Last night's viewing - 56 Up, ITV1; Chatsworth, BBC1

Tom Sutcliffe

If you didn't shed at least one or two tears during 56 Up then you might want to check your pulse. It is, by some stretch, among the most affecting television programmes ever made, even when – as with last night's opening episode – it begins in determinedly upbeat style.

Then again, perhaps this is only true if you've reached the age when checking your pulse is starting to seem like a good idea anyway. Watching last night's film with your life ahead of you – as a 21-year-old, say – you might understandably feel that it isn't really about you. That's one of the pleasures of youth, after all, that at some level you think yourself exempt from the gravity of age. But if you've grown up with these characters over the series' nearly 50-year run you will know all too well how steadily the years can reel you in. As Neil, one of the series' more troubled contributors, put it: "No formal education can prepare you for life. Only life can prepare you for what comes."

It wasn't all melancholy. In fact, the first two updates seemed to offer evidence that your fifties can be a kind of ripening of good fortune. Sue, who was married at 24, beginning to regret it at 28 and divorced by 35, clearly had the sense that she'd passed through her hardest times, when she'd been a single mother. The partner who'd appeared for the first time in 42 Up is still with her and her job, as a co-ordinator at a London university, gives her pleasure every day. Paul, one of the most uncertain contributors as a child (he was first discovered growing up in care), appeared to have reconciled himself to a life that still wasn't without anxiety but which was more complete than you would have dared predict from his earlier appearances.

If there is a problem with the series now, though, it's that the accretion of past history has made it increasingly difficult to get a deeper sense of how these people feel. As seven-year-olds, they appeared to share everything, unaffectedly open about their expectations and dislikes, and there is no earlier self to disappoint or disavow. As the years passed, though, some found the cost of candour so high that they pulled out. After 28 Up, Peter declined to be filmed because his disillusioned remarks about teaching had provoked criticism in the media. He was only back now, he explained, because "I feel a lot happier with myself", and because he wanted to promote his band.

Others questioned just how candid they could ever have been. "It's not for this programme to expose my private feelings," said Neil, always the most touching of those involved because of the gap between his childhood self and the hunched homeless young man he became. Now a lay reader and Lib Dem councillor in a Cumbrian village, he's found a place to live but still doesn't seem entirely settled. There's a thread of bitterness and anger in him still, at least some of which is directed at the fact that strangers like me will assume that they understand the particularity of what he's feeling. I probably don't. But he may have underestimated how common it is to feel a sharp pain when you twist your head to look back – the ache that gives this series its force.

They were doing the spring cleaning in the first of Chatsworth, a new series about the Duke of Devonshire's little place in the country. They have some help, including 20 cleaners, a clutch of textile specialists and 21 gardeners. But then, since members of the public tramp through their house for over half the year, they need it. "Tramp" can be the operative verb. Investigating a malfunctioning cistern in one of the public lavatories, one member of staff discovered the explanation – a fouled pair of underpants that somebody hadn't wanted to take home with them.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

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.

    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture