The Weekend's Viewing: Something for those that miss Fred Dibnah, and Malcolm Tucker and The Thick Of It bid us a blistering farewell
How Britain Worked, Sun, Channel 4 / The Thick of It, Sat, BBC2 / Harry & Paul, Sun, BBC2
Do you miss Fred Dibnah? Feel nostalgic for that distinctive oily-fingered conservatism, impatient with modern technology and newfangled attitudes?
If so, you'll love Guy Martin, who Channel 4 has poached from the BBC to present How Britain Worked, a jaunty series about industrial heritage in which Martin helps out fellow enthusiasts with their restoration projects. Last week, he overhauled a tank engine on the Severn Valley Railway, learning about boiler descaling and stay-rivet testing in the process. This week, he helped to repair a Yorkshire sawmill, before making himself a wooden bicycle. And as before, the mood was one of wistful regret for the simple glories of our grafting past. "That was like when we was the leaders in the world, wunnit?" says Martin of the Victorian industrial boom. "Bar no one, really. We was the boys, wun't we?"
He's very keen on "graft", Guy, so much so that he can sound almost rueful about the development of workers' rights. "We're not talking eight-hour days," he said, filling us in on the past history of Gayle Mill. "None of that business going on. At least 12-hour days." To blunt the edge of this robust attitude, the producers made him watch some footage of child labourers and mutter a few placatory words ("It weren't all good news"), but you could tell his heart wasn't really in it. When he drove a traction engine to a nearby farm to collect the wood for his velocipede, he was soon back to his favourite theme: "You had to graft," he said. "You had to go out grafting all day... it would have been proper graft."
Guy's philosophy seems to be that anything worth saying once is worth saying twice. "Spot on! Spot on!" he roared after he'd helped a wheelwright fit an iron rim to the wooden wheel he'd constructed. "That's not going to fall off in a breeze, is it? That's not coming off, that!" But his genial delight in making and mending is curiously infectious, and not easily dented. He actually laughed as he gave a hands-on demonstration of how Victorian tanners prepared hides to make leather drive-belts, even though this process involved massaging fresh dog shit into the skins. "This is proper Victorian graft this," said Guy happily, as the camera crew steadily backed away from his work bench.
There was a faecal strain to the final episode of The Thick of It too. "So, now I have to step into your shoes, but after you've shat in them," said Ollie, learning that his first task as Malcolm's stand-in was to spin the arrest of his predecessor on charges of perjury. Malcolm didn't think Ollie was going to be able to fill those shoes, though. "You're not even Manchester's top Malcolm Tucker tribute band," he roared before a meltdown that combined blistering invective with genuine melancholy and pain. Glenn got a lot of things off his chest too, in an episode that ended on the implication that, while some cogs had gone, the machine rumbles on regardless. I hope this is not the end.
Harry & Paul returned, combining a few sketches that make you wonder whether the long hours in make-up are justified (I could happily lose Postman Pataweyo and the club gents obsessed with "queers") with a lot more that are masterclasses in comic style. This week included a hilarious sequence mocking the audience participation in Question Time, a lovely British remake of Strangers on a Train, and an excellent variation on "I Saw You Coming", in which the posh bandit set up a stall at a pop festival ("We were at Fleeced last week and we're off to More Money Than Sense next week," said his mark excitedly). It concluded with a Danish makeover of several regular sketches, complete with subtitles, which actually left me breathless. Do yourself a favour and seek it out on iPlayer.
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