“It is the eye and the heart that are the surest guides”
It seems Heathcotes have a thing for travel guides. I’ve been known to eulogise, and namesake-but-no-relation David Heathcote presents this series taking old travel guides as a starting point for a journey, in this programme the Shell travel guides from the 30s to the 70s.
The idea of Shell touring guides was dreamt up by John Betjeman, as he needed the money from such a project to get married. He hired enthusiastic amateurs, often friends, to write, design, photograph and edit the decidedly anachronistic guides. They were told to give “your view, of a place now” – now being a time when touring moved from train to car, and hidden gems of natural beauty were widely accessible for the first time. This is the dilemma prevalent in the guides – a fear of the car, knowing that the unspoilt experiences could be destroyed just by mentioning them. Heathcote revisits places from two of the guides, and finds some spoilt, notably Padstow, but resigns himself that that’s all part of progress, for better or worse.
After enjoying the repeats of Michael Smith’s Citizen Smith series, he’s been commissioned on another journey round the UK, this time focussing on cars, motoring and driving.
Previous BBC4 seasons on buses, trains, public transport have provided much nostalgia for the typical BBC4 viewer, even sojourns into motorways have lit up the eyes of the Guardianista with bright-eyed 50s infrastructure optimism, but this new thematic strand is about ‘the joy of motoring’. I can’t drive (like Michael Smith), and the only passing interest in cars is Top Gear. Smith reroutes the discussion to more familiar territory:- the growth of cities, the tension between freedom and conformism that cars bring, and the non-places of service stations.
It’s hard to determine quite what this programme is: not quite the tone poems of Keiller, nor the playful but rigorous intellectualism of Meades, maybe radio with pictures. They seem a bit half-formed, and that’s a good thing. Issues and feelings around things like cars are complex, and are dilemmas, with no clear answer. Smith has a trove of poetic one-liners, and his entertaining chats are with people that wouldn’t normally be on TV these days.