Oh mummy, please turn it off!

mummifying alan: egypt's last secret (ch4)

I PRIDE myself on having a stomach like a cast-iron cauldron.

I've sat through plenty of gruesome, ghastly and harrowing things on television without flinching too much.

I've seen two documentaries in which men died on screen.

I've watched everything from a camel to a giant squid being dissected, slice by loving slice, on Inside Nature's Giants.

Thanks to Sky 1's commendable ongoing commitment to raising the bar for quality television, I've gone on a journey Inside Britain's Fattest Man.

I've managed to eat chocolate during several episodes of Embarrassing Bodies, which featured things as unappealingly knobbly-looking as what you find on the exotic fruits counter of the better supermarkets.

I've watched a plastic surgery programme in which a woman had the sides of her face sliced off and stretched like a rubber Halloween mask around the back of her skull, as well as a live autopsy.

I've even endured the airy-fairy, nonsensical ramblings of Dana Rosemary Scallon through three presidential election debates without throwing up into my lap.

But even my gag reflex couldn't withstand Mummifying Alan: Egypt's Last Secret.

The programme did have a purpose: namely, to find out how the ancient Egyptians mummified their pharaohs.

Unhelpfully, they didn't leave behind a "How To" manual, so a scientist called Stephen Buckley has been trying for years to replicate their techniques using pigs' feet and, latterly, whole piglets.

Buckley has effectively recreated the climatic conditions of Egypt inside his man-shed, minus the pyramids, of course.

But what he really wanted to mummify was an actual human being.

Enter -- or rather exit -- Alan, a Torquay taxi driver who, having being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, generously offered his body for Buckley and a team of forensic pathologists and embalmers to work on.

Alan, in an interview filmed shortly before his death, was remarkably relaxed about the whole thing.

"People have been leaving their bodies to science for years," he said, adding that he liked a good documentary and would have happily watched this one -- if, that is, he hadn't already been the star of it. His wife June revealed that Alan always loved being the centre of attention and that allowing his body to be mummified was "just the kind of thing he'd do".

The aim here was to end up with the best mummy possible, so Buckley based what he was doing on the work of Egypt's 18th Dynasty, which apparently achieved mummy perfection.

It was a long process that involved, among other things, Alan being basically pickled like a piece of ham for three months.

Before then, however, there was a lot of other stuff to get through, and I'm sorry to say I didn't make it to the end -- at least not without looking away or fast-forwarding through certain parts.

Frankly, it was eerie enough hearing Alan's pre-recorded voice telling us why he was happy to do it while the camera slowly panned across his lifeless body and face, which were already showing the bruise-like effects of decay.

A scientist coldly used the term "marbling", which is what my butcher says when he's selling me a nice piece of steak.

I have to say I lost it completely when the pathologist got to work on Alan's corpse the Egyptian way: by cutting a four-inch hole in his left side and pulling out 20-odd feet of intestines, followed by every major organ except the heart.

Contrary to the popular myth, the Egyptians didn't pull the brain through the nostrils with a hook; they left it alone. But that was a small compensation.

Serious scientific purpose or not, it was still revolting to watch a human body being defiled and then filled with bags of linen.

Maybe some Egyptian secrets are best left secret.

mummifying alan: egypt's last secret HHIII