Rollo, the Viking. ‘I need to get Vikinged  out of my brain,’ he said. He ‘plotted’ in a model Viking village, where he ate fermented shark lard and re-enacted a (rather underwhelming) battle, before heading to Kent to investigate William the Conqueror (30 times great-grandfather), and then it was Paris for Louis IX (26 times). 

OK, you didn’t learn anything you might not take from a child’s history book, but it was hugely entertaining. Danny, it turns out, is keen to learn, self-aware and a most committed crier. He cried when he learned Louis had been canonised as a saint. ‘My love for my 26 times granddad is flowing,’ he wept. I’ve since read that many Britons of European ancestry are descended from Louis IX but no need to dwell on that. Party pooper. 

Flirty Dancing is a dating show mashed up with a dancing show, which is cynical, admittedly, and the title doesn’t inspire much confidence, let’s be honest. But I caught it by chance and it’s charming and lovely and I’m totally hooked. The deal in a nutshell: couples don’t see each other until they wordlessly perform a dance together, having learned their parts separately. They’re not even told each other’s names. Afterwards, they decide if they want to meet up again or not. 

Hosted and choreographed by Ashley Banjo, who believes dance can connect people in ways words can’t, this is swooningly romantic. The couple that danced atop that observatory! Those gay guys dancing through Tate Britain! I had a soppy smile on my face throughout. 

This week, Wing, who can never summon up the courage to chat up women, danced gloriously with Alice, while Zoe and Andy, oh dear. Their routine went heartbreakingly wrong but they still agreed to meet, which was cheering. Back in the day, people often first met each other at dances. Whose grandparents didn’t? So you could say this format is, in fact, sweetly old-fashioned. Perhaps even Orlando Figes will like it. Can’t say for sure, but maybe?






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