My Grandparents’ War (series 2) – Channel 4

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The loss of the Queen marks a break with the wartime generation, and a reminder that there aren’t now many of that generation left with us.  It’s important that their stories not be forgotten, and this series shows celebrities looking into the roles played by their grandparents during the War.  First up was Kit Harington, whose two sets of grandparents each met and married whilst serving in the war effort in their different ways.

His maternal grandfather was in the Army, and, following a training accident, was admitted to the Exeter hospital where his future wife was serving as a VAD.  Later, he fought at Monte Cassino.  We saw Kit meeting a 99-year-old lady who’d been in the same team as his grandmother, and also visiting a Commonwealth war cemetery at Monte Cassino, and reading some of the poetry which his grandfather had written partly to try to cope with PTSD.

On his father’s side, both grandparents had been posted to the Caribbean.  His grandmother was with the censorship office in Barbados, and his grandfather had been with naval intelligence, detailed to keep an eye on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.  He’d have known both Ian Fleming and Kim Philby.

That was rather exciting, but the roles of all four grandparents were fascinating, and the programme was really very well done.  This is an excellent series, and highly recommended.  And readers of A Chalet Girl from Kenya may be interested to know that the third episode, featuring Emeli Sande, covers the Mau Mau Rebellion.

All Creatures Great and Small (series 2) – Channel 5

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How lovely to have this wonderfully comforting programme back, just the thing for autumnal evenings and especially at such a difficult time for the nation.  It was particularly nice that the new series started with James and Helen’s wedding.  Needless to say, there were all sorts of mishaps before the happy couple finally made it to the altar, but they got there in the end.  Some valuable points were also made about farming being a reserved occupation, and the importance of vets in keeping the food supply safe, both in terms of keeping it going and in terms of keeping TB out of the bovine, milk-producing population.

Was it filmed during Covid restrictions, though?  There were only 8 guests at the service!

Anyway, it was a perfect mix of light-hearted comedy, romance and some more serious elements, and the views of the countryside were lovely.  Having this back is a real tonic.  Thank you, Channel 5.  “Reboots” don’t always work, but this one definitely does.

Britain’s Secret War Babies – Channel 4

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  This programme was about two people seeking to find their fathers, African-American GIs stationed in Britain during the war.  It was sad to hear that many black GIs with white British girlfriends had been unable to marry them because the US Army had refused permission, even when there was a baby on the way.   That left the women concerned with a choice between bringing up a child alone, with the stigma of illegitimacy and the additional issue of raising a mixed-race child in areas which were otherwise 100% white, or giving the child up.

In the two cases covered by this programme, one woman had been kept apart from the child’s father by her own mother, who didn’t want her daughter and grandchild moving to America, and the other woman had married a British boyfriend who’d ill-treated both her and her son when he realised that the child couldn’t be his.

Both the stories had happy endings in the programme, in that the biological fathers were identified, and half-siblings who were happy to meet the two “war babies” found; but, as the programme said, many people haven’t been able to trace their fathers, and many children grew up in care because their mothers couldn’t keep them and mixed-race children were difficult to place for adoption.  The presenter seemed determined to stress the negative aspects of everything, but even taking a more balanced view, it’s quite a sad part of wartime history.   Some couples would have been unable to marry anyway, because one or both partners were already married, because of family objections or because they just didn’t want to, but hundreds of children could have had very different lives if there hadn’t been that US Army objection to mixed marriages – marriages which would have been perfectly legal in Britain.

The presenter clearly had an agenda and kept trying to turn things on to it, but the human stories won through, and at least each of the “war babies” involved found their American relations and were welcomed by them.  Happy endings.

