Last Night's TV: Town with Nicholas Crane/BBC2
The Rattigan Enigma by Benedict Cumberbatch/BBC4

 

There are almost no chains in Ludlow, said Nicholas Crane. There's no McDonald's and no Burger King, no Topshop or Next. I wonder what else it doesn't have. Is there a Starbucks? A Caffè Nero? A Boots? Everywhere has a Boots, surely. I bet it has Hobbs – or if not Hobbs, then at least Whistles or Jigsaw or something similarly ladylike. L K Bennett, maybe. Kate Middleton shops there.

It does have a Tesco, I know that much: a giant great one, the only supermarket in town. It's big and brick and ugly, though not as ugly as it could have been, presumably, since the good people of Ludlow spent a decade haggling over its appearance. Initial plans to build outside the centre were thwarted amid fears that it would draw too many people out, create an alternative hub. And so they built it where the old city walls would have been, out of red brick to ensure a sense of "harmony" with the rest of the town. Even the roof has been carefully thought-through, its curve intended to reflect the rise and fall of the horizon.

I'm not sure any of this actually works. It still looks, after all, like a Tesco, the brickwork less medieval, more naff office block. And the curved roof might mirror the hills, but it also echoes architecture's more tedious attempts to embrace the avant garde: all funny shapes and odd windows. Still, there aren't many places, reflected Crane, that would go to such trouble, which would put up such a David and Goliath struggle. Whether or not it was worth it is a different question – the fact is it says something about the perseverance of Ludlowthians. It's this perseverance, presumably, that has seen this moderately sized town thrive in the modern age of cities. With a population of 10,400 people, it sits more than 40 miles from the nearest motorway or airport. Plonked right in the middle of the Shropshire countryside, the legacy of Norman efforts to keep an eye on the Welsh, it retains a bustling sense of itself, having happened upon the profitable, tourist-attracting cult of Foodyism with its slow-food movement and two – count 'em – Michelin-starred restaurants.

Crane is on fine form in Town with Nicholas Crane. The prospect was a little dubious: a kind of down-sized version of Andrew Marr's Mega-cities, a look, in Crane's words, at "how we learned to be urban". It all sounded a bit geography trip, as the Radio Times put it, the sort of educational broadcast that makes one feel guilty for turning over. In a way, it was. But it was also rather pleasant, a kind of gentle meander through a prettier place. Ludlow looked delightful, with its fortnightly market and its castle and its extravagant medieval church, built to reflect the town's self-image as the well-to-do "Capital of Wales". It still has its weekly livestock market, crammed full of farmers from miles around. And it still has the original town structure, if not the city walls, thanks to the preservation of the medievil burgages. It's terribly genteel, all this, a little too much so, you might speculate, since the almost half the town's population doesn't, in fact, live in the gourmet-boutique-lined avenues but on a 1930s council estate on the outskirts. Wandering around, Crane met a young unemployed man, bright as a button. What did he want to do when he found work? "I'd like to be a chef," came the reply, Ludlowthian through and through.

Speaking of genteel, you couldn't get much more so than The Rattigan Enigma by Benedict Cumberbatch. Both public school boys – Harrow, no less – both housewives' favourites, it's difficult to see how much more niche the BBC could go.

And yet, esoteric though it was, The Rattigan Enigma was a fascinating human drama. Perhaps unsurprisingly given his merits as an actor, Cumberbatch was an exceptionally compelling narrator, and Rattigan's story given every inch the pathos it deserved. Scholarship boy, secretly gay, yearning for recognition. We saw how he rose to prominence on a wave of popular plays – The Winslow Boy, The Deep Blue Sea, The Sleeping Prince – only to be dismissed by critics as writing conservative, middle-brow crowd-pleasers. For all his riches, the reputation sent him into a spiral of depression, and he spent the 1960s abroad, returning only once to receive a knighthood from the Queen. Gratifyingly, the tale got a happy ending – in the form of Cause Célèbre's rave reviews. If only Rattigan – and his critics – could see how much of his work is being performed this year.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
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.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice