Rise Of The Clans, BBC One

You know that bloody scene near the start of the first episode of Games Of Thrones where Sean Bean chops off the head of a Night’s Watch deserter with a sword on a hillside while his men stand and watch and nobody looks like they’ve had a shower or a shave or a haircut or even moisturised for about a decade beforehand? Now imagine that, but with Neil Oliver popping up from time to time to witness the dramatised action and comment on it, plus occasional cutaways to academics sitting in draughty-looking medieval buildings adding their expertise. This, in a nutshell, was Rise Of The Clans, BBC Scotland’s new three-part historical series, which kicked off with Robert Bruce, he of Bannockburn, spiders and leprosy fame.

“Not cool to dis Big Bobby’s dad like that,” whispered Oliver in one of the more risible sequences as we (and he) watched Bruce and rival John Comyn argue in a Dumfries church, supposedly a neutral venue where no blood was to be spilled on pain of excommunication. Bruce, however, had come “tooled up,” to use Oliver’s irksome phrase, and blood was spilled – much of it erupting lavishly from the mouth of the actor playing Comyn. The role of Bruce, for the record, was taken by River City’s David Paisley. Oliver played himself.

Now when I was at the school the story was this: the Bruce (or de Brus) family were Anglo-Norman chancers from somewhere near Cherbourg who came over here post-Conquest. So calling them a clan seems like a finessing of the old actualité. But I stand to be corrected on that point. And probably will be.

As for the spiders and the leprosy, they were excised from the story. Also absent was any mention of Henry de Bohun, supposedly slain by Bruce in single combat on the first day of the battle of Bannockburn. Still, at least that famous 1314 dust-up featured: one of the complaints levelled against Outlaw King, the recently-released Netflix re-telling of Bruce’s rise, is the fact that it ends in 1307 at the Battle of Loudon Hill. Sure that was Bruce’s first major victory against the English but, to use another of Oliver’s expressions, it was foreplay rather than main event.

Rise Of The Clans was better on the clans themselves. Oliver followed Bruce, now outlawed post-Comyngate, as he struck alliances with Clan Donald, Clan Ruaidhri and Clan Campbell and sought to break the stranglehold on the Highlands enjoyed by the MacDougalls and the (now seriously cheesed off) Comyns. He also gave us a first glimpse of young Walter Stewart, who would go on to found quite a little dynasty of his own. Expect more of Walter and his kin in episode two. As for the lengthy sequence dealing with the Battle of Bannockburn itself, it was genuinely thrilling. Just can’t get enough of that one can we?