Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Filled With Wonder

A month into 2010 and there hasn’t been much UK television drama to stimulate me. I’m sure there are folk who would excitedly point me in the direction of Being Human on BBC3 but it just doesn’t do anything for me. The idea of a ghost, vampire and werewolf cohabiting reminded me of a comic strip that appeared, possibly, in either Buster or Whizzer and Chips when I was a nipper, or worse, brought back more recent memories of Van Helsing.

Instead it has been the slew of documentaries that has kept me going, beginning with Dan Snow’s intriguing Empire of the Seas: How the Navy Forged the Modern World and the spectacular Great Rift: Africa's Wild Heart from the BBC Natural History Unit. A historian and accomplished sailor, Snow’s four–part series began with the victory over the Spanish Armada and continued through the centuries to the arrival of the Dreadnought, kicking off an arms race with Germany that culminated in the battle off the Jutland peninsula in 1916 that routed the German navy.

Having little more than a layman’s knowledge of English naval history; knowing the key figures like Nelson, Captain Cook, Drake, and Walter Raleigh – having spent some years of my childhood living in the Devonshire village he grew up in – and numerous conflicts like the defeat of the Armada, the War of Jenkins’ Ear and Cape Trafalgar, Empire of the Seas was a revelation as it expertly joined the dots and filled in the blanks. With the schedules now filled with reality crap and lifestyle cobblers, it’s always refreshing to find a programme with a presenter who knows what they are talking about, rather than simply being a familiar face to help the audience along, and teaches you something.

Starting with the Westcountry freebooters who were gradually turned into a working navy thanks to Samuel Pepys’ administrative skills, the episodes charted the rise and fall and rise of an institution that created Britain’s first credit boom and revolutionised the country as it charted the Antipodes and opened up trade routes with such a degree of mastery that led to Britannia ruling the waves. Through all the victories and defeats, Snow’s infectious enthusiasm keeps the series going. Although I’ve only seen relatively few of his previous onscreen appearances, Snow has already turned into one of those presenters that has you thinking, “Damn, I wish he had been one of our teachers at school!”

If you’re interested, the four hours that comprise Empire of the Seas: How the Navy Forged the Modern World is available on the BBC iPlayer until 7:59pm, Wednesday 17th February. Also available is The Golden Age of Liners from the ninth series of Time Shift, which was repeated on Sunday night on BBC4 as part of a trio of travel documentaries that then took to the air with High Flyers: How Britain Took to the Air, celebrating the golden age of air travel, before rounding off with the utterly beguiling Around the World by Zeppelin.

Entitled Farewell in some territories, the ninety–minute documentary follows the Graf Zeppelin as it circumnavigated the world in August of 1929. Bankrolled by William Randolph Hearst, the three–week–long journey is shown through the eyes of the young English journalist Lady Grace Drummond–Hay who was an employee of the Hearst media empire and the only woman amongst the twenty passengers onboard. Using extracts from her diaries and reports for narrations and made up of archive footage, Around the World by Zeppelin is one of the most astonishing pieces of material I’ve seen in a long while.

Although it turns out that Ditteke Mensink, the documentary's Dutch director, has taken a few liberties with the truth it doesn’t detract from the sheer majesty of the piece. More astonishing is the fact that it only happened just over eighty years ago. Repeated this evening on BBC4, starting at 8:30pm, it really is worth missing Holby City for.


Post a Comment

<< Home