murreyandblue

A great WordPress.com site

Archive for the category “television reviews”

A pleasant surprise

In recent years, Dan Jones’ posing and fanciful Crimewatch-style re-enactments, together with Starkeyesque conclusions formed before he started, has marred quite a few series on mediaeval history. Now he seems to have changed tack completely with this series, covering canal building from the middle of the eighteenth century and – yes – I rather enjoyed it, even though Rob Bell may have been more appropriate.

My main criticism is not with the programme content or the presenter but that it was broadcast as two ninety minute episodes and not three separate hours. The content definitely subdivided this way, showing that canals superseded the unreliable roads and rivers of the Early Modern Era.

The first hour was about the Grand Union Canal, originally conceived to join Birmingham and London via Oxford, with the first stretch to Coventry already constructed – it eventually went further east and the Oxford Canal filled the gap. Then came the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, taking Yorkshire produce to the great west coast port via a few higher rainfall Lancashire mill towns – after negotiation because lengthening the route would slow down the journey. Finally, it moved on to the Avon-Kennet Canal that opened in 1810 to link London and Bristol, although railways and improved roads were about to make them commercially obsolete, particularly through a certain Mr. Brunel. As Jones made clear, canals remain popular for pleasure boats and the Avon-Kennet Canal avoided closure in the 1950s for this reason.

No sooner has this series finished than Jones has returned to the Channel Five “cluster” with a show about Roman roads. Trailers showing him dressed as a centurion are not promising.

Blood of the Clans

Neil Oliver has been back on our screens, BBC1 Scotland at least, with another short series. Following on from his 2018 Rise of the Clans, which detailed tribal influence over events such as the ascent of Robert I and subsequently the Stewarts to Mary’s troublesome reign and deposition, Blood of the Clans deals with Scottish events after the Union of the Crowns as the Grahams of Montrose and Campbells of Argyll clash during the War of the Three Kingdoms, the MacGregors become involved in the first Jacobite Rebellion and the MacDonalds, with others, participate in the second, which is initially far more successful. Scottish society, chieftains and the clans themselves evolved during the century in question.

As usual, Oliver is present at reconstructed events as all three episodes conclude with at least one execution. The loyalty of the other clans to the Stuarts, having enthroned their ancestors is severely tested and some are internally divided. Oddly, the dramatic events of 1688-92 were omitted but perhaps this series was advance planned for just three episodes.

A documentary to watch only if you believe in Tudor myths about Richard….!

 

Oh, indeed, as Captain Bertorelli would have said, “What a mistake-a to make-a!”

I certainly made one when I turned to the PBS America channel on TV, and they were showing Who Killed the Princes in the Tower? Well, it might contain one voice of reason (John Ashdown-Hilll) but it also has much more of Starkey. He believes More, he KNOWS Richard murdered the boys, and he KNOWS that from the luxurious royal apartment in the Tower they were moved down to much “darker” places. The entire realm was appalled when Richard became king; just ask Starkey. He KNOWS. There ain’t nothin’ about Richard that Starkey doesn’t KNOW for a FACT. Clearly Richard sends him confessions from beyond the grave! (Although I can’t imagine for a moment that Richard, guilty or innocent, would choose Starkey with whom to communicate!)

Of course, the actor playing Richard portrays him as of an unsmiling, sinister, threatening disposition. He peers ominously from around a curtain of suspiciously dark hair, his eyes craft and dangerous. Oh yes, he has FIEND and MURDERER written all over him. The entire country fainted in horror when he became king. And presumably regained consciousness when treachery put Henry VII on the throne. How it managed to stay conscious throughout the next dreadful century or so of Tudors, I really don’t know.

So sure was the world that Richard disposed of the princes, that Henry never for a MOMENT believed Perkin Warbeck could be genuine. Really? Then why did said Henry spend the first part of his reign turning the world upside down looking for the boys, and why was he haunted throughout the rest of his life by the thought of a pretender arriving to usurp him as he’d usurped Richard?

Be warned. Starkey rules supreme in this load of junk. He has far more to say than anyone else, and there isn’t a myth he doesn’t KNOW is FACT! The man’s a loony. Don’t bother to watch.

But if you must, you can see all of it here.

from PBS trailer, not the You Tube link above

 

Following the Gough Map of Medieval Britain….

 

 

Last night I watched an episode of In Search of Medieval Britain presented by Dr Alixe Bovey. The series concerns journeys that follow the famous Gough Map of medieval Britain and is very interesting and enlightening. The episode I watched concerned ‘London and the South East’, and I learned a few things I didn’t know before. Including how to interpret that infuriating map, in which East is where we all expect to find North these days! But they wished to point toward Jerusalem.

I had no idea that rivers were all believed to start in lakes, hence the circular beginnings shown on the map. It seems very odd that no one, through the period, ever commented on never finding these lakes. Well, perhaps they did, I don’t really know.

The series is being shown at present (March 2020) on PBS America, and on this first example I can thoroughly recommend it. You can home in on the map online here.

The true identy of the Black Death….?

Miniature out of the Toggenburg Bible (Switzerland) of 1411 

Last night I cheered myself up by watching the PBS documentary The Mystery of the Black Death. No, that opening sentence was facetious, because I have to say that the programme was actually very interesting. And rather uncanny in that it was stated the pestilence started in Italy, then Spain, and then gradually spread through the rest of Europe. Eerily familiar in present circumstances, right?

This documentary traced the progress and symptoms of the Great Pestilence, which has traditionally been identified as bubonic plague. No! Bubonic plague didn’t follow the same pattern as the Great Pestilence (not named the Black Death until later on). The buboes of bubonic plague were absent in all contemporaneous descriptions of what struck Europe in 1347/51. And rats couldn’t have been to blame because there weren’t any at that period.

Well, there were a few, of course, but nothing like the teeming hordes we all envisage. There are small hints of this ratless society, e.g. the fact that dovecotes were built with “nesting” spaces going right down to the ground. This wouldn’t have happened had rats been much in evidence. Rats climb, yes, but medieval people wouldn’t have made it so inviting and easy by providing rat feasts at ground level.

Another indication was that although owls eat rats, no rat bones have been found in the regurgitated pellets of medieval owls. Loads of mouse bones, and so on, but no rats. Why not? Presumably because there were no rats to eat.

So the programme delved into what else other disease it might have been. It concluded that the Black Death was spread by human touch, not rats or fleas, and that it was mostly likely something closely related to ebola.

Whether you agree with the reasoning or not, the programme is very interesting, and I recommend it. But not if you’re squeamish!

If you cannot receive PBS UK, you can see more here.

Britain’s Lost Battlefields (with Rob Bell)

Channel Five’s reputation for history programmes has risen greatly over the past few years. At the heart of this, first in a Great Fire of London series with Suzannah Lipscomb and the ubiquitous Dan Jones, has been the “engineering historian” Rob Bell, who has toured bridges, ships, buildings and lost railways in his own amiable, enthusiastic but authoritative style.

Now, only four days after completing series two of Britain’s Lost Railways, Bell is back, touring some of our great battlefields. The series, initially shown on 5Select, starts at Bannockburn, progresses to Hastings, Watling Street, Bosworth and Naseby, as well as Kett’s Rebellion. Perhaps the six episodes could have been shown chronologically by the battle years?

The third, fourth and fifth shows, however, do form a neat triangle in the East Midlands, if you accept the suggested location of the Battle of (the very long) Watling Street. Featuring historians such as Matthew Lewis, Julian Humphreys and Mike Ingram, the hangun (or arquebus) is described with respect to Bosworth, as is the evolution of the musket to the forms used at Naseby, together with commanders such as Fairfax and the Bohemian brothers: Rupert and Maurice.

Climbing up on Solsbury….sorry, Salisbury (Cathedral)….

Salisbury Cathedral

Well, impressed as I am, all I can say is “rather him than me”! Go up there? Never! I hate heights. But for those you who are made of sterner stuff, this BBC South video of the nooks, crannies and heights of Salisbury Cathedral is well worth watching.

The new titans of Bosworth….?

No words are needed, I think! Except to say that I doubt if Starkey and Schama ever see themselves in this light!

Bone Detectives start with Thanet’s Bronze Age secrets….

I have just watched the first episode of Bone Detectives: Britain’s Buried Secrets, featuring Dr Tori Herridge and the delightful Raksha Dave, whom I remember from Time Team, but who is now much in TV evidence. In this new series we’re promised episodes from different periods and different places all over Britain, but this first one was from the Isle of Thanet.

Thanet, of course, is no longer and island, but it was still detached from the rest of Kent as late as Tudor times, when the Wantsum Channel had to be crossed by boat. Earlier than that, it was broad enough to be a strait.

It is suggested that in the Bronze Age, and probably before then too, Britain was thought to be a sacred island of the dead, and seemed to shine out of the sea with its pure white cliffs. The name Thanet may be derived from a goddess of death (I didn’t quite catch the name) and the Wantsum Channel might have been the Styx? Whatever, to get to Thanet, one had to cross water.

The Thanet place of interest in this first episode was Cliffsend, where a housing estate is now but early in this decade there was only large sandy field. The only thing remaining from the field is a single mature tree. There is, apparently, no evidence at all of people actually living here during the Bronze Age, but they did come to what became Cliffsend in order to honour the dead.

When the present housing estate was due to be built, archaeological excavations took place, to investigate the area before it became impossible. What was found astonished everyone. There was a many-barrowed cemetery from around 2000 BC, each barrow about 20m in diameter. There was no sign at all of true settlement, but a lot of broken pottery, animal bones, broken quern stones and so on, which suggested many feasts and ceremonies which must have been to do with death and the dead. Oh, no! Not the dreaded rituals again, complete with processional ways! But in this instance I think the conclusion is probably correct.

The dig became exceedingly interesting and original when it came to a mysterious pit, some 50m NE of the cemetery. Human skeletons were found in it, with right at the bottom, those of two neonatal lambs. Then, on top of them, was the carefully arranged skeleton of a very elderly woman. She was on her left side, curled up tightly, holding a small piece of chalk to her lips in her left hand. Her right hand was more extended, with her index finger pointing toward one of the nearby barrows. There were two more neonatal lambs in her lap, and she had been killed by sword blows to her head.

Now, in the Bronze Age swords were very rare, and probably for ceremonial use only, which suggests that the manner of her death was sacrificial. And not necessarily that she was unwilling to die, because her finger pointing to the barrow might well indicate a plea to the dead for their help with some situation then besetting the area. Her life might well have been the price to pay. Which is guesswork, of course, but there has to be some reason for the way she points. And what is the piece of chalk to her lips all about? That must remain a mystery.

Anyway, the old lady and the four lambs were not alone in the pit, for there were four more remains, two teenaged girls, two juvenile girls, and a mature man, although he was only a partial skeleton and a little distance away, so may not have been really connection with the others.

Some of the bones were sent for testing, and it turned out they were older than the old woman! How very, very strange. Now, if I tell you more, it will spoil the programme’s “punch lines”, so you will have to watch it to find out. But I do recommend this first episode. It bodes well for the rest of the series. You can watch the series on Channel Four at 8 pm on Saturdays, but also find out more on Goodreads

My final comment is on the programme’s sponsor, Tilda (rice), which declares it’s proud to help promote “escapism on 4”. Um, escapism? I’m not sure that a documentary about Bronze Age burials comes under that heading!

History isn’t “horrible”, it’s essential….!

Richard III – from ‘Horrible Histories’

“…Imagine knowing the entire list of British monarchs by heart at age 10. Imagine knowing about cavemen courting rituals or what soldiers ate during World War I. Imagine becoming so invested in the life of the infamous King Richard III of England that you joined the Richard III Society, a group dedicated to finding his bones and solving the mystery of what happened to his nephews over 500 years ago…”

The extract above is from this study breaks article which, as you might guess, is all about ‘Horrible Histories’!

It made me think, because I did know my English/British monarchs by the age of 10…by 8/9 in fact. There was a chart on my bedroom wall and it faced me when I sat up in bed. I noticed Richard III even then, because he was so different from the rest. Slender, dark-haired, troubled…or so it seemed to me. The other kings/queens seemed more or less expressionless (except for Henry VII, who looked out of the chart in that rather crafty, sideways manner we know and love so well!)

A present-day friend tells me: “There was a frieze over my classroom door { at the same age} with them all on from Alfred, including the years. I did the research and writing, although none of us could reach where it was placed.”

There’s no doubt that history lessons used to entail knowing our stuff. Nowadays, it seems, they’re taught that the world didn’t exist before World War I. Medieval? What the heck is that? So, the likes of ‘Horrible Histories’ are to be welcomed, because they introduce modern children to the past. It’s their past, after all. They should know how their country developed to become what it is today…and realise that it wasn’t a process that came into being magically in the year 1900!

PS: And if help is needed to remember history and its facts, then there’s nothing better than a good song. So try this one.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: