The Weekend's TV: Ocean Giants, Sun, BBC1
Britain's Hidden Heritage, Sun, BBC1

Hooked on this tale from the deep

I seem to be making a habit of writing about Leviathan.

Last week, I said that an Inside Nature's Giants Special on the sperm whale was one of the best nature documentaries of recent years. Last night, the very different Ocean Giants was also superb. As new hobbies go, whale watching is a treat.

Whereas last week we concentrated on a beached sperm whale on the Kent coast, last night's show had the very different task of finding and following the biggest animals on Earth in their element – the ocean depths. As so often with modern documentaries about the natural world, the focus was split between the beasts of the big blue, and those devoted cameramen who bought us pictures of them in daring raids on their territory.

We met many different whales, the best of which was the extraordinary and mysterious bowhead. These creatures are not the biggest of their order, but in living up to 200 they are the oldest of all mammals. Their longevity is directly related to their size. Bowheads have 50 tonnes of insulating blubber, which enables them to have a lower body temperature than any other whale. The lower your temperature, the longer you live. And because (uniquely among mammals) the bowhead's backbone never fuses, they carry on growing until the moment they die.

Even then, they cannot match the size of blue whales, the biggest species that has ever lived, which the show closed with. I know it's a terribly mundane point, but the thing about size is that it is relative. If you go into the Natural History Museum, you can see the size of a giant whale in real life. On a screen, that is impossible, because the whale's length is compressed to something around 30 inches. It is therefore necessary to provide some sort of relative measure – a human swimming alongside, or a double-decker bus, for instance. I watched this excellent show with my brother, and we both felt there was a failure to convey the sheer size of these beasts because the only thing we had to compare them with was each other.

Against that, some of the underwater photography was stunning, and bravely acquired because a set of marauding males were fighting for the affections of a female. There was the customary (and necessary) update on blue whale numbers – 300,000 two decades ago and 10,000 now, though climbing – and anger about the impact of climate change on their habitat.

This came from the scientists on expedition rather than Stephen Fry, who shares their concern about a hotter planet, and was reliably magnificent as our narrator. What animated Fry was a sense that through perseverance and passion, these mysterious creatures could become familiar.

The conceit of Britain's Hidden Heritage was rather similar, but it didn't work because the heritage isn't hidden. "Hidden" was used for its alliterative quality, not its actual meaning.

Far from being mysterious or concealed from view, many of the great institutions we toured are right before us, if only you make the effort to look. That was the real clarion call of the BBC's latest version of Sunday night patriotism, a kind of bigger version of Antiques Roadshow. Charlie Luxton, Clare Balding, John Sergeant and presenter Paul Martin toured various relics of bygone ages, each making the point that Britain's history is richer and more diverse than many of us imagine.

The focus of the action was Dumfries House in Ayrshire. We started here, left, and returned to it. Martin took us on a tour of the 18th-century Palladian mansion, making the point that it was rare among such places in having retained much of its original furniture. Two cleaners, who would spend several weeks polishing the same brass mantelpiece, conveyed the devotion such history can inspire. And in doing so, they were a prelude to a fawning interview with the benefactor of the house, HRH the Prince of Wales.

Our future king explained that he was inspired to get together some investors, and save the house from private ownership, by the prospect of it being thereby ruined. It is now open to the public, though in need of corporate and wedding bookings if it is to be saved. Doubtless this publicity will help, and a jolly thing too. But Martin and his script-writers should have delved further into its history – as Luxton, Balding and Sergeant did on their respective projects. Instead, here we had only cursory glances at beautiful rooms, rather than rich narrative. This promoted ornamentalism above history, which naturally made the story less compelling.

a.rajan@independent.co.uk / twitter.com/amolrajan

Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
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.

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable