Last Night's Viewing: Great Continental Railway Journeys, BBC2
Richard E Grant's Hotel Secrets, Sky Atlantic

 

It was only halfway through Great Continental Railway Journeys that I managed to pin down the echo that had been niggling away, like a popcorn husk stuck to the roof of the mouth. I first felt it when Michael Portillo (here extending his British railway journeys franchise across the channel) told us about the Paris flood of 1910 and then solemnly added, "I wonder whether Paris is safe today."

I got another twinge when he explained that he was preparing for a motor tour of the city by eating a croissant, but the breakthrough came as he set off for the Côte d'Azur and added this helpful grace note to an account of his travel plans: "Overnight sleepers are very romantic, though I don't find them easy to sleep on." Suddenly I dislodged the husk. It's Mr Pooter, I realised. Mr Pootillo goes abroad!

He's nowhere near as pompous as Mr Pooter, to be fair, and amiably never stands on his dignity, but there's still something about his manner that recalls George and Weedon Grossmith's brilliant creation. Or at least there is about his manner here, where Portillo has been required to service an itinerary of almost pure cliché. In other programmes he's shown a capacity to detour from the ruts of received opinion. Here he's on rails, and I'm not sure he's got a great deal of choice. So, with a copy of Bradshaw's Guide from 1913 in his hands, he sets off for the south of France to pay homage to that popular fantasy of a Belle Époque that didn't "know that its world would be swept away".

In truth, 1913 was far more complex and anxious than popular history ever allows. Lots of people were convinced that war was inevitable and weren't a bit surprised when it came. But that doesn't fit the template, so it isn't mentioned. Similarly, I'm a bit dubious that Montmartre is still the centre of the Paris art scene, as Portillo implied here, rather than just a ruthless touristic exploiter of its artistic past. But explaining that is more complicated than whacking some accordion music on the soundtrack and interviewing an obliging pavement artist, so that's what we got instead.

The accordion music, incidentally, never seemed to go away – unless it was to briefly make room for Edith Piaf singing "Non, je ne regrette rien". It noodled away as Portillo muscled in on a pétanque game and as he strolled along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. And although there were moments when he himself seemed to be on the point of assaulting cliché rather than merely deploying it, they tended to fizzle out in an oddly Pooterish way: "The word 'scenic' is a cliché often used to describe towns along the Côte d'Azur," he said at one point, "and Antibes is among the most beguiling." It was also, we learned, "A magnet for art-lovers", at which point the battle against cliché appeared to have been given up entirely.

Richard E Grant makes a much livelier travelling companion. As a series, Richard E Grant's Hotel Secrets is pretty close to a television equivalent of one of those Hip Hotel coffee-table books – an opportunity for a bit of vicarious glamour. But Grant's presence, mischievous and vulgar in just the right way (he always asks how much things cost), makes it work.

"That's the nothing room where nothing happens," he said archly, nodding towards a private room after a transvestite bar hostess at the Chateau Marmont explained how bad behaviour had to be a little more discreet in the age of the mobile phone. I was a bit startled by Grant's conclusion, though: "In the big scheme of things," he said, "who cares who's doing what to whom?" Eh? You can adopt this lofty attitude to celebrity gossip, of course. But it's a lot easier if we haven't just heard you eagerly asking a Seventies bad-boy rocker, "So, was it a complete shagathon?"

twitter.com/tds153

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
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.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?