Last Night's Television - Who Do You Think You Are? BBC1; Wine, BBC4

Message in a bottle

On the two or three occasions I have ventured into Berry Bros & Rudd, the posh wine merchants merely a thump of a croquet ball away from St James's Palace, I have always had the vague feeling while talking to the sales staff that I went to entirely the wrong school, which is not, frankly, a feeling that ever comes over me in Threshers.
Wine, a three-part documentary series that began last night, reinforces that elitist image. Berry Bros even produces an annual price list that is still designed to fit into "a gentleman's waistcoat pocket".

Still, we won't hold that against them, and in fact the chairman, Simon Berry, seemed like a decent sort of cove. His forbears got the show on the road as long ago as the 18th century, but family businesses, he insisted, should not be for otherwise unemployable members of the family. That the company still thrives after 308 years suggests that this has been grasped by successive generations of what I suppose might be termed elder Berries.

Not all of them, however, have had to deal with the "first gusts of a chill economic wind," as the rather flowery script put it. Simon Berry has heard it said that wine is a recession-proof indulgence on the basis that people drink to forget when times are bad, just as they drink to celebrate when times are good. Nonetheless, with City bonuses somewhat watered down, it's hard to imagine how many of his customers will be forking out, even as an investment, £35,000 for a case of 2005 Chateau Petrus that won't be ready for drinking for another 20 years. Yet those people still exist, apparently.

The programme focused on some of the Berry Bros suppliers, among them an effete, nervy Scotsman called David Clark, who gave up a career as an engineer in Formula 1 racing to tend Burgundian vines, and has rather marvellously combined his old with his new expertise by developing a kind of electric buggy in which he whizzes though his vineyard. Wine also featured a more orthodox vintner, the splendidly named Jean-Guillaume Prats of the Bordeaux chateau Cos d'Estournel, who also, strangely enough, cited Formula 1. Just as Lewis Hamilton might win the Monaco Grand Prix by half a second as the fruit of massive investment and tireless technical work, he said, so the old chateau, by spending hundreds of thousands of euros on better machinery (concealing, in the words of that flowery script, the "iron fist of innovation in the velvet glove of tradition"), hopes to steal a slight but telling lead over the opposition.

I doubt whether any of this would have engaged for more than five minutes those viewers not greatly interested in wine, but for those of us who are, it was engrossing stuff. I particularly enjoyed a sequence towards the end in which Berry's Bordeaux specialist uncorked a dusty bottle from the company's cellar and invited a table of favoured customers and suppliers to guess the vintage. One or two reckoned 1989. Monsieur Prats got closest, guessing 1928. But even he was 58 years out. It was an 1870 Cos d'Estournel, still in fabulous nick. Not since I was about seven years old watching Dr Who tumbling through time have I so wanted to climb into a television set and taste the experiences of the people on screen.

Speaking of taste, Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant in Padstow remains one of my favourite restaurants on earth, which duly whetted my appetite for Who Do You Think You Are?, in which Stein was the subject. Unlike many subjects of this excellent series, he remained resolutely dry-eyed despite being given more reason than most to blub.

Stein's father, Eric, who had bipolar disorder, committed suicide in the mid-1960s, and the programme looked into the possible reasons for his suicidal tendencies. It explored a family theory that the foundations were laid when as a child during the First World War, with feelings running particularly high after the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, Eric Stein was bullied for having a German name and antecedents. Another possible explanation was that for years he felt as if he'd been denied his vocation, having won a place at Oxford to read medicine, only to be told he couldn't go, and forced into the family chemicals business. To paraphrase Simon Berry, family businesses should not be the destiny of those who would rather find employment elsewhere, and yet they so often are.

All of which brings me to another family business, Trotters Independent Traders. Last week, in my review of the increasingly overwrought murder drama Whitechapel, I suggested that the third victim of the Jack the Ripper-style killer was played by Tessa Peake-Jones, late of Only Fools and Horses. In fact, the actress was Sophie Stanton, whose resemblance to Ms Peake-Jones is such that there was once a GMTV phone-in on that very subject, but as Ms Stanton herself emailed me to say, I should still have checked the cast list. What a plonker!

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
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.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living