Last Night's TV: The Untold Invasion of Britain, Channel 4
Big Meets Bigger, BBC3Gareth Malone Goes to Glyndebourne, BBC2

The Untold Invasion of Britain is a terrific idea. In fact, so is the whole of the Bloody Foreigners series. Each episode looks at a separate point in our history when people from abroad have played a pivotal role. It's a neat way to dispel any little islandism, and an enjoyable learning curve to boot. It's just a shame it has been so hammily done. Simply told, the story would have been interesting enough. Septimius Severus, the Libyan leader of a Roman military division, marches to Rome to seize power from the traitorous Praetorian Guard after their assassination of the incumbent emperor, then decides to expand north of Hadrian's Wall. Once there, he finds a population of surprisingly civilised savages putting up a jolly good fight against the mighty Romans. Well, who could resist that? Severus even had to contend with familial treachery: not only did his son disobey him but – just for good measure – tried to stab him, too. This, surely, is a soap-writer's idea of heaven.

And yet, and yet... Channel 4 appeared determined to ruin it all with cringe-inducing reconstructions and bizarre graphics. Inexplicably, each snippet – which, properly done, could probably have enhanced rather than detracted from the overall result – was wrapped up in a fluff of CGI, slow-motion and sepia. Even the dialogue had reverb on it. It was unclear why: were they hoping to give the impression that Severus was speaking down the ages? That we were catching sight of him through some kind of time-travelling mechanism that left the speed of sound and light lagging behind?

At any rate, it wasn't, suffice to say, the best of effects. The acting wasn't great either, though I very much doubt the cast can be blamed, given the colourless parallel universe that they had been asked to inhabit.

It's a shame, because the bits where we got to focus on the plain old history were great. Historians and archaeologists were queuing up with interesting titbits. We got to see the site of a northerly Roman battle camp – all 170 acres of it – and the South Shields site of an old food-distribution unit. From the looks of things, old Severus brought leagues of Libyan troops, too: you can still see their stone roundhouses. It's remarkable, really, to think of that: Scotland's first African immigrants, almost 1,800 years ago. Hopefully, we'll get another chance to hear about it; this time without all the FX trimmings.

BBC3 has given us something like Big Meets Bigger before. My Big Decision, I think it was called, almost a year ago. It's a weirdly Channel 4 kind of idea: two young women, both overweight, get sent to Mississippi to see what might happen if they expand too much further. Bex and Ann were our two candidates; Bex, who drinks for confidence and desperately wants a boyfriend, and Ann, who likes cheesy pasta and whose mother has diabetes.

Anyway, once they got to Mississippi they met Dolores and her family, who make them look positively emaciated by comparison. Bex and Ann are overweight, yes, but not cripplingly so. They are both still pretty, active and able. Dolores is huge: 38 stone. She cooks huge meals of soul food, plates of pigs' ears and back fat, and goes to her local buffet (where there are more than 100 dishes) several times a week. She hasn't walked as far as her mailbox for years, and can't get dressed unassisted. She has all kind of health problems: diabetes, high blood pressure, chronically sore feet. It was dreadfully sad, especially when the inevitable box of photos came out. Both Bex and Ann had been big since youth; Dolores, on the other hand, piled on the weight later in life. It was a response to grief, she claimed.

Naturally, Bex and Ann claimed it had altered their perspectives on life, and swore to make changes to improve their health. Ann even started jogging, which allowed her to lose 16 pounds. Of course, it was fairly standard stuff; much of the programme smacked of little more than the ubiquitous fat porn that we've been bombarded with recently. There was, however, one redeeming quality: the fact that everyone – Ann, Bex, Dolorers, Dolores's family – we met was absolutely lovely. Really, upliftingly, delightfully lovely. And that, in itself, was a pleasure to watch.

It was never really going to be a disaster, was it? The whole thing was set up as a triumph of opera over adversity. And, sure enough, Gareth Malone Goes to Glyndebourne ended pretty much as expected, which is to say, with applause, kudos and a sentimental sense of success. Malone has done a great job, it has to be said. Plenty of the teenagers had seemed positively tone-deaf on first encounter, not to mention wholly uninterested in the task at hand. And he hadn't, once, strayed from his likeably self-deprecating tough-but-fair persona.

Things couldn't be too straightforward, of course, so just as the kids looked like they might be getting there, Gareth decided to introduce a "mothers' chorus" for an element of will-they-won't-they-pull-it-off appeal. They did, in the event – pull it off, that is – though I do rather wish it had just been the kids on stage and the parents in the audience.

Anyway, it was an excellent series – against all expectations: it had all the chance in the world to be an excruciating case of the middle-classes-giving-the-hoi-polloi-a-lesson-in-culture; but it wasn't. It was great. More please, Gareth.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory