Pick of the week
Friday, December 1, 9-9.50pm
After his telebiography of Alexander the Great, Michael Wood clearly felt that he needed fresh worlds to conquer. However, the footsteps of the Spanish Conquistadors are proving tough to follow: our presenter looks less fresh-faced than usual and could do with a shave.
The story that he has to tell, though, is no less fascinating. It starts with the defeat of the Aztecs by Cortes, brought about by a combination of daring, greed and astrology (by chance, the Aztecs were expecting their gods to arrive at the end of a long astrological cycle and so put up little resistance to the Spaniards).
This week, the search for gold drives Francisco Pizarro deep into the country of the Incas. His route takes Wood through deserts, up mountains and into tropical forests; he brings back only a day or two's growth of beard, some reels of film and a very watchable history.
Take a Girl Like You
From Sunday, November 26 9-10pm
Andrew Davies is giving 19th-century literature a reprieve for a few weeks - though in January we are promised his adaptation of Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now - and has turned instead to Kingsley Amis's novel, a study of the sexual mores of the Fifties.
As it happens, the two central characters are teachers: Jenny (Sienna Guillory) has just taken up her first post in a primary school, while Patrick (Rupert Graves), when not engaged in a protracted campaign to seduce her, teaches Latin in a public school. His speaking of Latin verse is appalling, but otherwise much attention has been paid and money expended on getting the period details right: cars, taxis, trains, street furniture, boarding-house interior and jazz, both trad and modern. There are nice cameos, too, from Emma Chambers, Hugh Bonneville and Leslie Phillips (without whom no Fifites sex comedy would be cmplete).
More importantly, Davies's emphasis on sex is entirely appropriate here - while many people felt it was less so in his version of Jane Austen. Patrick's difficulty in luring the beautiful Miss Bunn into bed, and her ambivalent resistance to his efforts, really do say something about the confused morality of the time.
From Monday, December 4 9-10pm
Traditionally, the Neanderthals have not had a good press, but there is a strong revisionist movement under way, and this two-parter from Channel 4 is evidence of it.
Sadly, we have to lose the cartoon image of the Neanderthal as a grunting savage who liked clubbing females over the head; instead we get characters in fur coats, with large noses and no chance of finding a good hairdresser.
These prehistoric hippies lived in small groups and devoted much of their energy to keeping warm - after all, it was the Ice Age. Then, 35,000 years ago, our own ancestors, the Cro-Magnons, arrived. What happened next is told in Tony Mitchell's two films, using actors with heavily reconstructed faces. It is all based, we are assured, on the best available evidence (also to be found in the C4 book that accompanies the series).
BEST ON RADIO
From Monday, December 4
Throughout the day next week, from Monday to Wednesday, Radio 2 will be broadcasting practical advice on coping with teenagers. Talking Teenagers is addressed primarily to parents, but should contain hints that will be useful to teachers and anyone else on the receiving end of adolescent angst.
Supported by a free factsheet, an action line (0800 022 022) and a website (www.bbc.co.ukradio2), the series offers ideas on dealing with drugs, sex, bullying and other topics, and includes celebrities talking about their own teenage years and those of their children.