Last night's viewing - The Midwives, BBC2; Networks of Power with Sir Christopher Meyer, Sky Atlantic

 

On the one hand, you have the Olympics opening ceremony, in which NHS nurses are beaming angels of mercy who think it's an absolute lark when the patients bounce on the beds.

On the other hand, you have the NHS, where an expectant mother is quite likely to meet Jill, heading up triage on a busy maternity ward and in no mood to indulge what she sees as self-indulgence: "I know she's in pain," Jill said in weary tones to someone pleading for leeway on the phone, "of that there's no doubt. But she needs to have more pain before she's properly in labour." I don't know who was on the other end of the phone, but I think "she" was Lindsay, who'd turned up wanting a nice quiet maternity suite that Jill wasn't yet inclined to give her. And the gap between stadium health-care worker and this stern, real-world equivalent wasn't as great as it might first appear, I think. It wasn't that Jill didn't care. It was just that she was very experienced and knew she might need the space for a really urgent case.

The Midwives couldn't more conspicuously be an "us too" commission if they'd called it "One Born Every Two Minutes". The fact that Channel 4's series about midwifery has been a steady ratings success obviously hasn't escaped attention elsewhere. But whereas that's filmed with multiple fixed cameras, BBC2's documentary is a more conventional affair and concentrates on the deliverers not the delivered. I might as well confess now that the success of these things is a mystery to me, consisting as they do of a virtually unvarying sequence of women in distress and men looking miserable, until suddenly a tiny, gore-splashed Winston Churchill appears and all is joy and tears. In my own experience, the delivery room was at once the most terrifying and most tedious place I've ever been obliged to spend time and I have no wish to relive the experience by proxy. But I quite understand I may not be representative here.

This first episode did offer a slightly more melancholy take on the experience, with at least two couples who'd lost babies before and were therefore even more on edge about their coming births than you might normally be. And in two cases, there were complications, so that the parents had to endure that most terrifying noise, the sound of doctors conferring under their breath. That, I guess, is the durable attraction of such programmes: the vertiginous contrasts between just another day at work for the midwives and a day that people will remember for the rest of their lives, for good reasons and bad.

In Networks of Power with Sir Christopher Meyer, the former ambassador visited Rome, where he promised to "grapple with the dark machiavellian heart of politics". The thing about dark machiavellian hearts, of course, is that they never let mere television presenters even get within touching distance, so instead Meyer schmoozed with some of the city's power-brokers and came to no very revealing conclusion, apart from the fact that quite a lot of what goes on in that city goes on under the table. I hope he was a bit more forensic and a bit less diplomatic when he was working for Her Majesty.

The head of the Knights of Malta, a chuckling self-satisfied fellow in a quilted jacket, denied that the organisation was wealthy: "There's enough to put bread on the table," he said modestly, without Meyer calling him out on this ludicrous understatement. Then again, he'd only got the interview through the old girl network, after an old schoolfriend of his wife had put a word in for him, so there was a sense that he was as much poacher as gamekeeper here. You'd also have to hope he was less reliant on cliché when filing dispatches back to Whitehall, just for his readers' sake.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
books
Arts and Entertainment
The man with the golden run: Daniel Craig as James Bond in 'Skyfall'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Waving Seal' by Luke Wilkinson was Highly Commended in the Portraits category

photography
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
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
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
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.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering