Last Night's Viewing: Britain's Lost Routes with Griff Rhys Jones, BBC1
The Meat Market: Inside Smithfield, BBC2
Here's a nice idea. Britain's Lost Routes, a four-part series about the historical arteries of the country, following the trail of ancient pathways long ago overgrown by technological progress and changing priorities. As a way of cutting a course across the landscape it has a lot going for it, a point-to-point that touches on topology and culture and regional difference.
An idea is one thing, though, and its execution quite another, and as it appears on screen, Griff Rhys Jones's latest vehicle is a near-perfect example of how to BBC1-ify a programme. The fact that Griff Rhys Jones is the vehicle's driver is point one. Had this series been intended for BBC4, someone else might have been at the wheel, but on BBC1 name recognition is everything. As the full title implies (Britain's Lost Routes with Griff Rhys Jones), even the best idea must have a celebrity to hold its hand, to attract our paparazzi attention spans.
The subject for last night's programme was Queen Elizabeth I's royal progress from Windsor to Bristol in the summer of 1547, a journey of 156 miles that took her nearly a month to cover. She had a fairly strong incentive for going, quite apart from the fact that going on tour got her away from the more nagging aspects of statecraft. The moat at Windsor was also the palace cesspit and in summer it delivered an odorous reminder that the Black Death might be dropping round at any moment for an unannounced visit. At the same time, Elizabeth could reward her loyal nobles with a visit and punish those who had displeased her by being an insufferable but unejectable house guest.
Griff travelled in a Rolls-Royce Phantom V, following a route reconstructed from court calendars and Elizabethan maps, and he started by reconstructing the Queen's baggage train on a disused airfield with the help of local volunteers and their cars. That's very BBC1, too, where the budget will stretch to an aerial shot of what looked like a rolling car-boot sale. Never mind that Griff's simple description of the thing actually delivered a more vivid sense of its scale (it would have taken 20 minutes to pass through the villages and hamlets it encountered). Spectacle is essential. And quite a bit of larking about, too. On his journey, Griff frequently met up with the sort of people who wear trousers with zipped pockets and specialised jerkins, people who know everything about the Elizabethan road system or field layout or the brewing of small beer. But their expertise seemed secondary to the opportunity for him to make a bit of a fool of himself, by lumbering through the steps of a galliard or shooting at a plastic deer.
To be fair, it's virtually impossible to prevent quite a bit of real information leaking into the film in among what's meant to be the sugar coating, and in at least one instance it came from the hands-on experience, when Griff took time out to have a go at falconry. The phrase to be "hoodwinked" and to have someone "under your thumb" are both, it turns out, verbal relics of one of Elizabeth's favourite pastimes, the latter deriving from the falconer's technique of pinning a bird's jesses under his thumb to prevent it flying away. To be fair, too, the idea may be strong enough here to survive its execution.
Also in the "rich seam of history" field was The Meat Market. The second of BBC2's films about London markets focused on Smithfield, where men are men and outsiders are nervous. "They've got knives and chain-mail gloves!" explained Mark, who makes a living as a kind of door-to-door meat delivery service. And they use their fists, as you discovered when one buyer enraged Norman by trying to bargain down his prime mince. A simple "no" would have sufficed, Norman.
ReviewThese heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Jack the Ripper: Scientist who claims to have identified notorious killer has 'made serious DNA error'
- 2 Banksy arrest hoax: Internet duped by fake online report claiming artist's identity has been revealed
- 3 Former East 17 frontman Brian Harvey turns up at Downing Street and 'demands to speak to Prime Minister'
- 4 The inventor of the Facebook 'like' button says he never made a 'dislike' button because he feared the 'unfortunate consequences'
- 5 Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
James Blunt finally admits the truth: 'You're Beautiful' is annoying
Doctor Who, Flatline - review: Clara isn’t half bad as the Time Lord
Downton Abbey review series 5, episode 5: Period drama falls disappointingly flat
Star Wars Episode 7 has almost finished filming
Fury, film review: Brad Pitt is intriguing as unsympathetic war hero
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
Lord Freud: Tory welfare minister apologises after saying disabled people are 'not worth’ the minimum wage
Lord Freud hangs on as MPs of all parties 'call for his head' over disability comments