TELEVISION / Burke's reflections on the revolution in space

A FEW weeks ago I wrote that I could watch a film about the space programme even if it was presented by James Burke, a complacent boast encouraged by the fact that the man in question hadn't disturbed our screens for years. Last night Carlton called my bluff with their latest offering in the Network First series 'Apollo - When the World Held Its Breath', the last and most tangential of the Moon landing anniversary films - presented by James Burke. It was pretty tough going here and there, but I have to say that I made it . . . and how the memories came flooding back. The gift for tendentious argument, the addiction to intellectual melodrama - all there, as infuriating as they were 20 years ago.

'The Apollo programme,' he began, 'was sold as one of the greatest scientific achievements ever. It wasn't . . . millions watching believed it couldn't fail. It did.' Sonorous and arresting, it's true, but almost immediately contradicted by Burke's only saving grace, his irrepressible enthusiasm for technological innovation. Despite the fact that Nasa was dumbfounded by Kennedy's pledge to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade (at the time they hadn't even put one into orbit), despite the pioneering nature of much of the science, they did it. On Apollo 8, Burke pointed out, only five components out of 5 million failed, an astonishing figure for such a complex feat of engineering.

Most of Burke's film, though, was dedicated to Apollo 13, the mission which provided the excuse for all that doomy chatter about failure at the beginning. Apollo 13 was the mission which re-ignited public interest in the space programme, with the possibility that three astronauts might be marooned in space after an explosion in one of their oxygen tanks. It was a gripping tale, aided by some lustrous computer animations and scary statistics (at one point the men had 14 minutes of oxygen left in the command module and were 200,000 miles from home).

But I find Burke so irritating that I can't even allow him perfectly ordinary figures of speech; I'm niggled into pedantry. 'What the crew don't know as the Saturn lifts off at 13.13 local time is that they're flying a time-bomb.' No they're not, idiot, they're passengers in a faulty spacecraft. 'One piece of equipment has a fatal flaw.' No it doesn't, nitwit - nobody died, even if it was a close shave.

BBC 2 appears to have developed a new scheduling principle - the instant and original repeat. Viewers who remember the wonderful film about rugby and apartheid in Christopher Terrill's series Beloved Country may have been puzzled that On the Line chose to return to the subject so soon; they will have been even more startled to find a virtually identical programme (same themes, same contributors, same channel) broadcast on the following night, as part of the Whole Different Ball Game series. Of the two, On the Line was better, crisper and more coherent in its presentation of the facts and more assured in its look.

But 'Voortrekker Ruck', though baggy and sometimes baffling in structure, contained one important scene. To balance the inspirational example of Morne du Plessis, a repentant exSpringbok captain, and Cheeky Watson, who sacrificed his playing career to teach the game to black children, you were offered Uli Schmidt, an obdurate lump of unchippable prejudice. 'I don't believe our blacks are made to play rugby,' he said, 'It's not in their culture.' At which point I offered up a small prayer that, when the time comes, he loses his team place to one of 'his' blacks. That's unlikely to happen, though, until 'their culture' ceases to be shaped by calculated and enforced disadvantage.

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie