Television preview: Recommended viewing this weekend

Travels with Pevsner Sat 6.15pm BBC2 The Goldring Audit Sat 8pm C4 Performance: Richard II Sat 10.15pm BBC2 Midsomer Murders Sun 8pm ITV The Knowledge Sun 9.20pm BBC

Gerard Gilbert@GerardVGilbert
Sunday 23 October 2011 08:04

Michel Thomas reckons he can teach even the most academically modest pupil a new language in just five days. It may sound like one of those dodgy adverts in which astounded looking punters learn Serbo-Croat in their sleep (or their money back), but Thomas taught French to both Woody Allen and the Monaco-bound Grace Kelly in days - and now charges pounds 10,000 for intensive one-to-one language busting. No wonder he's not too keen to share his methodology. Until now, that is.

In The Knowlege (Sun BBC2), Thomas, a softly- spoken octogenarian of Polish descent, is recorded in action for the first time, teaching a class of disinterested-looking Islington sixth-formers, one of whom of had been advised to give up French because she "had absolutely no aptitude for languages". Thomas starts by exchanging the blackboard and desks for some comfy armchairs and soft lighting ("No one can learn when they are physically uncomfortable," he purrs). By the fifth day, all the pupils are bandying relatively complex French, and speaking in awed terms of Thomas's ability to concentrate and communicate, seemingly by telepathy. Thomas honed his mental powers during the war whilst being tortured by the Gestapo (learning to mentally blank out the pain) and then subsequently working for American counter-intelligence, where he became famous for eliciting, without torture, detailed confessions from droves of top Nazis.

The other must-see of the weekend is Fiona Shaw as Richard II (Sat BBC2), the latest in the current season of Performance. This is Deborah Warner's justly acclaimed Royal National Theatre production of Shakespeare's tragedy. The casting of a woman is no mere gimmick, and Shaw's sympathetic embodiment of "the divine right of kings" gives a real counterweight to Bolingbroke (Richard Bremmer; very impressive) and the plotters. And it neatly circumvents the lazy portrayal of Richard as homosexual - and, therefore, as weak.

Mary Goldring, who apparently can't understand why she intimidates people, takes on the farming industry this week. If there were anything that needed the full chilly force of The Goldring Audit (Sat C4) it is the EU's Common Agricultutal Policy, and the even-handed way it subsidises smallhold olive growers in Greece and massive agri-businesses in Wiltshire. The level of hand-outs to your average grain farmer in southern England is a scandal.

The farmers' answer is, of course, "pay up, or the countryside goes set- aside," which brings me by the skin of my teeth to Travels with Pevsner (Sat BBC2), in which Janet Street-Porter surveys some of the architectural jewels of North Yorkshire - or the North Riding as Nikolaus Pevsner would have had it in his original guide book. Street-Porter has such a flat delivery that I think she ought to double up with Lucinda Lambton as a TV double act. Cockney and plummy, lanky and little, dead-pan and oh-so enthusiastic.

And finally a cosy English whodunnit, Midsomer Murders (Sun ITV) brings back to our screens John Nettles, he of the Jersey copper series, Bergerac. Who killed the elderly orchid collector - the blackmailing spinster, the gold-digging orphan, the cuckolded doctor or the jealous artist? It's only missing Colonel Mustard and a denouement in the drawing room.

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