Look, I’m going to die alone, and before that I’m going to be alone, and that’s fine. I’ve got my hobbies. But perhaps this inevitable lonely death is why Don’t Tell the Bride is such an obsession for me.
It’s perfect, and not in an ironic or post-ironic or snarky way. The format has the solemn weight of a ceremony: the central love story between the groom and the best man, the baffling themes (“she loves bacon, so I’m thinking ‘slaughter house chic’”), the dress like a billowing washing line, the hen party in a bowling alley and finally, always always, a happy ending –THE happy ending– “I do.”
Cretins will tell you that show is mean and spiteful, a chance to laugh at an idiot groom as he ruins his fiancée’s special day, but they’re wrong. DTTB has had some near-misses but no jiltings. Even after being thrown out of a plane or dragged behind a tractor, the bride will always put a brave face on it and try to have a good time. Eventually.
Surveying the reception in a Harvester off the M8, the room decorated in “Happy Birthday” balloons and papier-mache animals (“it’s like we’re Noah, and like, Mrs Noah, yeah?”) they always have the same look: “Bless him, he tried.”
Because they do try. The vast majority of grooms are not selfish. They understand the symbolism of the day, and their fumbling is an attempt to rise to the occasion, even if that translates into bouncy castles and hiring Oompa Loompas.
Don’t Tell the Bride is not about ruined weddings, it’s about hope. Every wedding is a demonstration of how our ambitions curve away from our abilities. It’s a show about striving to deserve love and how that’s rarely enough. Every successful “I do” is one person forgiving another for being flawed, for being human.
Thus you might think the move from BBC3 to BBC1 would be welcome. With the switch to the grownup channel and older betrothed couples comes a new focus on the emotion. Episodes now start with about 15 minutes of preamble as we’re introduced to the couple, their kids and the reasons they haven’t been able to make it up the aisle yet. Some are dealing with illness or other issues, and all are unarguably deserving of the wedding of their dreams. In terms of fun and frolics, the grooms have not got any more sensible with age. If anything, they’re even more immature.
And yet, something has changed. Don’t Tell the Bride on BBC1 is not the show I fell in love with.
Part of the reason is pace: the long intro slows down the show badly, leaving less time for planning the wedding. Core elements like ladding out with the best man, or the Ken Loachian hen do, are sidelined or skipped entirely. Also, with the increased age-range comes disapproval. We can forgive youthful mistakes in the BBC3 version, but many of these grooms are approaching middle age. They really should know better.
The attempt to give this lively show more emotional heft has backfired. Not only does it miss the emotion already at the heart of the format, it brings out the worst in both channels. Longtime viewers from BBC3 will find it boring; more mainstream television that doesn’t speak to them. Meanwhile snotty BBC1 viewers will see no reason to abandon their prejudices about ‘yoof’ viewing. But more than that, the timbre has changed.
Don’t Tell the Bride on BBC3 was about young couples embarking on something new together. Don’t Tell the Bride on BBC1 is about confirming what you already know. Most of the couples on BBC1 have already been together for some time; they already have a life together. That’s wonderful, but makes surprising the bride difficult, and failure all the more disappointing. In the post-nuptial interview, most of the newlyweds say something like “I guess that’s the man I married.”
“Yeah,” their face says. “That’s about right.”
It’s a subtle change, but key. The original show was a mad celebration of the essential daftness of marriage, the idea that saying some words would make you different people. Even after laughing for an hour, it left you feeling uplifted.
The new version has more heft, but somehow drains away the energy. “We have grown out of childish delusions,” the show seems to say, “and you are watching television on your own, eating hummus.”
Every episode still ends with a wedding, but for DTTB, BBC 1 is the loneliest number.
Don’t Tell the Bride concludes tonight, 8pm on BBC1. The final series on BBC3 begins Wednesday 5th August 2015, 9pm