I can’t believe we haven’t linked to this before. A lovely big documentary series: a fascinating 1992 BBC/WGBH co-production about the history and significance of computers. It’s a five-part series: the kind of thing they call a ‘landmark’ these days. It’s fascinating at least in part because it captures the period up to but not including the arrival of the Internet. Since anyone born after about 1980 has no idea what computers were for before they were all connected together (I can hardly remember myself), this kind of serious consideration of the period must have real historical value. The series was rescued from VHS obscurity and carefully cut up into useful chapters (using Viddler) by blogger and creator of upcoming.org Andy Baio. A public service if ever I’ve heard of one. You can watch the rest of the series here.
“The story you are about to see really took place
…only with less swearing and more nudity.”
I’m being naughty, posting something that’s half way to expiring on iPlayer, but I only got a chance to watch this last night, and it’s a complete corker. So, run! run! to watch it in the next 3 days.
Mary Whitehouse. You wouldn’t think she’d be the most sympathetic central figure in a film; I certainly remember her as an anemone-hatted battle-axe, grumbling about trivialities in the early 80s. Amanda Coe‘s script shows a reasonable woman whose position ossified as she was ignored by the BBC and ridiculed by the new satirical comedy movement growing out of the Establishment club and TW3. There’s some proper private tragedy in there for good measure, too.
BBC Four also put out a supporting documentary about the censorship of entertainment at the BBC, Auntie’s War on Smut which gives a useful bit of historical background to the drama. It serves to highlight how knowledgeable and well made the film is by contextualising the ‘new morality’ of the 60s permissive society.
Having said that, it’s the little details in this one that give it life – it’s crammed with incidental jokes, and blimey, what a cast. As a one-off drama, it’s a very good one. As a biopic, it’s bloody amazing.
(Whilst the writing credit is to Amanda Coe, the film was based on an original idea by Patrick Reams. Credit where credit’s due, etc.)
I can’t really think of anything to say about this one. It’s just a really interesting bit of pop history presented by super-jolly, always-interested Terry Jones (who comes from Colwyn Bay). Also, as far as I can tell, it only went out in Wales, so I’m doing good by spreading the word to foreigners. Here’s what it says on the show’s page at /programmes:
Terry Jones sets out on a series of journeys through Wales following the world’s first road atlas: John Ogilby’s Britannia, published in 1675. On the way to St David’s, Terry discovers that this was never a road at all. The mystery deepens as dark forces behind the making of the map are revealed.
Food. History. Sue Perkins in 1940′s clothing, her legs painted with gravy browning and a neighbourhood dog chasing her down the street. Is there anything about this programme that’s not immediately likeable?
Well perhaps: Giles Coren, after all, veers between tolerable and insufferable depending on how much meat he’s managed to cram into himself. Thankfully, as this episode dealt with the era of rationing, that wasn’t too much.
The premise of this series is simple: Sue and Giles have to live for a week on the diet and in the style of a historical period. They then eat terrible things, and make jokes about them. When I first saw this simple concept in action, back in December’s “Edwardian Supersize Me“, I ended up rewatching it so often that I memorised the recipes for both beef tea and pressed duck, neither of which I ever intend to eat.
There wasn’t anything quite as ghastly in this first episode of a new series, but there was mock crab, grass (of the kind cows eat) and cake made with paraffin. And, as we found out, while your grandparents were making do and mending with this kind of muck, Churchill was puffing away on a Havana, decimating a Stilton and quaffing back the Pol Roger. Giles, trying manfully to match the great war leader bite for bite, threw up after but a single cigar. I expect there to be much more vomiting in the forthcoming episodes.
Wasn’t the world a scary place in 1960? This programme does what we’d all like to do: have a good dig through the BBC’s prodigious archive material. It centers around Panorama clips from 1960, with Richard Dimbleby and Robin Day presenting predictions about what the 60s were going to hold for the world.
There’s a rather irritating use of laptops to display the clips, presumably to highlight how far we’ve come in the last 48 years.
Hello Mr Expert. We’d like you to watch the clips on this laptop screen here.
Um. OK. Won’t I look stupid though?
No, not at all. It will make you look modern.
But it says ‘VAIO’ in huge letters just underneath the screen. Won’t the cameras see it?
Don’t worry about that.
I think this must be the state-of-the-art in contemporary feature making. A layered mix of animation, dramatisation, funky music, clever talking heads, whizzy video techniques and a fair amount of cheeky supposition. It’s all about the sanctification of a middle-ranking medieval bishop called Thomas Cantilupe and it involves the miraculous resurrection of a twice-hanged Welsh terrorist and a ‘trial’ making use of some very up-to-date investigatory methods. This sort of thing might well have Humphrey Jennings spinning in his grave (he is dead isn’t he?) but I’m really totally in favour of this kind of accessible and entertaining TV history. Thinking about it, it’s a bit like a kind of Horrible Histories for grown-ups. Nicely done.
Did you know this? Did you know that Algerian Islamists planned and set out on a 9/11-style attack on Paris in 1994? Did you know that the plane actually made it into French aerospace and onto French soil? Did you know that the terrorists shot and killed three passengers and were subsequently killed themselves when the plane was raided?
This is a terrific documentary which starts out on the classical model with talking heads, library footage, and crackly cockpit recordings and then piles on the drama with Hollywood-grade re-enactments and a tense orchestral score. Peter Taylor, who practically invented the study of terrorism thirty years ago tells this tense tale. The final scene is so like an action movie that it requires a stunt coordinator. Bleak and gripping stuff.
Here’s a long article about the series by Peter Taylor himself.
A bit of a delay on this one, as the iPlayer stream didn’t appear for a good couple of hours after broadcast yesterday.
If you can cope with an hour of Dan Cruickshank’s oooh-gosh-blimey-cripes presenting style – truly, he is what Molesworth would have grown up to be – this second programme in his culture and architecture series is a macabre little gem.
Ruin-bibbing at its best, Dan bounces round the globe looking at the architecture of death – from the temple of Hatshepsut (who, despite being a queen was always shown as a bloke with a beard… you can add your own joke here) to cremation sites on the banks of the Ganges.
The jaw dropping bit is a visit to the Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic. Fourty thousand skeletons, arranged by a mad genius of a woodcarver in to coats of arms, chandeliers and… oh, just watch it for the bit where the bloke hoovers a skull.
As Dan would say, golly! Amazing!
In heated staff meetings here at Watchification HQ, usually over custard creams in Charlie Drake (we’ve named the conference rooms after TV stars of old), we’ve been wondering how to develop the site. We’ve been talking about looking beyond iPlayer for full-length programmes to embed here. It’s tricky because the other mainstream broadcasters haven’t got their embedding thing on yet and YouTube et al are full of clips and trailers that we don’t like much.
Anyway, Russell suggested Google Video as a source of good stuff so I went off to take a look and almost straight away found Reyner Banham‘s brilliant documentary about Los Angeles from 1972. I first saw this programme while studying for an A-level in art history at prestigious North Herts College in prestigious Hitchin in about 1981. Back then the film felt right up-to-date and it was obviously kind of cool and punk to take pleasure in something as trashy and demotic as LA in the days before postmodernism made it, well, compulsory. Banham became a kind of idol. Marvelous loose and quite funky documentary making, especially for a man with such a bushy beard (I particularly like the 8-Track ‘SatNav’ at the beginning).