TELEVISION / Getting rowdy with Gaudi: Giles Smith hears the history of Barcelona in 50 minutes on tour with Robert Hughes in BBC 1's Omnibus special

Big man, Robert Hughes. And last night, in an Omnibus special (BBC 1), he was big in Barcelona. There he was in the town hall, squeezing out of a lift with all the other workers down around his knees. And there he was again, occupying more than his fair share of the back of a cab. These particular scenes were filmed through the windscreen, apparently by someone lying on the bonnet. It was nice to get a different angle on that old visitor-in-taxi routine, although this may have been a practical decision rather than a creative one, responding to the fact that, with Hughes inside the vehicle, there wasn't enough room for a camera.

Once out of the taxi, Hughes stalked the city, giving us the cultural low-down. Some passages were straight out of his book on the subject. Barcelona may be the Olympic city this year, but for Hughes the interesting thing about the place is that it's interesting. He dressed smart to the bottom of his jacket, but then blew it with the jeans and the plimsols. His script, too, brought together the formal and the hard-wearing, and sounded a lot better than the clothes looked. Take his line on Catalan holiday ceremonies, delivered in parched Australian: 'They skip over the religious bit pretty quickly and get back into a domain of bawdiness, humour and folklore populated by fabulous creatures from the past.' Or the moment when he said, 'this rational, ambitious building lifts your heart.' Sometimes he even managed to sound like he should be writing pop songs ('. . . with the whores and the junkies and the general honky-tonk . . . ').

When you listen to Hughes, the high and the low rub along in a continuum. He looks like the kind of person you might see backed up against the rugby club bar, yet there he is in a church, talking about its 'virile, boney structure' and 'the solemn grove of octagonal columns around the apse'. He talked about Gaudi's 'vertical stone tunnels, carrying their darkness into the sky' and then he walked into some disastrous new bar where design took precedence not only over small matters like comfort and convenience, but even, in a particularly acute twist, over aesthetic pleasure. Most of the furniture looked like it had endured an explosion and survived as chipped remnants of its former self. In the loo, ultra violet lights 'turned your pee a horrible green'. Hughes decided to slap it around with a few plosives: 'Pee Wee's playhouse for Catalan yuppies'.

There was one baffling moment towards the end, when Hughes mingled with the transsexual prostitutes on a dirt strip behind the university - a prop forward among the hookers. Here, he claimed, as men flashed their drug-induced breasts at passing cars, was something essentially Catalan - 'heroic efforts' to remake things using existing materials. 'They are on the cutting edge, so to speak, of Catalan design. It's almost religious, but then design is a sort of religion - mortification of the urban flesh.' People who wish to be imposing often say that something is 'a sort of religion', but the simile too easily assumes that everyone knows what a religion is like. And whatever religion, growing female body-parts and making bad cafes might have in common, it was never going to spring readily to mind. For once you sensed the script doing a deal with television's demands for something snappy and spuriously grand-sounding. But if this was far-fetched, the rest was vivid and to hand. Perhaps the BBC will now re-show The Shock of the New.

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits