Tales of Television Centre (BBC4)

Posted on Updated on

Normally when Twitter erupts with adoring tweets about a BBC4 programme, it’s at 9pm on a Saturday night and the subject is the latest instalment of a Scandinavian crime noir serial. But for once last week, there was an exception to the rule, as everyone seemed to be wallowing in the nostalgia fest that was Tales of Television Centre.

The BBC’s prolonged departure from its iconic White City headquarters in London proved a good excuse to raid the archives for a celebratory look back at the building which for many of a certain age – including myself – had been the very face of British broadcasting down the years. Its distinctive round shape enclosing the circular quad and its UFO/satellite dish-esque fountain is unlike any other TV company facility, and for that reason became forever linked with the BBC’s output through the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

The archive footage stirred those memories very well with a ton of programmes I remember watching when I was young, from the kids shows such as Swap Shop, Record Breakers and Blue Peter through to the panel quiz shows, comedies and drama programmes that I graduated to as I grew up. These provoked cosy and warm memories, and there was plenty of material new to the viewers as well. From outtakes and studio trims from the time through to newly shot interviews with people who worked in the building down the years both in front of and behind the camera who enjoyed sharing their anecdotes of post-filming drinks in the BBC Club, to David Attenborough recalling how – as controller of BBC2 – he once had to politely ask one of the production teams to show a little more discretion in what they were smoking as the distinctive odour was working its way throughout the building. There was Barry Norman remembering how he had to sober up before taping the film review show after over-indulging at a leaving do, only to end up with the most sober and hence dull programme he ever did. And there were three Doctor Who companions raucously agreeing with Jools Holland’s description of the Television Centre as a cross between showbusiness and a KGB interrogation centre. Read the rest of this entry »

Frozen Planet (BBC)

Posted on Updated on

Yes, it’s full of the incredible, dazzling photography for which the BBC Natural History film unit is renowned the world over. It’s possible to just sit in front of this for an hour with your mouth open, staring at it in wonder like the most gorgeous screen saver you’ve ever seen. But if I’m honest, I’m not nearly as gripped by this as I expected to be. I thought we’d see a weird, unfamiliar and totally alien icy landscape and the strange creatures able to survive there; but mostly we see the Frozen Planet thawed out in the Arctic summer, with the usual suspects of wolves and whales and polar bears. Even the deepest freeze seems to be dominated by penguins, who are surely the most over-exposed animal on the planet these days – I’m surprised they don’t all have Max Clifford on speed dial. The sense of deja vu is compounded by the series format which returns to the same animals each week at a different part of the year but again lends that “didn’t we see this last week…?” feel to proceedings. And at the risk of criticising a national icon, I’m even finding David Attenborough’s narration somewhat repetitive and over-familiar, as it sets up the next animal-on-animal slaughter with all the subtlety of Casualty’ “accident about to happen” scenarios and then milks the anthropomorphic pathos for all its worth. I guess it’s just me, and that I simply had too high a set of expectations for this series. Currently airing on BBC1 on Wednesdays at 9pm with a repeat on Sunday afternoon.

Part of a week of one-para reviews, designed to (a) put the “Short” back into Taking the Short View; (b) catch up on some past programmes I should have reviewed ages ago; and (c) get my post count back up!