The Weekend's Viewing: The World’s Most Dangerous Roads, Sun, BBC2
Engineering Giants: Jumbo Jet Strip-Down, Sun, BBC2
The World's Most Dangerous Roads might be the most quintessential Sunday evening programme ever made.
It ought to feature subtitles warning you to concentrate on your ironing. The format is, essentially, a Top Gear special given a Clarksonectomy. But rather than the three denimistas, here two comics are tasked with driving down a famously tricky route. Last week, Ed Byrne and Andy Parsons took a trip across Siberia in conditions so cold that they were told never to turn off their car engine, lest the Nissan's innards freeze.
Last night, Liza Tarbuck and Sue Perkins parachuted into central Vietnam and were told to make like Dean Moriarty down the Ho Chi Minh trail, across into Laos and back into Vietnam. The dangers in Vietnam mainly consisted of avoiding scooters. Once in Laos though, the route began to live up to the programme's name. It was full of trees marked with red ("and you're dead") markings. These indicated that the immediate area was likely to feature unexploded bombs, dropped by the US Air Force during the Vietnam war.
The secret mission – designed to stop Communist incursions from North Vietnam – is thought to have been the heaviest bombing campaign (per person) in history and, as such, Laos is absolutely riddled with unexploded bombs, which in the words of one disposal expert the women met, "could vaporise you". It's why US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in the country just last Wednesday and why campaign groups want the US to up its $9m annual spend on bomb clearance.
Perky and Tarby's initial giggles soon disappeared when confronted with this. En route to the South China Sea, they visited a temple dedicated to women killed looking for the bombs, met villagers earning 20p for every kilo of scrap metal (often cluster-bomb parts) and went to a road-building project where the area has to be first swept of bombs. "I'm not Ross Kemp," declared Liza, wisely, when offered a tour. It's certainly a way to tighten the concentration when it comes to not nudging the red trees in a 12-point turn, anyway.
And of course it's these stories that make TWMDR interesting. Not that it's boring to watch the pair of them struggle to drive through a rugged Laotian river. But what would make the show infinitely more watchable would be to put – rather than chummy stand-ups – a real couple behind the wheel. Imagine the tension of a family trip to Broadstairs mixed with the peril of a driving through a minefield. TV Gold.
Many of the bombs that still pepper Laos were dropped by Boeing aeroplanes like the B-52, which was responsible for more than 15,000 tons of ordnance being dropped on the region. Presumably, some of the money Boeing made from supplying the USAF was ploughed into the development of the 747, which first took off in 1969. Engineering Giants: Jumbo Jet Strip-Down takes Boeing's famous passenger jet to pieces. Not just out of curiosity, but due to a six-yearly BA maintenance programme that involves engineers taking all 181,000 kilograms of the beast apart to make sure all is tickety-boo. The task takes place in a huge, specially designed hangar in Wales that could only be measured in double-decker buses and football pitches. As the wheels come off, presenters Rob Bell and Tom Wrigglesworth coo at the wonders of the 747 as its bits, including an old bog and the cable and pulley system that controls the landing gear(!) are exposed for engineers to check on.
If Dangerous Roads was a transplanted Top Gear, Engineering Giants is a less captivating, but completely affable non-organic version of Channel 4's Inside Nature's Giants. And frankly, I'll take a dismantled aeroplane toilet over a dismantled elephant's colon any day.
The World's Most Dangerous Roads Sun BBC2 Engineering Giants: Jumbo Jet Strip-Down Sun BBC2
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