Pick of the week
The new year, with its significant date, has seen a sudden revival of interest in history, at least among the people who make television.
There is also a willingness to try new approaches, the best programmes usually being the ones that describe how the past can be uncovered. You might not expect a critical approach from a series that calls itself The Real History Show, but don't be put off by the title: these three programmes are about research and reconstruction, as well as about dressing up and role-play (although that comes into it). In the first, broadcast on March 5, presenter Bernard Hill helped a couple have an 1840 wedding. This week, he goes further back to help two flower enthusiasts revive a 17th-century florists' feast. In finding the earliest mention of these events, they learn a good deal about the value attached to flowers in the past, the introduction of new species, methods of cultivation and, finally, cooking in the 1630s, using written sources (documentary and literary) and paintings. The final programme, on March 26, recreates the discomforts of a voyage on a Lowestoft trawling smack in 1885 - well, no one said history had to be all fun.
THE REAL HISTORY SHOW. Channel 4. March 19, 4.55-5.55pm
A new secondary geography unit for 14 to 16-year-olds considers the importance of the coast as a location for settlement. In the first programme, three estuary locations - Teesside, Naples and Lisbon- have similar stories of expansion and decline, followed by recent economic revival. The second programme analyses the conflict between industrial and environmental concerns in estuary sites, and shows how the two may be reconciled.
Both programmes will be available on video from May. They are supported by net notes on the C4 learning website (www.4learning.co.uk).
Place and People Special: Coast to Coast Channel 4. Thursdays, March 23and March 30. 10.10-10.30am.
BEST OF THE REST
The fascinating history of BBC English is explored in this Radio 4 programme, presented by John Humphrys.
It starts, of course, with Lord Reith, who believed that "broadcasting may be of immense assistance" in ensuring good pronunciation of the language, and set about making the BBC the instrument to deliver "a style or quality of English that would not be laughed at in any part of the country." One has only to listen now to recordings from the first half of the century to see how far he failed in that aim: no accent is funnier than a really plummy Reithian RP. Bernard Shaw suggested putting an age limit of 30 and a few taxi drivers on the advisory committee.
On the other hand, there was much to be said both for the principle of a standardised version of the language and for the Corporation's obsession with getting things right: foreign names, stresses, ambiguous or contentious words.
THE ARCHIVE HOUR: Pronounced BBC. Radio 4. March 18, 8.02-9pm