Pick of the week

8th December 2000 at 00:00
Inside the Space Station. Discovery Channel. Sunday, December 10, 9-10pm.

When the International Space Station is completed in 2005, it will be visible from Earth as the third brightest object in the night sky. The Discovery Channel's third "Watch with the World" event, broadcast to 150 countries in 32 languages, is the highlight of an evening on this major development, preceded by a brief history of space exploration, "The Space Game".

Inside the Space Station uses computer animation to show how the station will look when complete. Living in space presents serious problems for creatures that have evolved in the quite different environment of Earth. The film describes the dangers, shows how astronauts are prepared to deal with them and looks at some of the solutions. There is a definite American bias, but otherwise this is a thorough account, which covers the subject from the most prosaic details of life in space and the practical applications of space exploration for science and medicine, to the borders of science fiction, as it looks at the prospect of colonisation of the Moon and Mars.


Masterclass. BBC2. Tuesday, December 12, 11.20pm-midnight.

The baritone Sir Thomas Allen gives the first in this series of masterclasses, coaching young singers in passages from operas by Verdi, Mozart and Tchaikovsky. Sir Thomas understands the importance of the dramatic element in opera and is a sympathetic teacher who acknowledges that he himself can learn from his pupils' mistakes. Other masterclasses over the next 10 days include lieder (Barbara Bonney), dance (Sir Anthony Dowell) and opera direction (David Pountney). This series is about training audiences as well as performers.

Truman. BBC2. December 18, 19 and 20. Times to be confirmed.

This year's Christmas present from the BBC's acquisitions department is David Grubin's enthralling three-part biography of one of the lesser-known figures in American politics. Part one tells the story of the first 60 years of Harry S Truman's life; part two finds vice-president Truman unexpectedly thrust into the presidency after the death of President Roosevelt in 1945; and the final episode covers the start of the Cold War and the Korean War.

"To err is Truman," a wag remarked during the 1948 election, which not even the president's wife thought he could win. Indeed, his career was littered with failures: an unrealised ambition to become a concert pianist, a fortune lost on speculation, a bankrupt haberdashery business.

His mother-in-law was convinced that he would never be worthy of her daughter, and Truman shared the conviction. His first proposal, by letter, advised Bess Wallace that she would be crazy to accept him (and she duly held outfor several more years). There are touching moments of comedy in Truman's story, and it is not hard to see why people liked him. The three films are the portrait of a decent, humble man, with the virtues and the limitations of the small-town America from which he came. They provide a useful account of the Truman years and a reminder, if one was needed at the moment, of how fascinating American politics can be.


Handmade. Channel 4, Thursdays, September 21 to November 30 and from January 18, 10.25-10.30am.

Showing throughout the school year, Tom Stanier's series of five-minute films is a delight, describing the work of craftsmen - potters, painters, carvers, modellers, designers and many more - as they demonstrate their skills for the camera. There are no words apart from the titles - "Peter Faulkner makes a coracle", "Kate Wells sews a picture", "Robin Wood turns a wooden bowl" - and no sound except an appropriate musical accompaniment. Each film is five minutes of quiet wonderment. Look out in particular next term for "Mikhail Dvornikov carves a bear", "Willard Wigan makes a very light aircraft" and "Jyoti Taglani paints a bride's hands".

Charlie's Wildlife Gardens. BBC2. Friday, December 22, 8.30-9pm.

You can't escape those aspirational DIYgardening programmes that transform interiors and gardens in tidy 30-minute time slots, and it seems that not even schools are immune from this makeover frenzy. Harclive school in Bristol gets the revamp treatment courtesy of Charlie Dimmock.

But fear not, the school's playground hasn't been turned into a vista of decking and water features. The school has been involved in the Learning Through Landscapes project which encourages schools to develop their school grounds to become "learning classrooms". The programme shows how Harclive's grounds were turned into a learning space with a sensory garden, play castle and stage area. Environmentalist Chris Baines will be on hand with green tips for schools who want to follow suit.


Through the Looking Glass. Radio 4. Sunday, December 10, 3-4pm.

Harry Potter may be Radio 4's big number for the Christmas season, but traditional children's classics are not forgotten. The family drama this Sunday is Lewis Carroll's witty sequel to Alice in Wonderland, which is even more clearly an exploration of logic and language than the earlier book. In Hattie Naylor's dramatisation, Natasha Barnes plays Alice, with John Fortune and John Bird as Tweedledum and Tweedledee (though not necessarily in that order), and Ken Campbell as Humpty Dumpty; after nearly 130 years, this is still a story to delight children with its nonsense and amaze their parents with its wisdom - or vice versa.

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