Collecting is an eccentric hobby, and the objects that collectors are drawn to can frequently seem mystifyingly dull: stamps, little tin cars, old coins. Researcher Charlotte Sibtain is a collector of other people’s wedding photos, which, as an incurably nosy person, I can immediately understand. Wedding photos offer a glimpse of a milestone: a very personal commitment made during a public ceremony. Marriage is an open declaration of a bond shared by two people, but the way married partners relate to one another “behind closed doors” often stays between the couple. Wedding photos are postcards from the unmapped territory of other people’s relationships.
In the chatty new three-part series The Wedding Detectives, journalist Cole Moreton joins Sibtain to pick photos from her collection and find out more about the lives of the bride and groom in question. Of course, there is an immediate, awkward juxtaposition in the choice of an audio form for such visual artefacts (both the wedding pictures themselves, and the photos and historical documents inevitably discovered throughout each episode), but the intimacy and atmosphere of radio somehow suits the project, and Sibtain and Moreton gamely and thoughtfully chat through each image in detail. (Still, if you’re listening on BBC Sounds you can also see them for yourself, which I’d recommend.)
The first episode revolves around a 1959 photo of glamorous newlyweds: the groom in slicked-back hair and tails, the bride in a waist-cinching satin dress. Looking into the couple’s family history, Sibtain and Moreton discover affairs, a murder and the story of a great Cornwall estate, visited by Marconi and Einstein, in decline. Later episodes look at the albums of the pioneering film-maker George Sewell – white-haired and grinning boyishly next to his bride Kathleen, younger but taller in a floral Sunday tea dress – and of Brian and Jean Staddon: Brian like an overgrown child in an ill-fitting suit, Jean looking severe in metres of demure lace. Satisfyingly curious, The Wedding Detectives has notes of documentaries like Who Do You Think You Are? or A House Through Time – prying into lives too distant for the exercise to feel uncomfortably voyeuristic.
The Wedding Detectives
BBC Radio 4
This article appears in the 11 Nov 2020 issue of the New Statesman, America after Trump