 

 

 

The Pyrenees with Michael Portillo – Channel 5

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It was strange to see Michael, whilst still garishly-clad, on foot rather than by train; but I thoroughly enjoyed the first episode of this new series, which saw him walking through mountainous parts of the Basque country.   It’s an area with special resonance for him, because his parents met whilst his Spanish refugee father was working/studying in Britain and his Scottish mother was caring for Basque children evacuated after the bombing of Guernica.  Thankfully, ETA have stuck to the ceasefire for years, and the beautiful area is very welcoming to tourists.

Thirty-five years ago, the late Howard Kendall became manager of Athletic Bilbao.  Having done great things with Everton, a lot was expected of him; but he struggled, largely because they’d only sign players either born in or trained in football in the Basque country.  That’s got nothing to do with Michael’s programme, sorry, but it did teach English football fans a lot about Basque issues.  The rule’s still in place now.

We saw Michael meet a walking stick maker, a smuggler, a British author living in a Basque village – and made very welcome there – a miller, a stone maker, and an expert in local mythology.  And, of course, we learnt a bit about food and drink in the area.   Then, at the end, we saw him join the Camino route, and talk about its importance.

He’s such a wonderful presenter, and I enjoyed every minute of this.  As he said, he thought his best days were behind him when he left politics, but they most certainly weren’t.  Looking forward to more.

 

 

The Great (second series) – Channel 4

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This really is a load of rubbish, and yet it’s strangely watchable, because it’s so bad!   I was going to say that it was like a very crude Carry On film; but Carry On films are funny, and this is just stupid.   They’ve deliberately got all the history of Catherine the Great’s life wrong, even things which could have been got right without altering the script, e.g. Catherine’s husband being Peter’s grandson (they’ve said that he’s Peter’s son).

At the start of the second series, Catherine has succeeded in overthrowing Peter – but she’s expecting their heir, who was actually born several years earlier.  And the set-up in this bonkers programme is that Catherine rules part of the palace, but Peter and his supporters are holed up in one wing.  No-one seems concerned with such trivial matters as running the Russian Empire or foreign policy.   Peter has a number of lookalikes, who keep getting shot, and there’s a lot of arguing over food.  And dead bodies are hanging around.  And at one point there was a crocodile running round the court.

It’s so bad.  It’s terrible.  And yet it’s worth watching just to marvel at how bad it is!

Wonderland – Sky Arts

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This series is an interesting look at the “Golden Age” of British children’s literature.  That’s obviously an extremely subjective topic, but the twelve authors specifically mentioned were J M Barrie, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Lewis Carroll, Erskine Childers (the only one with whose books I’m not really familiar), Kenneth Grahame, Rudyard Kipling, A A Milne, E Nesbit, Beatrix Potter, Arthur Ransome, Noel Streatfeild and J R R Tolkien.  The idea was to cover the 71-year-period from the publication of Alice in Wonderland  in 1866 to the publication of Lord of the Rings in 1937.  You can argue at length about who should and shouldn’t have been included: a four-part series can only cover so many authors.   And they’d chosen quite a range of authors, meaning that most of what was said only applied to some of them: you can’t really compare Ballet Shoes with The Hobbit, or Toad of Toad Hall with Swallows and Amazons.  But a lot of thought-provoking comments were made.

The starting point was chosen as being when children’s books moved from moralising to entertainment; and they had to choose an end point somewhere … even though it meant excluding both Enid Blyton and C S Lewis.  The fact that the authors were all so different inevitably made the programme rather bitty – Ransome’s dealings with Lenin and Trotsky one minute, AA Milne’s differences with his son Christopher Robin the next – but I don’t know how else they could have done it.  Carroll, Ransome and Milne were discussed at some length in the first episode: presumably it’ll be three authors apiece in the three remaining episodes.

For a few awful moments, I thought that the whole thing was going to consist of the woke brigade slagging off all the old favourites, BBC 2-style – but one of the speakers made a point about how annoying it is when people do that, and how it’d be better to discuss any class or racial issues which people may find in the books, without just slagging the books off and saying that kids shouldn’t read them.  Hooray for a bit of common sense!   Another point made was that there are now abridged versions of classic books available for younger children, and how those tend to miss out the “nasty” bits – because all these books have difficult bits, and don’t just set out to create idylls for children to enjoy.

It was suggested that some authors saw childhood as a “protected area”, but others thought that children deserved more respect than they often got.  And a lot of comments were made about how many of the featured authors had suffered tragedies in their own lives, often involving children or their own childhoods- was that why they chose to write children’s books?

A good point was that rural locations are, in most cases, preferred to urban locations – Streatfeild’s books being an obvious exception.   It’s sometimes suggested that that was part of the mentality brought about by trying to recover from the Great War, but even the books written pre-1914 tend to be set in rural areas.  Are the books meant to be a safe space, and is that connection with rural settings?   Or are they meant to be challenging?  Well, probably a bit of both.  Beatrix Potter’s books, with their sweet little illustrations, can be very scary!

There was certainly quite a lot to think about.  My preferred childhood books were the “Girls’ Own” books of the mid-20th century, but I read most of the children’s classics as well, and I like hearing them being the subject of in-depth and serious discussion.   I know that some people don’t like detailed analysis of childhood favourites: each to their own, but I do like to talk about them, and I like to think that the authors would be very flattered to know that their books are still were being discussed so many years after they were published.   Thank you to Sky Arts for this: we get a lot of adaptations of children’s books, but not that much talk about them.  Well, there’s plenty of talk about them in our lovely fora and Facebook groups, but it was nice to have some on TV for a change!

ETA – I’ve gone bang off this since the second episode said that Frances Hodgson Burnett grew up in Leeds. She grew up in Manchester! How on earth did they get that wrong?

 

 

 

Red Rose – BBC 3

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  I don’t usually watch supernatural or horror things, but I’m watching this because it’s set just up the road in Bolton.  It showcases Bolton brilliantly: there’ve been some great shots of the town and its moorland outskirts.  And it’s surprisingly gripping.   We’ve got a very believable and well-acted group of teenagers, looking forward to a summer of fun after finishing their GCSEs, but with friendships being tested by romantic relationships and tensions over who is and isn’t in with the in crowd.

One girl, Rochelle, having a hard time due to family problems, downloads what seems like a fun app.  It’s so, so easy to do.  The link cleverly “phishes” her by purporting to come from a friend.  and, having drawn her in by giving her money and presents, it then starts using her phone to photograph and record what she’s doing, issuing orders and threats, and making it clear that it knows all about her.

Whilst there’s a strong paranormal element to the story, the idea of an app taking over your life by taking over your phone is frighteningly easy to imagine.  Soon, the app has destroyed Rochelle and moved on to her best friend.

Red Rose is the name of the app – the symbol of Lancashire, and also a motif in several fairytales and adaptations thereof.   Clever choice of name.  And the viewers know that it’s already caused the death of a teenage girl in Manchester, but the teenage gang in Bolton don’t.

It’s scary.  And very cleverly done.  I’m really looking forward to seeing how this develops.  It’s made a promising start.

The Newsreader – BBC 2

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It’s rather worrying that no-one under 40 will even be able to remember 1986, the year in which this series is set.  It’s also rather worrying that Madge from Neighbours featured in the second episode as a woman who remembered seeing Halley’s Comet in 1910.   Surely Madge is only in her mid-50s?!   (The actress is now 79!)   This is the first newsreader drama I’ve watched since Drop The Dead Donkey.  That was a comedy: this is more of a soap opera.  So, are nervous male lead Dale and struggling female lead Helen going to live happily ever after, or is it going to turn out that he’s gay but not out?

There hasn’t been much obvious ’80s nostalgia – not much music, and neither the hairdos nor the shoulder pads are that big! – but revisiting the main news stories of early 1986 has been interesting, and seeing how much technology’s changed since then is frightening!

The characters get your attention even if they aren’t, and presumably aren’t meant to be, very appealing.   They’ve all got things going on. It rather laboured the point about racism, sexism and homophobia in ’80s workplaces but, TBH, there *was* a lot of it around.

I’m enjoying this, and look forward to seeing where it goes.

India in 1947: Partition in Colour – Channel 4

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It would have been nice if, to mark the 75th anniversary of “Freedom at Midnight”, one of our TV channels had shown a programme focusing on everything that India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have achieved since independence.  But no.  Instead, we have to rake over whether or not Nehru was having it off with Edwina Mountbatten, and slag off Mountbatten, Nehru and Jinnah for not making a better job of an impossible situation.   Don’t get me wrong: the violence and the refugee crisis that followed partition was horrific.   But something focusing on the more positive aspects of independence, and the 75 years since then, would have been a lot more welcome.  The colourised pictures were interesting to see, but only really formed a backdrop for the negative narrative.

No-one got a good press in this, but, as I’ve said, it was an impossible situation by 1947.  I’m not sure that anyone could have done much better, and I’m not sure how helpful it was just to go on about the alleged faults of the three main leaders.  Gandhi, incidentally, was completely ignored.

Mountbatten was slagged off over the partition plan, but the programme claimed that he had nothing to do with it anyway, and it was all the work of the civil service.   Both Mountbatten and Nehru were slagged off for having a close personal relationship and leaving Jinnah out in the cold.  Or, rather, out in the heat, when the others took off to the Hills.  And of fiddling the border decisions to suit India.

Jinnah didn’t get a very good press either.  It was pointed out that Islamic fundamentalists tried to assassinate him because they were so angry about partition.   But other Muslims didn’t want to be a minority in a mainly Hindu India.  Jinnah was in a no-win situation: they all were. The programme also talked about complaints regarding the borders, but, wherever the borders had been, a lot of people would still have felt that they had to move.

Even the British Army came in for criticism.   Excuse me, but how were 50,000 troops supposed to deal with violence on such a scale? And the head of the Boundary Commission was criticised for having dysentery.  Oh, and for not being “an Alpha Male”.

The one person who got a tiny amount of praise was Edwina Mountbatten, but they were far more interested in her relationship with Nehru than in her work with refugees.

The narrators did concede that, by mid-1947, the fear and violence were out of control, and there wasn’t much that anyone could have done to improve things.   But they just seemed determined to be negative about everything.   The programme didn’t even point out that Freedom at Midnight created the world’s largest democracy.

And it said nothing that we haven’t heard a hundred times before.  I’d far rather have seen a programme about how India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have progressed since 1947, and I’d really have liked to have heard just one word of positivity.   This was almost 100% negativity.  Two hours of negativity.

Walking Wartime Britain – Channel 5

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After reading The Forgotten Village, I was pleased to find this Channel 5 programme which included a section on Strete, another of the villages taken over by the War Office in 1943.   This one was handed back to its residents after the war, and presenter Arthur Williams interviewed a lady who remembered the evacuation.   She told him how they’d been given just six weeks to leave, with the deadline being five days before Christmas, and no assistance in finding somewhere to go.   Farmers had had to sell off their livestock at whatever prices they could get.   Books and indeed TV programmes tend to focus on the Blitz, rationing and the evacuation of children.  That’s understandable, but it was good to see this neglected subject being given some coverage.

The programme also showed the nearby Royal Naval College at Dartmouth.   What a beautiful building – sadly damaged by bombing during the war, but thankfully the Nazis chose a day when the cadets were on leave, so there were no casualties – and what a beautiful town!

And Arthur also learnt about the Devon beaches used by GIs to train for the D-Day landing, and how, tragically, German intelligence picked up on what was going on, and sank a ship with the loss of 639 lives.  Years later, a local man was able to recover the wreck, and it now stands as a memorial to those lost.

This was only a short programme, the second in a series, but it was very interesting and very well-presented.