TELEVISION: War Walks / BBC2

There's no need to be doom-laden when it comes to retracing the sodden steps of the British army.
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This is a gale warning for those viewing in the vicinity of War Walks, a new series which trudges around the killing fields in northern France and Belgium. After Hurricane Pyke and Tornado Moore, there are forecasts of another eccentric television presenter breezing in, with a style of delivery that blows you clean over.

Richard Holmes, a military historian from somewhere called "Cranfield University'', is also a graduate cum laude from the more widely recognised "school of Roy Strong''. He comes packaged in the rural livery of cloth cap, clacking brogues and look-at-me moustache. He has a proper understanding of the need to show off when confronted by a camera. At the field of Agincourt, he togged up in full battle-dress, and got very excited about the brutality of medieval weaponry. He did draw the line at kissing the earth as the combatants did before the battle.

War Walks arrives at a moment of vulnerability in our national life. A vague sense of threat emanates once more from across the Channel. The fear of conquest, albeit by monetary rather than military means, is back on the cards. Some inhabitants of this island hanker for the old certainties: Crecy, Trafalgar, when Johnny Foreigner knew his place, and if he didn't, soon found out. It's no coincidence that in a six-part series, the programmes that show our boys giving the enemy a whipping come from the distant past. Only in the 20th century will we get bogged down in attritional, pyrrhic encounters from the two world wars.

We kicked off in 1415, or the year of drinking dangerously. Many of Henry V's men, Holmes recounted with some relish, regarded the Norman tour as a perilous pub crawl. To illustrate what he meant by this, he parked himself at a table replete with long breads, whiffy cheeses and a bottle of red wine luminous in the soft yellow light of a crackling hearth. Henry's dysentery-ridden army could not avail themselves quite so comfortably of the local distractions, but hey, who cares about them? War Walks is practically a holiday programme and it's important to show the presenter having a good time.

As with all television eccentrics, this is Holmes's principal gift. More than his knowledge, his fourth-form enthusiasm bursts onto the screen. "The army was like a huge maggot,'' he advises, "eating its way across the countryside.'' The good time had by Holmes is accentuated by the bad time had by the participants in battle. We had our first quotation from Kenneth Branagh's version of Henry V after about 30 seconds, and waited in vain for a clip from the Olivier wartime film, which was a colourful, propagandist call to arms and, it turns out from War Walks, even more inaccurate than you originally suspected. This is a bright idea, but it is roughly executed. A bit like all those Frenchmen at Agincourt.

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