Last Night's TV: Blood and Guts: A History of Surgery BBC4
Trawlermen, BBC1

Head masters with esprit de gore

Surgery remains the most gloriously B-movie of medical specialities, a field in which the phrase "cutting-edge science" repudiates the usually bloodless nature of the cliché. Other fields of medicine get more abstract and intangible, more distanced from their crude origins, but, for all the machinery and all the advances, this one still has to get its hands sticky, dabbling around in the gore. In the first part of Blood and Guts: a History of Surgery, Michael Mosley suggested that he would describe the historical transition of surgery from "butchery to brilliance". In fact, he engrossingly demonstrated that separating the two isn't easy when it comes to surgical advance. No feast without cruelty, and no brilliance without butchery, either, you might be inclined to argue.

Take Kathryn, for example, a 28-year-old florist who'd been having problems with epilepsy and now found herself pinned to an operating table while a team of brain surgeons prised the dome of her skull off like the top of a hard-boiled egg. Inside sat something that looked like an unusually gelatinous summer pudding: the outer coating of Kathryn's brain. And while she chattered to the nurse, her surgeon zapped her grey matter to make sure that he didn't remove anything functional when he came to remove the growth that was causing the trouble. There was a time when this procedure would probably have proved fatal. "Just getting in usually exsanguinated the patient," explained a medical historian, a polite way of saying that the incision would power-spray the surgeon with blood. But then an American called Harvey Cushing decided he'd have a crack at improving the mortality rates and worked out a way to peel people's heads without losing all the juice.

By all accounts, Cushing wasn't really a fun guy at a party, unless you wanted to talk about his collection of brain samples, but then a streak of ghoulish hobbyist enthusiasm connected several of the surgical pioneers encountered here. The most unnerving of them was Dr Walter Freeman, the American doctor who developed the frontal lobotomy, and then peddled it as a mental cure-all. Seeking to speed up the operation, he refined the technique of the transorbital lobotomy, which essentially consisted of hammering an ice-pick in through the eye socket and waggling it around in a hopeful way. This terrifying procedure was even performed on Howard, a 12-year-old boy who'd been acting up with his new stepmother, each stage of the operation recorded in photographs that should have successfully swabbed up that small percentage of the audience that hadn't yet fainted or brought up its supper.

Amazingly, the patient still survived, and, in a genuinely intriguing moment, Mosley took him off to an MRI scanner to see what damage had been done, the first time one of Freeman's many lobotomy patients had ever been investigated in this way. The scan revealed two gaping black holes in Howard's frontal lobes, the last place you'd want to damage if you were hoping to improve someone's self-control. Howard inspected his vandalised brain with an understandably pensive air, the thoughts in his mind somehow successfully skirting the craters left behind by medical hubris.

As if to counterbalance this grisly tale, Mosley kept returning to Kathryn on the operating table, living evidence that surgery could be benign as well as malignant in its effects. Or, rather, that dubious experimentation may lead to indubitable benefits. Jose Delgado, the neuroscientist who'd wired up a fighting bull so that he could switch its aggression on and off at will struck me as being worryingly flamboyant for a scientist, but without his work you probably wouldn't have the achievement the programme concluded with: a Parkinson's patient whose symptoms had been alleviated with a built-in battery pack and deep-brain electrodes. Mosley makes an engaging presenter, and gamely scrambled his own brain signals with a powerful magnet at one point to show how no amount of concentration can overcome electrical interference with the jelly computer we call our brain. But if you're at all squeamish, make sure you've got somewhere soft to land before you switch on.

In Trawlermen, back for a third series of pitching wildly from side to side, John D Buchan, wedged securely into a corner of the Ocean Venture's wheelhouse, explained that he hoped one day to match his father's prowess as a fisherman. The only problem right now was what he called "this Mother Nature carry-oan", a somewhat understated description of a storm that would have had most of us whimpering below decks somewhere, praying for a speedy end. Meanwhile, on the Arcane, Charlie McBride was having an even worse day at work. He's got six months to pay a £400,000 fine for selling fish outside his quota, but within 48 hours he was down another £30,000 after losing a fishing net and having his hydraulic system collapse. If you've been grumbling about the weather recently or worrying about the credit crunch, this series should restore a little perspective.

Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
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.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?