Two Feet in the Grave

Charles Cowling

Eagerly awaited by many in the death industry and its attendant commentators—the croaking classes?—was Richard Wilson’s Two Feet in the Grave on BBC last night.

It marks an encouraging evolution in the media’s handling of death and dying away from fixations with wackiness—way out coffins, seriously outrageous funeral songs—to a considered survey of the development, in an increasingly secular and individualistic society, of new death rituals.

There are strengths—sequences behind the scenes at the crem and the hospital mortuary. There are weaknesses. We visit Jane Austen’s cottage where people are dumping ashes furtively on flowerbeds, but this is not placed in the broader context of ashes scattering. We spend ages at Sheila Dicks’ embalming school without learning just how invasive embalming is, and we spend another age with Glennys Howarth looking at post mortem photos from long ago. This is a custom still awaiting revival (I’m all for it).

But we spend only fleeting moments in a natural burial ground with Ken West. Natural burial is of far greater interest to people than post mortem photography. Environmental arguments against cremation are urgent. This was a serious imbalance.

For all that, it was good to see some of the great and the good. Carl Marlow had his say, and the blessed Paul Sinclair. And there’s no arguing with the programme’s conclusion: talking about death takes away its sting and enhances a love of life.

Yes, it’s worth an hour of your time. Natural burialists will have their hour another day.

Find it here.

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