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Television: Pick of the week

SCIENCE IN FOCUS: Big Questions. C4 Tuesday and Wednesday, June 4-18, 5.40-6am

This series for 14-16-year olds, enthusiastically presented by Adam Hart-Davis, considers the nature of scientific enquiry by looking at Faraday, Darwin, Mendel, Mendeleev and Hubble.

The aim is to examine how scientific ideas arise and spread. Faraday's discoveries were essential to the harnessing of electric power and came at a time of great expansion in the advance and dissemination of scientific knowledge.

Darwin and Mendel's work in biology raised fundamental questions about the human place in the world. Mendeleev and Hubble opened the way to an understanding of the structures of the universe.

The series, which should stimulate a desire for further enquiry among its viewers, is also available on cassette (from 4Learning, PO Box 400, Wetherby, LS23 7LG) and there are netnotes at www.channel4.comlearning

MONGREL NATION. Discovery Channel Wednesdays, from May 21, 9-10pm

Eddie Izzard scrutinises some of our cherished institutions and discovers that most of them come from abroad.

He successfully negotiates in Old English to buy a cow from a Frisian speaker. He is left with an unwanted cow and the realisation that our language is double Dutch.

Even the pound turns out to be a European currency, while our patron saint was "as English as a kebab" (he came from Turkey). All in all, we're a mixture of cultures and peoples, even our famous English chauvinism is named after a Frenchman. There's a lesson there somewhere.

THE ANIMATED EPICS. BBC2 Tuesday and Wednesday, June 3 and 4, 2-4am

An overnight repeat for some old favourites. Woody Allen once remarked that if he could have his time over, he would do the same all over again - "except I wouldn't read Beowulf".

He might have felt better about the Old English epic if he could have seen it in this version, finely animated and with a script by Murray Watts that respects the feel of the poetry. Allen's feelings about Beowulf more or less sum up mine about Moby Dick; so this version, painted on glass, a delight for the eye is, at 30 minutes, a fair substitute for Melville's meandering prose.

Between the two are The Canterbury Tales: three films from Chaucer, animated by various hands, with the dialogue in modern English on Tuesday and in Middle English on Wednesday.

The latter, for my taste, sometimes overplays the image of the poet as an earthy, comic entertainer. Travelling to Canterbury with this Chaucer would have been rather like three days riding through Kent in the company of Les Dawson and Max Miller.

The tales themselves, however, offer a more balanced idea of the man and his work.

NINETY YEARS AGO WITH MAGIC GRANDAD. BBC2 Wednesdays, June 4-18, 11.35-11.50am

Magic Grandad, as dedicated viewers of these programmes for five-to-seven-year olds will know, is a bloke with a grey beard and a Geordie accent who pops up out of nowhere whenever Tom and Nicki start to wonder about life in the past.

In this three-parter, he magics them into a junior version of The 1900s House, so that they can find out about life at the start of the last century (No mobile? No computer games? No television!!!). A Video Plus Pack (pound;29.99 from BBC Customer Services, 0870 830 8000) includes the lot on tape as well as many other materials.

For full listings go to:

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