Damien Love gives his verdict on TV Sunday, August 31, - Saturday, September 6.
Sunday, August 31
The Bridge: 50 Years Across The Forth
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7pm, BBC One
The Forth Road Bridge was officially opened by the Queen on September 4, 1964, meaning that this week is a landmark date for the landmark. Made to celebrate the 50th anniversary, this documentary tracks down some of the men who built the thing, who provide hair-raising memories of the experience and the challenges they overcame along the way, and some of the locals on both sides of the span who watched in wonder as it rose up out of the water, changing their lives. There are mixed emotions looking back, as we hear from some who were intimately connected to the long tradition of the ferry service that the bridge effectively wiped out overnight, and some whose homes were sacrificed for the construction. The real draw, however, is the astonishing archive: back in 1958, amateur filmmaker Jim Hendry was given surprising access to the building project, and he and his cine camera were there beside the engineers for the entire eight-year construction, through to the opening day. Never broadcast before, his glowing footage offers a uniquely intimate, richly evocative and incredibly valuable document of a monumental act of creation.
Monday, September 1
Return To Betjemanland
9pm, BBC Four
Tea, biscuits and this, you will find, is just the ticket. Presented by his biographer, AN Wilson, this is a 100% charming guide to the life and work of John Betjeman, the definitive poet of suburbia, from his lonely childhood under the trees of Highgate with a teddybear called Archibald, through to his reign as one of the nation's most beloved poet laureates. Wilson pays due respect to Betjeman's gently pioneering work as a broadcaster, illustrating his narrative with copious clips culled from the archive he left behind. Even better, the profile is followed by a screening of the complete Metroland (10pm), Betjeman's classic paean to London Underground's Metropolitan Line and the leafy suburbs of the city, made for the BBC in 1973. Contrasting this new landscape with memories of the pastoral world of his youth, the poet journeys from Baker Street to the forgotten station of Quainton Road, looking for poetry and mystery. En route, he explores historical houses along the line, follows the Neasden nature trail, discovers London's answer to the Eiffel Tower, and lunches with the ladies of Harrow.
Tuesday, September 2
The Secret Life Of Books
8.30pm, BBC Four
We need as many programmes about books as we can get on TV, and so even if it's not going to go down as the greatest Charles Dickens documentary of all time, this friendly film by Tony Jordan - who, as former lead writer of EastEnders, is an heir to the serial tradition Dickens trailblazed - is to be welcomed. Jordan focuses on one novel, Great Expectations, and embarks on a journey of discovery to pin down why, at the last minute, Dickens decided to change his story's ending, scrapping the bleak fade-out he'd originally written, to instead give his hero Pip a happy ending. He searches through the author's original manuscripts, diaries and letters to ferret out clues, and reveal the story of the novel's creation. It's the first in a series of six films in which different presenters will each explore a single book, from Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway through to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; next week, actor Simon Russell Beale gives the treatment to Shakespeare's First Folio.
Wednesday, September 3
Horizon: Inside The Dark Web
9pm, BBC Two
Depending on who you ask, the internet has now been with us for 25 years. To celebrate, the science strand presents a frankly terrifying film on how They (governments, corporations and criminals) are using the www. to spy on you 24 hours a day, monitor your movements, harvest your data and sell it all off to Them (criminals, corporations and governments). As the questions surrounding privacy and surveillance have become increasingly pressing and controversial, however, a wave of hackers and scientists have fought back with technology to preserve online anonymity; yet this kind of "freedom fighting" itself has allowed the development of the dark web, an arena of supposedly risk-free crime, where anything can be bought, from weapons to drugs to credit card details, and much worse. If you weren't depressed and paranoid before, you will be by about 15 minutes in. The cast of interviewees includes Tim Berners-Lee, Julian Assange and the father of anonymous web communications Dr David Chaum, above.
Thursday, September 4
The questions of legacy are there for the children of the future to debate, but there has already been one undeniable benefit from our great summer of sport. Over the past few months, there has been so much in the way of sweat, grunts, balls and Balding on television that there has simply been no room for any of the mediocre British cop shows that they usually shovel on there.
It seems ages since we had some new, doughy, time-passing, mind-numbing, gimmick-ridden and entirely unbelievable home-grown crime drama lumping around straining to resemble a jumbled, Frankenstein-like assemblage of slightly better, usually imported crime dramas that have gone before. The last I can remember was that one back in spring, with John Simm running away from Rosie Cavaliero for weeks like a combination of 24, The Fugitive and It's A Knockout. But there might have been one or two since. The great thing about these programmes is that they actually wipe away your memories of watching them while you're watching them. Winter, however, is coming, and the busy squirrels of TV cop land have not been idle. A mountain of nuts has been built up and stored away for the long, dark nights, and now they are ready to start cracking them open by banging them relentlessly against our brains.
The first fruit of the dark new season is Chasing Shadows, which is the biggest disappointment I've had watching TV this year. Although, to be fair, the initial let-down was less to do with the programme itself - that came a few seconds later - and more the result of my own lack of preparation. From the title, I had assumed this was a new celebrity game show, in the exciting and fun physical mould of Splash and Tumble, in which well known faces would actually be sent chasing shadows around a big room, the way you can get cats to by flashing a mirror on the carpet.
But no. Chasing Shadows is actually Reece Shearsmith as weird-but-brilliant murder detective DS Stone, who shuffles around seeing the connections nobody else can see while being a bit autistic. There's a dash of Sherlock in the character, maybe, perhaps a soupcon of Monk. But you'll be hard-pressed to notice them under the huge, steaming piles of Saga from The Bridge dumped on top. Shearsmith has had a good year, but I'm not convinced playing yet another eccentric was the best idea either for him, or us. The character of Stone is not only highly implausible, but inconsistently written - he seems to range across the autistic spectrum at will. It's an entertaining performance, though, especially once you begin to hallucinate that Shearsmith is actually doing a grotesque impression of Todd from Coronation Street. It's the haircut.
Stone's lack of a filter has seen him elbowed out of the Met and assigned to the Missing Persons Bureau, where he immediately starts seeing the connections no-one else can see and realises a bunch of young runaways have actually been strangled by a serial killer. His new partner there is played by Alex Kingston, who spends most of her time being dumbfounded by either his mad, bizarre autistic brilliance or his crazy autistic rudeness, running after him asking "Whuh?", scowling and stomping in exasperation, and, underneath it all, kind of loving the little loony lug. On the plus side, she doesn't call anyone "Sweetie". It doesn't make a lick of sense, and is entirely forgettable. Ticking every box, then.
Friday, September 5
Fleetwood Mac: Don't Stop
9.15pm, BBC Four
Tusk! Another repeat for this 2009 profile of the ever-feuding 1960s survivors, focusing on the various inter-band passions that fuelled them and their songwriting, especially the complex relationship between former lovers Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. Both are interviewed, along with colleagues John McVie and Mick Fleetwood, all seeking to dispel some of those (wait for it) rumours. Good stories abound, alongside unsettling revelations that almost spoil the tunes, like Nicks explaining how a fairly beautiful song like Sara is mostly about Mick Fleetwood and ... Well, best not to know, really. There's also some insane footage of the recording of Tusk in an LA football stadium with the help of a marching band. Be sure to switch off promptly at 10.15pm, or you stand in serious danger of seeing and, even worse, hearing Paloma Faith "singing jazz" at the Proms in collaboration with trumpet player Guy Barker.
Saturday, September 6
Crimes Of Passion
9pm, BBC Four
In all the excitement over seeing an almost actually half-decent Dalek story last week, there wasn't a chance to mention the arrival of BBC Four's latest Scandinavian crime import, based on the early novels of Maria Lang, who, for reasons that become apparent, is often dubbed Sweden's Agatha Christie. Rather than the glowering, neon-soaked contemporary glooms and grime we usually associate with all things Nordic noir, the six self-contained films are set in the 1950s, in Lang's leafy fictional town of Skoga, and waft on screen in a wash of summery light, sharp, popping colour and well-cut period tailoring. It's a welcome change of pace and, despite the cosy, Christie-esque sheen, there's a hidden edge of angst. Tonight, a happy spring wedding is thrown into inevitable disarray when the blushing bride goes missing. Soon, there's a body in the undergrowth, and our lead detective Christer Wijk (Ola Rapace, formerly the shaggy, suicidal Stefan of Wallander, here scrubbing up sharply in three-button suits and smoking a pipe) has more suspects than he knows what to do with.