Sunday, June 8
Soccer Aid 2014
There's a fascinating and slightly creepy documentary over on Channel 4 tonight, Born In The Wild (8pm), which is ostensibly about the mating rituals and reproductive processes of wild animals, but which often comes across as presenter Mark Evans just hiding in bushes in the dark, enthusiastically spying on big elephants as they get it on. However, if it's fascinating/creepy/messy wildlife action you're after, there will be just as much on display on the pitch for this year's pro-celebrity kickabout, and it's in a good cause, too, with proceeds going to Unicef. As ever, Robbie Williams leads out the England team, this year including True Blood's main vampire, Stephen Moyer. They're up against a fairly barking Rest Of The World squad, captained by returning skipper Martin Sheen, featuring American wildcards Jeremy Renner and Sam Worthington, and boasting a Scottish secret weapon in the combination of Gordon Ramsay, James McAvoy, Kevin Bridges and Martin Compston. Italy's Alessandro Del Piero is also in the team, but for real pantomime drama, it's all eyes on the touchline and manager José Mourinho.
Monday, June 9
Britain's Whale Hunters: The Untold Story
9pm, BBC Four
"They seemed so friendly. And they'd make a noise - when you hit them. They cried, really." Watching the old footage of British whaling boats at work in writer Adam Nicolson's documentary on this vanished national industry is among the most thoroughly depressing experiences I've ever had watching television. Perhaps what's most distressing is that much this archive film isn't really all that old. The fact is, men were still heading out from these isles to stain the seas red as recently as the mid-1960s.
Nicolson interviews many survivors of the trade, old men, still vividly in touch with things they saw and felt half a century ago. Some thrill yet to the adventure; some, like the speaker quoted above, have a haunted look. "It was a brutal way of life," says another. "There's no getting away from it."
We have managed to get away from it, though, and Nicolson's two-part film is important in making us look again at what was once business as usual, how we all but emptied the seas of these leviathans, once common around our coast. The first striking thing is how huge the industry was. Visiting London's Spitalfields, he details how, by the 1800s, the city practically ran on whale produce: whale oil burning in all those flickering lamps and lubricating machines; whale bones in clothes and umbrellas; whale fat in the soap; whale meat in the diet.
Travelling to Scotland's west coast, where most of the surviving ex-whalers hail from, Nicolson explores the region's historical ties with the trade, dating back to the Vikings. The film's most potent section, however, comes when he considers the shift that came in the late 19th century, when innovations from Norway - a new explosive harpoon; a new winch for carcasses - meant whales could be hunted in numbers like never before. By this point, northern populations were already severely depleted, so the industry turned hungrily south, to the Antarctic. The isolated British colony of South Georgia became its capital, with an Edinburgh man establishing the world's biggest whaling station at a stunning bay he named Leith Harbour.
Long abandoned, highly dangerous, Leith Harbour is a forbidden zone today, but Nicolson gains permission to visit. At the end of the earth, visited only by albatrosses, he finds a vast ghost city, built of rust and asbestos, and strewn with enormous, rotting, grotesque machinery whose purpose is obscure, but clearly horrendous. The place is a decaying time capsule, walls still bearing graffiti and 1950s pin-ups.
These are phantasmagoric scenes, like some unsettling sci-fi horror. Joining Nicolson away out there are teams of workers, scientists in white hazard suits, archiving Leith Harbour before it is destroyed. In one unforgettable moment, he sits with them by night among the hulking ruins, and, taking an enormous tank once used for storing whale oil as a ghostly screen, he projects film for them, of the place at its slaughterhouse peak in the 1960s.
These archivists know Leith Harbour's history, but have never seen it as it happened, and, as they watch men hack at all the dead whales, the ground carpeted in gouts of flesh, running red, they are dumbfounded: like archaeologists out on some lost, derelict planet, trying to understand the brutal civilization that once lived there. "Such beautiful animals," one mutters eventually. "And we… man… are doing that. It seems like… A sin."
Tuesday, June 10
9pm, BBC One
It's an exciting week for fans of TV shows with celebrity in the title as, every afternoon, ITV is playing host to Celebrity Jeremy Kyle (2pm), a self-explanatory new daytime series in which The Jyle talks at celebrities who struggle to get on prime-time TV these days, the likes of Michael Barrymore (Monday), Tara Palmer-Tomkinson (today) and, the one Factory Records fans will not want to miss, Shaun Ryder (Friday). This opens up a potentially interesting new area for celebrity shows, and we can only hope that Caring Channel 4 is already sending out the feelers for Celebrity One Born Every Minute, Celebrity 24 Hours In A&E and Celebrity Drunk On Holiday Eating Fried Chicken. In the meanwhile, though, more gentle fare, as a new series of the popular celebrities cooking show kicks off tonight, featuring stimulating favourites like Todd Carty, One Of Them From Trinny And Susannah and Russell Grant, who is in touch with other powers.
Wednesday, June 11
The Unknown Known
9pm, Sky Atlantic
In 2003, the maverick American documentary maker Errol Morris won an Oscar for The Fog Of War, a probing, haunting picture of Robert McNamara, who had been the US defence secretary at the time of the Vietnam War. In this film, a kind of thematic sequel, he sets out to apply the same cool, quizzical treatment to the man who is arguably Robert McNamara's most infamous successor in the job: Donald Rumsfeld, the key architect of the invasion of Iraq, and the author of folksy, logic-twisting double-talk dialogue that suggests Armando Iannucci writing some sinister Abbott And Costello script, such as the famous quote of the title. But while the two films stick to the Morris template the results are markedly different in tone and effect. At 81, Rumsfeld remains spry, slippery and resolutely convinced he was right, even as he ducks, bats away and evades questions. Depending on your standpoint, it's a frustrating film, but still a fascinating one, particularly when Rumsfeld discusses his earlier years in politics, working with Presidents Nixon and Ford.
Thursday, June 12
World Cup Live
On paper at least, Brazil v Croatia might actually make for a game of football, but we've been fooled that way before, people, most notably over and over again four years ago, across what stands as the worst World Cup in living memory. Still, records are there to be broken. The kick off to tonight's opening match isn't actually until 9pm, but, because there has been absolutely nothing said about it on television, at all, anywhere, so far, the coverage starts a whole two hours before the game. Sit back, then, and prepare to be knocked sideways laughing by the lethal wit and padding of ITV's team of pundits, and the sheer, worth-all-the-money essential glory of the opening ceremony, as part of which they're going to bulldoze some people's homes and get people on community service to paint up the park benches, while 600 smiling dancers dance on stilts and spotlights zoom around. Or something along those lines, as is traditional, and necessary.
Friday, June 13
A Play, A Pie And A Pint: Scotland's Theatre Revolution
10pm, BBC Two
In 2004, Oran Mor, the former church turned bar and venue at the top of Glasgow's Byre's Road, offered customers what might have seemed at first like a cute new lunchtime gimmick: for a £10 ticket, you could sit down with a pint and a pie, and watch a 45-minute play, performed there right in among you. One decade on, A Play, A Pie And A Pint is still going strong, and has not only become a local institution, but an important part of the UK theatre scene: averaging 38 productions a year, it showcases more new work for the stage than any other company in the country, with many of its productions going on to be staged around the globe. Glagow's lunchtime play (with lunch included) was the concept of producer David MacLennan, co-founder of such fabled Scottish companies as 7:84 and Wildcat. As his brainchild marks its 10th birthday, this documentary celebrates his vision, its success and influence, with the help of a cast of writers, patrons and performers, including Robbie Coltrane, David Hayman, Liz Lochhead and Bill Paterson.
Saturday, June 14
9pm, BBC Four
Kurt has his diagnosis, and is reeling. His first priority is to keep it hidden from his family and friends. His second priority is a young man called Tommy, who has recently been released from prison, after a five-year sentence for arson. Hated and shunned by almost everyone in his community, he goes to live with his sister at her isolated farm, but even her husband makes it clear he's not welcome. When a new spate of fires begins, it's not long before the finger of suspicion points his way, and a witch-hunt mentality begins to brew. Kurt, though, remains unconvinced, but the progress of his disease is making the investigation increasingly difficult for him, and good intentions begin to go to bad. It's repetitive saying this every week, but every week it's true: Krister Henriksson's spare, but layered and beautifully nuanced performance is just wonderful.