Last Night's Television - The Ascent of Money, Channel 4; The Story of the Costume Drama, ITV3; Sex, Drugs and Rock'N'Roll: The 60s Revealed, Five

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The Independent Culture

In 1968, the broadcaster Bernard Braden interviewed some of the biggest swingers of the Swinging Sixties, intending to revisit each of his subjects every three years. Perhaps he was influenced by Michael Apted's epic Seven Up project, which had started in 1964, and by focusing on children from all kinds of backgrounds was a more worthwhile social experiment. If Braden's plan had come off, I suspect we would have tired of hearing from Lulu and Cilla Black every three years. Anyway, it didn't, and the original interviews were forgotten about until one of Braden's original production staff dug them out and dusted them off, and on Five last night they were unveiled under the exciting title Sex, Drugs and Rock'n'Roll: the 60s Revealed.

Unfortunately, as so often when television tries hard to evoke the spirit of the Sixties, nobody had very much to contribute about drugs, sex, or even rock'n'roll. And the interviews, which were watched by the interviewees themselves, revealed little except what 40 years of stardom does for the bank accounts of cosmetic surgeons.

In some cases, the nose job and the teeth job had even been accompanied by an accent job, although what was interesting was that the vowels have not been scrubbed up these last four decades, but dressed down. In 1968 Lulu sounded less like little Marie McLaughlin from Glasgow than little Lady Fauntleroy from Benenden, and the modern-day version watched, listened and cringed. Maureen Lipman was similarly horrified to hear how posh she sounded, a Jewish girl from Hull newly arrived in London apparently by way of a Swiss finishing school. Tom Jones, by contrast, might look these days as if his face has been shrink-wrapped on to his head, but at least he talks the same way he always did. Or, more accurately, he always talked the same way he does now.

By and large, the stars looked back on their former selves and felt as though they were watching someone related but not in the same body. Like a niece or a grand-daughter, said Cilla. Like the son I never had, said Davy Jones of the Monkees. Others were scarcely identifiable at all as the same person separated by 40 years, not least the King's Road boutique owner Michael Rainey (a "legendary" Sixties name, according to the narration, although I confess the legend has escaped me), whose floppy-haired 1968 incarnation sported a blank badge on his lapel. Braden asked why it didn't say anything. "It says nothing, because there is really nothing to say," said Rainey. Which sort of summed up the programme.

Another dose of nostalgia was provided byITV3's The Story of the Costume Drama, which advanced the notion that there is a kind of lineage to bustle-and-bodice sagas on television, that The Forsyte Saga begat Poldark, and that Jewel in the Crown sprang from the vigorous loins of Brideshead Revisited. I'm not at all sure about that, but there were enough old clips to keep me happy, plus Anthony Andrews still looking decidedly fanciable to keep my wife happy, and even some clips of last year's I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! winner, Christopher Biggins, playing Nero in I, Claudius to keep my children happy. "Biggins," they yelled, delightedly, although their delight ebbed fairly quickly when a clip popped up fleetingly showing Biggins, as Nero, having sex with his mother, Agrippina. A bushtucker trial too far, if you ask me.

We also saw the famous scene in I, Claudius in which John Hurt as Caligula comes to the door and confronts Claudius (Derek Jacobi) having just cut the foetus of his unborn child out of the sister's stomach and eaten it, which put witchetty grubs right into perspective. According to Jacobi, that disturbing scene was shot at the end of a long day with the crew about to go on to triple-time, so it was left to him to smear the fake blood all over Hurt's face. This was a splendidly prosaic detail to attach to such a seismic TV moment, although one can get a surfeit of such details. For example, we also learnt that it wasn't Colin Firth as Mr Darcy diving into the lake in the scene in Pride and Prejudice that made millions swoon, but a stunt man. Firth wasn't permitted by the production's insurers, in case he caught Weil's disease. The age of chivalry has long since been upstaged by the age of litigation.

And so to the third part of The Ascent of Money, in which Niall Ferguson connected the calamitous collapse of Enron with the Mississippi Bubble of 1719, which triggered the economic collapse of France and paved the way for the French Revolution. Ferguson sometimes strains a little too hard for his metaphors – "when bulls are stampeding most enthusiastically, people are most likely to be taken for the proverbial ride" – but his script assumes an intelligence on the part of the viewer that is highly flattering, even if this viewer doesn't always understand what he's on about.

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