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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone