In a quiet way, The Railway: Keeping Britain on Track was about the grinding nature of management. And I don't mean the grind for managers of trying to manage things, but the grind for those beneath them of being managed. So on one hand, you had Steve, with his "vision" of providing the "seamless journey experiences" and his urgent talk of the work everyone needed to do "going forward".
And on the other hand, you had his employee Steve, one of the beleaguered information team who have to bear the brunt of passengers' rage when the seams come unstitched. And I don't suppose Steve Number One is really a villain – even if his can-do ebullience might make you want to push him under a train on a stressful day – but you couldn't help but feel that Steve Number Two would happily settle for a bit less jargon and a bit more action.
Steve Number Two is a mournful chap, explaining the necessity of wearing a clip-on tie with a melancholy air that suggests he has seen human beings at their worst and may never smile again. But the interesting thing about Laura Fairrie's film was that not everybody's spirit had been similarly eroded by the daily friction with the travelling public. Bruce, for example, was still remarkably cheerful: "I haven't met anyone who was really bad," he said, when asked about commuter rage, "but I've met some very nice people in very bad moods."
This more philosophical approach seemed wise. There was more than one instance here of people's capacity to take personal affront when the world doesn't rearrange itself to suit their convenience – late passengers incredulous that trains hadn't waited for them, others disgusted that the system somehow hadn't foreseen that someone would choose to go under a train rather than on it.
If you were waiting for a coherent account of why Britain's rail network seems to struggle you would have waited a long time. Like a lot of these kind of observational documentaries The Railway at times seemed to suffer from ADHD. You'd think you were on the brink of some kind of systemic explanation, but then it would get distracted. "Hey! Look. It's a man with a red balloon!" There's an avidity for characterful oddity that can get it in the way of any larger understanding. But people and characters do come through strongly, most touchingly here the character of Laxman Keshwara, a veteran station manager who reached his retirement during the filming and was very nearly unmanned by the process of leaving the job he loved. Rather sweetly they saw him out with an announcement on the station announcer and a ruck of station employees giving him a goodbye hug. I don't think it's the management he's going to be missing.
The Year Britain Flooded occasionally hinted that it might offer a higher-order analysis of why 2012 was such a terrible year for inundations and downpours but didn't actually deliver either, preferring just to show you lots of mobile-phone footage of water cascading down staircases. I'm as susceptible to this kind of thing as the next person, and there were some genuinely spectacular recordings of flash floods ripping through the streets of British cities.
But you can't help but wonder from time to time about the speed with which people's thoughts turn to YouTube at times of emergency. "Gotta get stuff like this on video," a voice said as a wobbly lens showed you a flooded office. "It'll be a thousand views this." And another woman sounded positively cheerful that local catastrophe was about to liven up her online postings: "So I think this is the end of the world, guys," she said, "but I'll still upload this later." You feel that the only thing that would really dismay them is if the water got into a relay station and they lost their internet connection. Then they'd howl.Reuse content