The programme started with footage of John, Paul, George and Ringo doing "She Loves You" on stage, while Kenneth Branagh explained: "Beatlemania hits the United States. With sex, drugs and rock'n'roll, the Sixties shake American values" - a nice demonstration that this is one series that doesn't fight shy of cliches. All in all, this felt a bit too much like a tour of a Sixties theme park - Kennedy and Camelot, assassinations, civil rights, student riots, Black Panthers and Vietnam. But along with all that, Greer's script slipped in some slightly harder- edged analysis - using a batch of missile and aerospace engineers talking about their comfortable Californian lifestyles, for example, to make a neat link between US prosperity and the booming armaments industry.
Cold War remains a drably orthodox view of history, but it does remind you of the attractions of opting out. In Escape to River Cottage (Sun C4), higgledy-piggledy Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall flees from the town to a country estate, rips up the flower-beds, massacres wildlife and sets up two pigs for a horrible fate. The idea is that HF- W - darned if I'm going to spell out his name every time - spends a year in an idyllic cottage in Dorset, by a river and not far from the sea, where he will try to live "the Good Life", a fantasy which is especially attractive to those of us whose lives are modelled on George and Mildred. HF-W referred to himself as a "downsizer", which I initially thought was a mistake - surely he meant "downshifter", downsizing being a managerial euphemism for sacking people. On the other hand, from the pigs' point of view, he may be absolutely right.
I'm concerned that HF-W may be running a bit of a risk with the pigs. He admitted that his only experience of keeping livestock involved a pair of sticklebacks in a jar, and they lasted a matter of days. With this pair of attractive eight-week-old Gloucester Old Spots, we have all the makings of, at best, a PR disaster, at worst, a Hardyesque tragedy (I'm thinking especially of the muffed pig-sticking in Jude the Obscure). But already HF-W is mortgaging out their choicer body parts in exchange for advice and seeds from a pair of local organic farmers.
He also flirted with tragedy when he went spear-fishing, leaving his glasses behind in his boots, but both he and his friend Gary emerged unscathed, the latter rhapsodised over the joys of his downsized lifestyle.
This is a cunning programme, a cocktail of bucolic idyll shaken up with a splash of cold realism, managing to have a quiet giggle at the expense of escapist urges at the same time as pandering to them. If opting out means giving up television, Escape to River Cottage is a small argument against it.Reuse content