Last Night's TV - Blitz Street, Channel 4; World War II Lost Films, History

Master blaster misses the target

Tony Robinson is a good enlightened liberal, so he probably won't thank me for comparing him with the gruff right-wing populist Jeremy Clarkson, but it has to be said that there is more than a touch of the Clarksons about
Blitz Street, which Robinson presents, and which features a "typical" row of East End terraced houses carefully built on a remote RAF base so that they can be bombed to see what the blasts must have been like during the Blitz. To see, indeed, "the anatomy of these blasts as they've never been seen before".

It must be natural cynicism that makes me recoil every time someone on television tells me portentously that I'm about to see something as it's never been seen before. And I did quite a bit of recoiling during Blitz Street. For all the meticulous scientific and historical research, this is Clarkson-style boys-with-toys television, and it doesn't grab my joystick at all.

Robinson, of course, is very proud of his ersatz – if I might be forgiven for using a German word – London street. It was built just as it would have been between the wars, in the same way, with the same materials. And to destroy it, they've even managed to find the same bombs that were used by the Luftwaffe, the SC50 and the SC500. "The first of our two bombs has just arrived," said Robinson, rather as somebody on Gardeners' World might say "the first of our tulips has opened". It is, he added, "our very own SC50". I could hardly suppress my lack of excitement.

Still, all credit to the Blitz Street team for their painstaking efforts in getting all the conditions exactly right for this small-scale re-creation of the devastating bombing of the East End in 1940. All the conditions except one, that is. They had a camera capable of recording 1,000 frames per second to examine the behaviour of each blast, and a scientist to talk earnestly to Robinson about fireballs and shockwaves, yet they were not allowed to drop their bombs from the air, which seemed a bit like cloning Hitler but leaving out the moustache. I'm no student of kinetics, but even I can see that a bomb dropped out of a plane might have a different impact than one detonated on the ground. The other slight lapse in authenticity, of course, was that there was nobody in these houses when the explosions came. Surely they could have found a few expendable East Enders. Ian Beale and Ricky Butcher come inexorably to mind.

As a return on the money, care and energy invested, the blowing up of Blitz Street yielded very little to make you sit up and say "cor lumme" or even "stone the crows". I liked the fact that a pint of milk on one of the doorsteps survived both the SC50 and SC500, and it was quite interesting when the scientist explained how folk taking shelter under the staircase might have survived, but on the whole the boys-with-toys element was an unfortunate distraction from what could have been a fascinating documentary, with lots of good newsreel footage and some absorbing interviews with people who were there. These included a veteran newspaperman and former colleague of mine, Brian James, who was 10 at the time of the Blitz and remembered overhearing his aunt asking his uncle how she might use his pistol to kill him, her daughter and herself, in the event of the Germans arriving in the wake of their bombs. That anecdote and several others like it did far more for our understanding of the Blitz than Robinson's well-intentioned but essentially silly pyrotechnics. But then I write as someone who loved history at school and hated physics.

Plainly, though, you really can't beat the testimonies of those who were there. The rather mundanely-titled World War II Lost Films is a gem of a series, using recently-discovered colour footage of the conflict over the memoirs, mostly voiced by actors, of 12 old US servicemen and women.

I wouldn't like to speculate on what fraction of the budget of Steven Spielberg's The Pacific it cost to put World War II Lost Films together, but I know which is the more educational, and the more poignant. Last night, we heard from Charles Scheffel, a captain with the 39th infantry regiment in Normandy, who was invalided home after having "my trigger finger" amputated, and in San Antonio, Texas was reunited with his wife after two years apart. It was hard to find a hotel room but eventually a sympathetic stranger gave him a key to a suite, no less. Nine months later to the night, their first child was born.

Less romantically, we also heard from Nolen Marbrey, one of 4,500 marines who landed, via 200 landing craft in less than 20 minutes, on the small Pacific island of Peleliu. They'd been told it would take them three days to capture the island, with its strategically vital airstrip, from the Japanese. In fact, it took them more than 70 days, at a cost of over 10,000 casualties and lifelong memories of hell. Marbrey recalled that, wading through Japanese corpses, "some of the guys collected gold teeth as souvenirs". Unsurprisingly, Spielberg left that detail out of his marines-as-irreproachable-heroes version. Marbrey also talked about the marines' training. "Those war games, they ain't nothing like the real thing," he said. Someone should have told the makers of Blitz Street before they went to all that trouble.

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit