An hour-long insight into the writing of wills sounds like one of the dullest ways to waste an hour of your life. But actually, watching Sir Gerry Robinson’s Can’t Take It with You (BBC2) is like opening a can of worms so wiggly and slimy it makes for fascinating viewing full of more drama, heartbreak and open-mouth shockers than a whole week of EastEnders.
From week to week, the programme’s subject matters are all incredibly complex. Some childless wives don’t want their step-children to get a penny and would rather leave everything to the cat, whilst others struggle to fairly divide their family business between their contributing and non-contributing children. One can’t help but wonder how married couples, who would presumably have so many shared values and beliefs, manage to come to such a sticking point when it comes to what happens to their money when they die. And more astonishing is that so many of them are unable to trust one another, instead insisting that half of their assets are frozen so that the surviving partner can’t get their grubby mitts on it.
This week though, it’s a case of “Sophie’s Choice”, as two couples have to decide who will become guardians of their children in the event of their untimely deaths. One mother has two children by different fathers but doesn’t want them to be separated if she dies, instead preferring that her new husband raises both her children. The other couple are at loggerheads over which of their parents should raise their three daughters if they both die, struggling over their opposing approaches to raising children.
As usual, it comes down to the two great British taboos: death and money, so when the two combine, it’s no wonder nobody wants to talk about it. The real magic in what Sir Gerry Robinson does is that he manages to get everyone to sit down and thrash it out. Finally getting to the real drives behind the stiff upper-lips and false loyalties is incredibly satisfying, but usually reveals that actually, most people were singing from the same hymn sheet all along. But with the highly emotive issue of guardianship, it’s humbling to see the true love, decency and goodness between families, which remains unconditional no matter how difficult the decision or unwelcome the answer.
But forget all that love and mush – when I die I’m leaving it all to the cat.