I Never Knew That About Britain, ITV - TV review


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The Independent Culture

The one thing conspicuously absent from Mary Berry Cooks (BBC2) was the word "British" in the title. I didn't miss it much, did you? But try telling that to the three furiously patriotic hosts of I Never Knew That About Britain, ITV's new companion show to the best-selling series of books by Christopher Winn. It is not enough for presenter Paul Martin to go whizzing around the country, unearthing tales of British brilliance, he must do so in a Union Jack-painted car, dressed in an outfit of red, white and blue.

A modicum more dignity was retained by his co-presenters, historian Suzannah Lipscomb, and scientist Steve Mould. They weren't wearing red trousers, at least, but they did still have to drive the Brit-mobile. Lipscomb drove hers to Fishguard in Wales to hear tell of Jemima Nicholas who saw off a French invasion in 1797 with her pitchfork. Mould investigated the development of anaesthetics by barging on to an Edinburgh hospital ward to interview a woman shortly after she'd had an emergency Caesarean section. I'm sure this new mother had signed a release form, but it seemed tactless nonetheless.

The story Mould wanted to tell was that of James Young Simpson and his 19th-century experiments with chloroform. And yes, we did know that about Britain. We learnt all about it in Michael Mosley's far superior Pain, Pus and Poison: the Search for Modern Medicines on BBC4 last year.

I Never Knew That About Britain's insistence that all stories tend towards the glorification of nation was as limiting as the Austin Powers theme music was distracting. There are plenty of little-known stories about this country, of course, but this was too busy adorning the obvious with bunting to uncover anything truly fascinating.