Orwell Prize longlist announced

Books by Andy Beckett, Tristram Hunt and Michela Wrong are all in the running.

The Orwell Prize for political writing has announced this year's longlist. Among those nominated in the blogs category was Laurie Penny, who contributed a piece to Cultural Capital earlier this week -- and below is the books list, with links to the ones we've reviewed.

Beckett, Andy When the Lights Went Out (Faber)
Chikwava, Brian Harare North (Jonathan Cape)
Cohen, Nick Waiting for the Etonians (Fourth Estate)
De Bellaigue, Christopher Rebel Land (Bloomsbury)
Edwards, Ruth Dudley Aftermath (Harvill Secker)
Gappah, Petina Elegy for Easterly (Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Gardner, David Last Chance (I. B. Tauris)
Gillies, Andrea Keeper (Short Books)
Hunt, Tristram The Frock-Coated Communist (Allen Lane)
Kampfner, John Freedom for Sale (Simon & Schuster)
Malik, Kenan From Fatwa to Jihad (Atlantic Books) -- Read Malik on the burning of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses
Maric, Vesna Bluebird: A Memoir (Granta Books)
O'Toole, Fintan Ship of Fools (Faber)
Peel, Michael A Swamp Full of Dollars (I. B. Tauris)
Wheeler, Sara The Magnetic North (Jonathan Cape) -- one of our 2009 Books of the Year
Wilkinson, Richard & Pickett, Kate The Spirit Level (Allen Lane)
Wilson, Ben What Price Liberty? (Faber)
Wrong, Michela It's Our Turn to Eat (Fourth Estate)

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How did Don’t Tell the Bride lose its spark?

Falling out of the love with reality TV’s wedding planning hit.

Steph, 23, from Nottinghamshire, is standing in a drizzly field wearing a wedding dress. Her betrothed, Billy, is running around in a tweed flat cap trying to make some pigs walk in “a continuous parade”. A man from Guinness World Records is watching with a clipboard, shaking his head. Bridesmaids gaze sorrowfully into the middle distance, each in a damp pig onesie.

Thus ends the second wedding in E4’s new series of Don’t Tell the Bride – and the programme’s integrity with it.

When the classic programme, which follows grooms attempting to plan their wedding (punchline: human males doing some organising), began a decade ago on BBC Three, it had the raw spark of unpredictability. For eight years, the show did nothing fancy with the format, and stuck with pretty ordinary couples who had few eccentric aspirations for their wedding day.

This usually resulted in run-of-the-mill, mildly disappointing weddings where the worst thing that happened would be a reception at the nearest motorway pub, or an ill-fitting New Look low heel.

It sounds dull, but anyone who has religiously watched it knows that the more low-key weddings expose what is truly intriguing about this programme: the unconditional commitment – or doomed nature – of a relationship. As one of the show’s superfans told the Radio Times a couple of years ago:

“It’s perfect, and not in an ironic or post-ironic or snarky way. The format has the solemn weight of a ceremony . . . 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.”

It also meant that when there were bombshells, they were stand-out episodes. High drama like Series 4’s notorious Las Vegas wedding almost resulting in a no-show bride. Or heart-warming surprises like the geezer Luke in Series 3 playing Fifa and guzzling a tinny on his wedding morning, who incongruously pulls off a stonking wedding day (complete with special permission from the Catholic Church).

For its eight years on BBC Three, a few wildcard weddings were thrown into the mix of each series. Then the show had a brief affair with BBC One, a flirt with Sky, and is now on its tenth year, 13th series and in a brand new relationship – with the more outrageous E4.

During its journey from BBC Three, the show has been losing its way. Tedious relationship preamble has been used to beef up each episode. Some of the grooms are cruel rather than clueless, or seem more pathetic and vulnerable than naïve. And wackier weddings have become the norm.

The programme has now fully split from its understated roots. Since it kicked off at the end of July, every wedding has been a publicity stunt. The pig farm nuptials are sandwiched between a Costa del Sol-based parasail monstrosity and an Eighties Neighbours-themed ceremony, for example. All facilitated by producers clearly handing the groom and best men karaoke booth-style props (sombreros! Inflatable guitars! Wigs!) to soup up the living room planning process.

Such hamminess doesn’t give us the same fly-on-the-wall flavour of a relationship as the older episodes. But maybe this level of artifice is appropriate. As one groom revealed to enraged fans in The Sun this week, the ceremonies filmed are not actually legally binding. “It makes a bit of a mockery of the process that the bride and groom go through this huge ordeal for a ceremony which isn’t even legal,” he said. Perhaps we should’ve predicted it would all eventually end in divorce – from reality.

Don’t Tell the Bride is on E4 at 9pm

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.