Tough at the Top

Mandelson's folly? Or his greatest triumph? The BBC was there to follow the ups and downs of the Dome

In the first episode of BBC2's new documentary series The Dome: Trouble at the Big Top, Peter Mandelson is asked why he became involved with the Millennium Dome in Greenwich. His answer is candid: "Because I was a Minister and was told to. And... I'd be a good fall guy if it all went wrong."

More than two years in the making, this fascinating series shows many occasions when it nearly did all go wrong for Mandelson. Early on in his time as Minister responsible for the Dome, he is filmed canvassing a group of schoolchildren for their thoughts on how to fill the huge exhibition space. "You can tell me your brilliant ideas," he pleads, only half joking, "and how you're going to save my career."

The New Labour anthem may tell us that things can only get better, but in Mandelson's case they didn't. At the end of 1997, Stephen Bayley resigned as a creative advisor to the Dome, saying that "unless there is decisive creative management, it could be crap." The hapless Minister faced jeering headlines about "Mandelson's Folly".

He confides to the cameras that at the time "I felt my own career was slightly shaky. People were looking at me differently... and thinking `Is this man going to survive?"' Of course, he wasn't - but his downfall had nothing to do with the Dome. (BBC cameras were on hand to record the moment, on 21 December 1998, when Mandelson, scaling the Dome, received a doom- laden pager-message about his ill-advised home-loan: "The PM wants a word.")

For all the frissons these moments of potential disaster provide, the documentary also tells a story of potential triumph. When Mandelson first goes inside the Dome, it is already taking shape, and he is exultant: "I feel like getting down and kissing the earth. I'm feeling rather emotional. It's worth all the stress."

By June 1998, the exterior of the Dome is completed on schedule, and Tony Blair is impressed when he surveys the work. Mandelson can barely suppress his delight. "There are too many people in Britain who have forgotten what it is to be great as a country, too many people who have lost their ambition... I think it's pathetic."

Robert Thirkell, executive producer on The Dome, has been, to some extent, won over by Mandelson's vision. He reckons the Dome is so widely slagged off because "the public don't have the conceptual framework to understand it. We're always sceptical of grand ideas. The exhibitions of 1851 and 1951 were reviled in advance, too. The British character hasn't changed since 1851. It's easy to kick any creative endeavour. But I admire the Dome conceptually because it represents the notion of spending money on something more than the material. It's like building a cathedral; it's not just about making cars or hi-fis.

"When I was younger, I remember the feeling that Britain was a has-been country, the sick man of Europe. Now we're a younger, more dynamic, forward- looking country. We're not mired in the Imperial past, thinking how we used to be the biggest and the best. The Dome symbolises that change."

Adam Wishart, the series producer, says that part of the problem with the public perception of the Dome is that "there's nothing to show while you're making it. When James Cameron was making Titanic, everyone assumed it would be a flop because no one had seen the finished product."

"Building the Dome is like producing a TV programme," Thirkell chips in. "While you're working on it, you think `How will these disparate bits ever make a programme?' Then, suddenly, in the last week, everything comes together to create a unified whole."

Thirkell's cameras have captured some hairy moments - for instance, the kerfuffle when it emerges that the pieces of fabric for the roof do not initially fit the frame. He admits that some of the 20,000-odd people working on the pounds 758m project "may mind" about their portrayal in the documentary, but "what they wanted to show was the incredible amount of hard work that went into the Dome."

The filmmakers have certainly achieved that aim. You never know, they might even inspire some people to go and visit the blessed thing.

`The Dome' is on BBC2 at 9.30pm on Thur

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Latest stories from i100
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.

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin