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
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
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.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor