Britain's Hidden Hungry, BBC2, Tuesday
The Year the Town Hall Shrank, BBC4, Thursday
Operation Iceberg, BBC2, Tuesday & Thursday

As food banks open at a rate of two a week, councils struggle to make more cuts. Meanwhile, the Arctic's glaciers are melting

It's getting on for two years since the coalition's brutal budget cuts, and the BBC seems to be taking stock. It was a bumper week for austerity Britain misery on the box, and two documentaries showed a desperate scrabble for survival, both within the public services and on an individual level.

"Hunger is back," boomed the voiceover on Britain's Hidden Hungry. We met various people who had resorted to a food bank, run by a Christian charity, when the cupboards were, quite literally, bare. The Hope Centre in Coventry is one of 300 food banks around the country; they're opening at a rate of two a week, as rising numbers struggle to make ends meet.

The programme felt like it could have been called Britain's Broken Benefits System. Everyone seemed bewildered by their sudden poverty, and everyone seemed even more bewildered by the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of the benefits system. A 21-year-old student was apparently advised to have a baby to get money out of it; a mum of five was in a debt spiral after the halving of her housing benefit when she took a part-time job in McDonald's; another mum found the cost of child care meant she's better off not getting a job and just signing on.

They could have made the whole programme about Charlotte, the student. Having grown up in care, she was at college as well being an indefatigable volunteer and fundraiser for the Hope Centre – which she's often had to rely on herself. She's bright, sharp, remarkably resilient; she ticks herself off for being "self-pitying" when she's anything but. And her fragile little laugh, when brushing off how she only eats once a day, so her appetite stays suppressed, is gut-wrenching – though obviously not as gut-wrenching as the feeling of waking up hungry.

"There but for grace of God" is the phrase that springs to mind. The one that really, really doesn't is: "We're all in this together …" David Cameron's claim is heard echoing hollowly during the introduction to The Year the Town Hall Shrank, while yet another bewildered Briton, a pensioner in a cuts-threatened care home, asks plaintively: "Who's to blame?"

You suspect it's a question on the minds of many in Stoke-on-Trent, where the council was told to make £36m savings after the December 2010 budget. That's a lot of frontline services at risk, and this first programme of three reveals the embittered battles over what gets shut and what gets saved.

Between interviews with teary campaigners, squirming politicians and barnstorming speeches at high- drama council meetings, the documentary takes a surprisingly arty tone. It appears to be shot as if it's the Seventies, with a gritty grey lens and a soul soundtrack, over shots of kids on bikes and old factories and ladies getting their hair set. Presumably, this is to suggest we're rapidly pedalling backwards.

If all that left you chilled, Operation Iceberg warmed the heart, despite its sub-zero subject. Over two programmes, a team of scientists got up close and personal with Arctic icebergs, and their zeal was infectious. "I knew it was going to be big, but this is massive!" enthuses one. That might sound banal, but it's a reasonable response – even the numbers are boggling: 200 million tons of ice crashed into the sea off a glacier, itself made of 4,000 billion tons of ice. The film captured this monumental glory, vast heaving mountains of frozen water hoving into view, spectacularly. It also introduced the correct term for such a break-off: megaberg. Megaberg! It's brilliant, like a nature documentary version of Transformers.

Unfortunately, the narrator seems to think he's in a trailer for a blockbuster action movie, too. While the scientists are a jolly lot, chucklingly keen to abseil down glacier cracks or teeter on 100-metre-high lumps of slippery ice or come face to face with potentially peckish polar bears ("It's polar bear tastic!" explains presenter Chris Packham), the programme makers obviously decided happy researchers weren't high-stakes enough. There's a lot of dramatic, doomy music added, and a voiceover about what an utter nightmare the whole thing is.

Which is unnecessary. We can see these are scary things; what's remarkable is not how terribly perilous it all is, but that these guys are doing it with a grin, because they're so nerdily into their subject. And anyway, when you've got millions of tons of beautiful, almost alien-looking white and blue and green stuff smashing into the ocean … well, that's already quite cool enough.

Arts and Entertainment
Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

books
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
There are no plans to replace R Kelly at the event

music
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>Laura
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain