Last night's viewing - Jonathan Meades: the Joy of Essex, BBC4; Locomotion: Dan Snow's History of Railways, BBC2

 

Jonathan Meades: the Joy of Essex began with Aaron Copland's "Buckaroo Holiday" on the soundtrack – an unexpectedly Western accompaniment to an uncherished bit eastern hinterland. Perhaps it was a kind of coded warning. Wedge one hand tight under the saddle and prepare to cling on for as long as you can. Because Meades's programmes are never the plodding mounts you'd pick out at the stable for a nervous first-time rider. In fact, they seem almost perversely bent on throwing their viewers off, vaulting and jinking, kicking-up almost constantly.

They delight in feinting one way then darting the other. What came next, for example, was an invitation to view a string of Essex clichés. "Look," Meades invited, "footballers' cast-offs", "four-by-four with tinted windows", "platoons of reality TV cretins who are barely capable of reading their own newspaper columns". But what you could see on screen wasn't that at all but Essex's other sights – pargeting and ancient brickwork and clapboard fishermen's sheds, the bits of vernacular architecture that are to Meades what daffodils were to Wordsworth.

And you saw Meades himself, of course, pugnaciously square in the frame, scowling of mien and with those trademark Ray-Bans, rebutting even the possibility that we might form a personal relationship with this particular presenter. Brian Cox will look into the camera as if it's you he's talking to you one to one. Meades, exhilaratingly resistant to the routine courtesies of television, won't make eye contact at all. Well, exhilarating to me anyway, though I imagine that there are viewers who prefer a welcome mat and a generously open door. You can guess what Meades thinks of them from his characteristically dismissive remark about the more conservative and traditional designs for Essex's social housing: "Accessibility means nothing more than being comprehensible to morons." So, if you have trouble with the description of Tom Driberg as "the country's foremost spermophage", you know where you can go.

Meades's subject here was Essex's odd connection to social utopianism, the most immediately available escape from London's worst slums offering a natural home for all kinds of improving communities, from the Hadleigh Farm colony that William Booth set up ("where broken men of bad habits might be reformed") to the Bata factory in East Tilbury, and its surrounding estates of Czechoslovakian Modernism.

 It's never entirely safe to assume you know where Meades is headed though, because he'll often slew sideways down a sideroad to inspect something gratifying, or something gratifyingly ugly, as here in a brief digression on the architect A H Mackmurdo, who combined William Morris-like political opinions with an "uncanny gift for designing what looked like the most banal buildings of the day after tomorrow". I'm still not sure exactly where we ended up, since I still can't work out what his very last remark about Essex meant ("It's a voracious sump inhabited by an eternal and mutating Driberg," he said). He threw me in the final seconds, I guess. But it was a wild ride till then.

In Locomotion, Dan Snow pretended to deliver one of his pieces to camera from the top of a moving train, which is much more like the attention-seeking behaviour we're familiar with from presenters. I don't think it could have been for real, though, given the BBC's general aversion to avoidable risk.

 This was a far more predictable journey, partly because Snow offered you an itinerary of station stops at the top of the programme. But the third of his programmes on the history of railways had some appealing side-spurs too, most notably the line running between refrigerated beef and the dominating excellence of South American football. The game was first introduced to the continent by British railway workers servicing "the English octopus", the network of British-built tracks that fed Argentinian wheat and beef out to the sea ports. If only they'd played ping-pong instead.

News

literature

News
Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.

television

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
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.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss