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TV review: Billy Connolly's Big Send Off

Billy Connolly knows how to ensure you'll be cherished after your death: simply jump on people and lick them all over.

Billy Connolly
Billy Connolly

That was the only logical conclusion to be reached as he strolled through the massive pet cemetery at Colma, California which is the final resting place of thousands of sun-tanned dogs, cats, sealions and goats. The graves creaked beneath stacks of roses and ludicrous sums were spent on glossy black headstones. There was no question these animals were adored, long after death, no matter how odd or small or yappy they were. And some were indeed odd: amidst the floral chaos and marble devotion Billy couldn't help noticing the sombre grave of a Doberman named Eva Braun.

A patchwork of grief, gravitas and dark humour seems to sum up the human attitude to death, and Billy's programme zoomed around the world trying to cram in as much of the funereal weirdness as possible, to see how people feel about death and how they mourn - or celebrate.

He makes it clear that, although British funerals still seem preoccupied with bowed heads, prayer and the blackest of clothes, there are others across the globe marking death with dancing or wailing or voodoo or perhaps the burning of 'hell money' in old oil drums. There was certainly room for some wry laughs and it was clear this wouldn't be a grim programme as it opened with Billy in a gold coffin assuring us that reports of his demise had been greatly exaggerated.

His intention to have a funny look at death was shown by his first stop: the Funeral Directors' Convention in Texas. There was no sombre Victorian decorum here. Instead there were smiling salesmen flogging packets of Bereave-Mints. There was also shampoo for washing the lifeless hair of the dead, and surely it's only a matter of time before Cheryl Cole is posing with a bottle, doing her Geordie-squeak about what it'll do for us girls if it can give the hair of the stiff a lift! You could also buy vacuum cleaners for the particular needs of a funeral home carpet. Mercifully, these needs were not described. I was prepared to chuckle at the American desire for big, bouncy hair, even on one's final pillow, but not at what catches and gathers on an undertaker's carpet.

The issue of money was also examined and Billy toured a palatial Jewish cemetery in America where a slick manager spoke of 'real estate'. It was not uncommon, he said, for the dead to 'upgrade' to a better spot if their family grows richer. For a hefty fee, your family can dig you up and have you planted somewhere posh: near the ornate waterfall, perhaps, or maybe in the marble mausoleum near the famous stiffs. Throughout, the manager spoke of the rich dead being 'disinterred'; there was no mention of 'getting dug up' although this was the distasteful practice he was describing. It is disturbing the grave of your loved one because you want to show off. You've got money to burn these days and have already acquired the house, the car, the sun-dried wife and the obnoxious children, so how else do you keep ahead of the rich set? You disinter! The muddy spade is now the bleak ultimate in conspicuous consumption.

With such talk of useless, gaudy wealth it was a shock to then leave the sunlight of the upwardly mobile stiffs and hear that there were 40,000 pauper burials in Britain. Since the recession hit Scotland, these sad burials where the deceased is laid in an unmarked grave have risen by 40% in Edinburgh and 10% in Glasgow.

Despite its grim touches this programme was a fun way to spend an hour, and would jump from bleak to sad to madly funny in a matter of seconds. My only criticism was that it tried to do too much. Too many topics were touched upon and then immediately dropped as we galloped off to something else. At one point Billy was in New Orleans watching a voodoo ceremony…then nothing happened. This was quite frustrating as it would have been a fascinating subject, but the programme was too keen to rush off and cram more in. Perhaps this reflects our attitude to life - or the attitude we should try and cultivate: get a move on! Hurry up! There's so much more to see and you don't have long!

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