TV preview, Lucy Worsley's Fireworks for a Tudor Queen (BBC4, Wednesday 9pm): The heat is on

A good week for history on TV as Lucy Worsley and Mary Beard bring the past back to life

Sean O'Grady
Friday 02 March 2018 17:09
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Lucy Worsley is back with another engaging take on history
Lucy Worsley is back with another engaging take on history

Nowadays we associate fireworks with visits to the burns unit by over-confident dads, the torture and permanent traumatisation of domestic pets and as lethal weaponry in street gang warfare.

But it hasn’t always been magical like that. As Lucy Worsley reminds us, in Lucy Worsley’s Fireworks for a Tudor Queen, they were once a political and romantic instrument, and she sets about recreating a magnificent display that was once aimed at winning the heart of, and lucrative status as consort to, Queen Elizabeth I.

I think you know how the attempts of Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, at gaining dynastic advantage worked out, but what about the pyrotechnics? And what about Dr Worsley done up like Bess? A no less elaborate display, that, you’ll have to concede. Zoe Laughlin, materials scientist (21st century), makes it all happen for the uncrowned queen of factual programming.

Mary Beard visits Ely Cathedral for ‘Civilisations’

Quite a vintage week for TV history as it happens, and the BBC is to be congratulated again for the three years and countless millions it sunk into the grand Civilisations project, where the quality of the scholarship, photography and (for want of a better word) teaching are as good as the original series by Sir Kenneth Clark from half a century ago – indeed superior, because the documentaries venture far beyond the Western canons, and to great effect.

In its ambition, it is like a cultural version of Blue Planet II. This week’s rediscovery of ancient (3,000-year-old) civilisations in Central America by Mary Beard is one of the most compelling sequences in the series, as she traces centuries of parallel developments in the sculptor’s art.

Harry Hill discovers a new recipe in ‘The Great Celebrity Bake Off for Stand Up to Cancer’

It might sound like a parody of everything wrong with modern culture, but The Great Celebrity Bake Off for Stand Up to Cancer does do what it says on the baking tin: the (new, Channel 4) Bake Off team are joined by professional and unprofessional comics Harry Hill, Martin Kemp, Bill Turnbull and Roisin Conakry to make flans and cakes, obvs, and raise cash for charity. What they’ll make of all this sort of stuff in 3,000 years I can’t guess.

Back to history? Why not? Channel 4 risks (or courts?) national wrath by asking if Sir Winston Churchill, trendy again right now and subject to the full modern celeb treatment, ever played away. Seems he did, though not much and apparently with not much seriousness, which I’m not sure makes the infidelity better or worse on balance. Churchill’s Secret Affair will help you reach a posthumous moral judgement you’re probably in no position to make on the old boy.

I prefer social to salacious history (well, sometimes), and there have been few better series in that vein than Back in Time for Tea. The lovable Ellis family from Bradford have been on a time-travelling adventure in what looks to be upper-working-class/lower-middle-class Northern life from 1918. This week they encounter yuppies, the enterprise allowance scheme, the Happy Mondays, Tony Blair and pyramid tea bags. The day before yesterday really, for some of us.

Big Mandy (Ashley McGuire), plus Meerkats

Back after it’s impressive debut last year is This Country, which enjoys a hybrid existence both on online channel BBC3 and the BBC iPlayer as well as a slot after the late news on BBC1 on Tuesday nights. I suppose what I’m trying to say is you have no excuse not to see it, and, when you’ve got through this first episode in the new series to then binge out on the first series.

I hope you followed all that, and I ought to add that it’s a brilliant mockumentary about chav life in the Cotswolds, and impressively done by siblings Daisy and Charlie Cooper. They’ll go far, unlike Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe, their on-screen creations. Two Doors Down and Mum will also amuse you.

So much for history and comedy, then: tragedy’s probably best represented by Collateral, ITVs representation in the Monday night 9pm drama slot. David Hare’s drama comes to a conclusion, as the cops close in on the people traffickers, and there’s a little bit of political philosophising about the free movement of people – not always a good thing, you see.

Lucy Worsley’s Fireworks for a Tudor Queen (BBC4, Wednesday 9pm); Civilisations (BBC2, Thursday 8pm); The Great Celebrity Bake Off for Stand Up to Cancer (Channel 4, Tuesday 8pm); Churchill’s Secret Affair (Channel 4, Sunday 8pm); Back in Time for Tea (BBC2, Tuesday 8pm); This Country (BBC3, BBC1, Tuesday 10.45pm); Two Doors Down (BBC2, Monday 10pm); Mum (BBC2 Tuesday 10pm); Collateral (ITV, Monday 9pm)

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