Schools television

6th October 2000 at 01:00
PICK OF THE WEEK: Shark Weekend, Discovery Channel October 7 and 8

Megalodon, an ancestor of the modern shark, would have relegated the star of Jaws to a mere supporting role: 50 or 60 feet long, this prehistoric monster weighed about 20 tons. Not surprisingly, it takes top billing in this year's Shark Weekend on the Discovery Channel. There is no getting away from the fact that the bigger and more savage the shark, the greater its appeal. This is unfortunate, in some ways, because the chief aim of this two-day season is to undo some of the damage to the creature's reputation in the 25 years since Jaws.

The species is certainly more sinned against by humans than the reverse: only 12 of the world's 400 varieties of shark are considered dangerous. But then, when you know that the Great White can smell blood at five kilometres, it is hard not to regard the beast with a certain amount of awe - or to feel respect for someone like photographer Al Giddings, whose close encounters provide the material for the second of Saturday's films. The evening ends with a documentary about the Great Whites at their most bloodthirsty, attacking stranded whales on the Chatham Islands off New Zealand.

Unlike the Great White, the Whale Shark is huge, but not predatory: it survives on a diet of plankton and krill. A spectacular documentary on this giant's migratory habits, followed by one on the latest scientific methods for observing shark behaviour, take up most of Sunday evening. But the season ends with another programme on the Great White, exploring its legendary status in Australia, where they call it "white death".

SCHOOL SPOTLIGHT: English Express: Own Goal, BBC2 From October 10, 1.00-1.30pm

This package for 11 and 12-year olds was developed from a study skills session for children organised by Leeds United Football Club. The story concerns the rivalry between two teams, Rowland and Weswood. Mel is captain of Rowland and the junior league cup final falls on her birthday; but the day is spoiled for her when she finds that she does not have enough money to buy tickets to see Leeds United. In the final itself, Rowland win when in the last minutes of the game a Westwood player, Brian, scores an own goal. Brian's humiliation and Mel's attempts to raise the money for the tickets form the twin strands of the plot.

At first sight, this is a fairly slender basis on which to rest a five-part video drama, a novel (by Nikki Crowther), an anthology of materials on football, a reading of the story on two audio cassettes and an activity pack. But there is a good deal of stimulus here for various kinds of writing, comprehension and discussion, including debate on the moral questions raised by Mel and Brian's behaviour.

Part one revolves around the football match itself and concludes with an analysis of how the man from the local paper goes about planning and writing his report on the game, with suggestions for making this kind of writing more effective. In all, this should prove a useful package, for both more and less able pupils.

BEST ON RADIO, Moonlight, Radio 3 Sunday, October 8, 7.30-8.25pm. A Slight Ache, Radio 4, Friday, October 13, 9pm

Harold Pinter is 70 next week, when Radio 4 is broadcasting a new production of his first radio play, A Slight Ache, with the dramatist in one of the leading roles. Before that, he appears in this radio production of Moonlight as a dying man who refuses to go quietly. It is one of Pinter's most emotionally charged works.

A Slight Ache, first broadcast in 1959, is the story of a couple in a country retreat whose peace is threatened when a match-seller positions himself outside their front gate. It is followed by a recording of Pinter playing opposite Geoffrey Bayldon in a brief revue sketch from 1964.

Robin Buss


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