Last Night's Viewing: Joanna Lumley's Greek Odyssey, ITV1
Educating Essex, Channel 4
Joanna Lumley's Greek Odyssey began with a shot of a national treasure and famous symbol of ageless beauty. And there, behind the programme's presenter, you could see the Parthenon as well, the start of Lumley's route around aspects of modern and ancient Greece. "First on the list," she said, "the Acropolis, which surely defines the meaning of the word 'iconic'." Well, actually, Joanna, I think that might be an icon, but never mind, we know what you mean, and, though the Acropolis was a slightly predictable location for the opening sequence of a Greek travelogue, it was soon enlivened by vertigo. Tremblingly ascending the scaffolding to the upper levels of the monument, Lumley recalled a childhood trauma with a high ladder, from which her paralysed fingers had had to be prised by her sister. "Coming up here, frankly, I felt I was doing it for the viewers," she said, clinging nervously to a bit of the metope. "That's you. Because I love you."
It is, for most of us, a requited affection. Partly because she sends herself up at moments like that (she's an easy travelling companion). But also because she isn't embarrassed about coming over all emotional on screen, as she did later when Nana Mouskouri serenaded her and a random group of tourists in the ancient theatre at Epidaurus, in order to test out the acoustics. At one moment, she's mucking about, randomly piping a reply to an ancient Greek woman who was showing off a traditional mountain whistling language (I think Joanna was as sceptical as I was about the degree of articulacy achievable in this language). At the next, she's making an offering to the Greek gods at the Gates of Hades with every appearance of earnest reverence, clearly not worried that we'll conclude she's gone mad. She also wolfed down wild asparagus in an abandoned village, with its sole remaining inhabitant, and visited Delphi, her enthusiasm for the trippy mysteries of the oracle undampened by pouring rain.
If there was a problem with the programme, it's that Greece currently only means one thing to most British viewers, and it isn't taramasalata and souvlaki but sovereign debt. Lumley did occasionally refer to hard times, but mostly the catastrophic state of the country's finances didn't get a mention, except from the sardonic running commentary in your head. Watching a restorer pick away at the Parthenon with dental tools was fascinating, but you couldn't help but wonder whether the funds for such conservation work had been ring-fenced for the future. And Joanna's visit to a Greek night club provoked a lot of mental barracking. Since plate throwing was outlawed because of an unacceptable rise in shrapnel injuries, the tradition has been to scatter flowers, which are sold to customers at around 60 euros per tray. The European taxpayers currently ensuring that the bill isn't served up in drachmas might be interested to note that austerity did not appear to have diminished the floral tribute. "We live for this day," a well-oiled Athenian told Lumley outside the club. "We don't care for tomorrow." "Yes," said the voice in your head, "and look where that got us."
"I know that there's a really successful young person in there," said Educating Essex's Mr Goddard about Luke, one of his more energy-sapping pupils. Luke was doing a first-class job of keeping him hidden, it has to be said, concealed behind layers of teenage rage, insolence and affronted self-regard. How none of the staff had ended up on assault charges I don't know, but, as usual, they were patient, sympathetic and flexible, with the result that Luke – after dropping all the classes he didn't like – left school with seven GCSE's, rather than a criminal record. The series continues to be funny, moving, depressing and uplifting by turns, and last night included the story of Liam and Sky, who clearly hadn't been paying very close attention during the sex education lesson. They got a baby along with their GCSE results and seemed pleased with both.
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