Television choices: Battling to get the real truth against deceit and duplicity


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The Independent Culture

TV pick of the week: Secret State

Wednesday 10pm Channel 4

The MP Chris Mullin's 1982 novel, A Very British Coup, imagining an establishment backlash against the election of a working-class, left-wing Labour leader (remember them?), was turned into a Bafta-winning Channel 4 drama. It's now re-imagined with Gabriel Byrne as Tom Dawkins, deputy PM when the four-parter begins, and coping with the fallout from an explosion at an American-owned chemical works. Although at this stage Dawkins seems more sincere than radical (perhaps integrity is the new radical), Byrne gives the impression of a man biding his time. Charles Dance lurks in the background, Gina McKee plays a journalist and Mullin has a cameo as a vicar presiding at the PM's funeral. What is the symbolism of that?

The Late Great Eric Sykes

Saturday 8.45pm BBC2

The rest of this evening on BBC2, with a brief respite for QI XL, is dedicated to the much-loved comedy writer and performer who died in July. Eddie Izzard, Russ Abbot and Michael Palin lead the tributes. Plus, there is a 1979 episode of Sykes – his long-running sitcom co-starring Hattie Jacques – at 10.30pm, and a handsome 2001 Arena documentary profile at 10.55pm.

Obama: What Happened to Hope? with Andrew Marr

Sunday 7.30pm BBC2

As America prepares to go to the polls on Tuesday, Andrew Marr looks back at President Barack Obama's term in office. Through informal and candid interviews with some of Obama's White House staff and those who have worked closely with him, Marr assesses how far the presidency has lived up to the huge expectations of four years ago.

Nick Nickleby

Monday 2.15pm BBC1

A flagship daytime drama, this five-part adaptation of Charles Dickens's The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby runs each afternoon this week. Updating the novel from the Victorian boarding school to contemporary care homes, Andrew Simpson plays the eponymous orphan, sent to work in his sinister uncle's flagship old people's home.


Tuesday 10.35pm BBC1

Good to know that even Britain's most successful crime writer, the Rebus creator Ian Rankin, procrastinates, drinking coffee and doing sudoko puzzles before settling down to write. Rankin writes one book a year, and this is his six-month video diary as he bashes out the latest – listening to Tangerine Dream CDs and consulting a green manila folder full of cuttings and jottings.

Great Contintal Railway Journeys

Thursday 9pm BBC2

Armed with a copy of Bradshaw's Continental Railway Guide for 1913, Michael Portillo begins his new series with the most popular route across Belle Epoque France, from London to Monte Carlo, imbibing absinthe in Paris and a spin on the Riviera gaming tables. And by Eurostar he doesn't have to endure a Channel crossing by packet boat.

Attenborough's Ark: Natural World Special

Friday 9pm BBC2

"This is a dodo," says David Attenborough, patting a stuffed model of the extinct bird at the start of a programme in which he nominates 10 endangered creatures for salvation. Eschewing tigers and other obvious headline-grabbers, he selects such rarities as Darwin's frog, Priam's birdwing butterfly and the black lion tamarin.