The programmes made for the BBC’s new Style season seem to confirm that for some reason it’s impossible to have interesting TV about fashion. Style on Trial with a sweaty Stuart Maconie and guests like Laurence Llewelyn Bowen looking bewildered in a gloomy studio somehow lacks glamour. And does Lauren Laverne have to present everything? But this colour series from 1957 shows it can be done.
The wobbly titles – “by kind permission of the Marquess of Abergavenny” – might make it seem impossibly quaint at first, and some elements are truly bizarre, like the bloomers hung up like a ghost on a black background and Benny Hill being dressed up in a toga. But it’s “Devised, Written and Spoken by” the fantastically elegant Doris Langley Moore, who actually packs the whole thing full of facts and intelligent opinions, so you have to concentrate to keep up with her points about male facial hair, female back decolletage and other aspects of body shape and dress through the ages. Brilliantly, the BBC have put the whole series in their archive. They’ve also got some great accompanying documents, including a grumbling audience report showing that people in the Fifties didn’t know how lucky they were.
Now please can someone make a decent new programme about fashion: give us a rest from Twiggy and get someone like Diane Pernet in, to tell us something we don’t know.
This is only available for a couple more days but it’s worth it. BBC4 gives us a reminder that you don’t need a big budget to frighten your audience, however jaded by CGI they may be. In this spooky drama by Mark Gatiss there are hardly any special effects, just a clever script and your imagination.
At first this seems just an entertaining throwback to those portmanteau films that stuck a few ghost tales together, added some kind of sinister, squinting narrator and hoped for the best – but the modern story that links everything together here turns out to be properly terrifying.
Can’t say much more without spoiling it – just watch it quick, and don’t answer that knock at the door…
Puffins are brilliant. They live up to their nickname of the clowns of the sea: I think they might even beat toucans and penguins to top comical bird status. It’s impossible to watch them here – bobbing on the waves, zooming about underwater, enjoying a clifftop party – without a smile on your face. That’s really all the reason you need to watch this ten-minute documentary about a puffin colony on Skomer Island off the Pembrokeshire coast – which is just as well, because the “humorous” narration is pretty tiresome. Still, we do learn some vital puffin facts: for instance, their offspring are called pufflings, and they sneak into rabbit warrens because they can’t be bothered to dig their own burrows. Funny and clever.
BBC Four is quietly developing a nice line in doing period adaptations for about £1.50. Here they’ve managed to get the essence of Saki’s sly, subversive short stories with nothing more than stylised colour schemes, drawings of pigs and really terrifying child actors. Not suitable for children – unless you want to turn them into polecat-worshipping aunt-killers, that is.
You’d think after decades of nature programmes they’d have run out of weird creatures to show us, but this episode about Yunnan, a remote forest in southwest China, is full of jaw-dropping moments – from bats the size of bumblebees living in a bamboo stem, to villagers tying feathers to hornets, to the unearthly song of the gibbon. A beautiful beginning as well, with a ghostly, sad-looking monkey sitting in the snow.
This programme about Tolkien and Mervyn Peake tries to set itself up as a battle between the two heavyweights of fantasy, uptight map-making vs moody surrealism, but it’s really interesting when it starts excavating all the pieces that the pair made their imaginary worlds out of – which apparently included the Somme, Worcestershire, ceremonial China and Arundel castle. And clouds. Nice to see Diana Wynne Jones among the talking heads, remembering sitting in Tolkien’s lectures – given very angrily, according to her. Don’t know what Toyah Wilcox is doing here, though.