4th May 2001 at 01:00
Pick of the week: A History of Britain BBC2, from Tuesday, May 8, 9-10pm.

Simon Schama opens this second section of his history by looking at John Speed's map of Britain, compiled in the early 17th century: a vision of a united kingdom that was soon to be belied by events.

At the time, he tells us, the central issue in the Civil War seemed a simple one: whether "the King should govern as a god by his willI or whether the people should be governed by themselves, by their own consent".

But behind this fundamental clash of opposites lay conflicts over religion, political ideology and national loyalty; in addition to that of the monarch, the war would cost the lives of three-quarters of a million of his subjects, lost in battles, epidemics and famines.

By now, viewers will be familiar with Schama's method of television historiography, and will undoubtedly welcome the return of an ambitious educational documentary series.

Surviving the Iron Age: BBC1, from Thursday, May 10, 8.45-9.30pm.

There are times when you wonder if these reality programmes may not be pushing the participants too far. In fact, this could well be the one that crosses the line: 17 volunteers are dumped on a hilltop in Wales and invited to live the short, brutish lives of Celtic villagers before the Roman invasion. They have to butcher their own meat, grind their own corn and make do with pre-Roman lavatory paper. They are soon busy trying to find the Iron Age cure for gastroenteritis.

But is it educational? These "back to the past" projects - the BBC did a similar experiment in 1975 - cotain some information about the daily life of our ancestors, but the message in all of them seems to be how much we take for granted in our own day: we travel into the past to learn about ourselves. However, the notion that life for earlier generations was hell will come as no shock to the 21st-century child, who considers him or herself close to the limits of survival when deprived of access to the internet or the use of a mobile phone.

More seriously, the participants bring with them modern attitudes to social relations that are even more delicate than their stomachs. Conflicts develop within the group and are resolved in decently democratic ways. Tears are shed over the slaughter of a chicken, the local GP visits to attend the sick and the camera crew is always present. Iron Age Celtic society, you can be sure, was nothing like this. The only abiding lesson is that human beings had to co-operate if they were to make it out of prehistory.

Culture Fix: Feminism: BBC Knowledge, Wednesday, May 9, 7.30-8pm.

Germaine Greer, who sings the praises of the Psalms of David in this week's Art That Shook the World (Saturday, May 5, BBC2, 7.20-8.10pm), appears in more familiar guise as a contributor to a Culture Fix on the feminist movement. Is feminism redundant? Have its battles been won? And is it now men who need help in coping with a woman's world? Greer and others argue it out.

Robin Buss

Full educational programme schedules can be found online at co.ukprogrammessummer 2001.cfm

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