Television: pick of the week

28th March 2003 at 00:00
GCSE BITESIZE REVISION: English. BBC2 Sunday, March 30, 2-6am.

This programme in the excellent Bitesize Revision series comes in two parts. First, from 2-4am, an analysis of Shakespeare's Macbeth; then, until dawn, a section focusing on the part of the English syllabus devoted to poems from other cultures and traditions. It begins by defining what we mean by the concepts of "culture", "tradition" and "identity", with the help of comments from students of different backgrounds at the City and Islington College. It then goes on to study the individual poems in the anthology, including Sujata Bhatt's bilingual "Search for My Tongue", Grace Nichols's "Hurricane Hits England" and Tom Leonard's "Unrelated Incidents".

At the start, the poets themselves read their work - look out for an excellent performance of "Half Caste" by John Agard. Then we analyse what the poem is about, the form in which it is written and the variety of possible responses to it. The programme ends with more general advice on how to read a poem, and includes online exercises. All you need to know.

SUBSTANCE MISUSE. BBC2 Fridays, March 28, 10.20-10.40am and April 4, 11.20-11.40am

It is not only illegal substances that can be abused: although tobacco is now less socially acceptable than it was a generation or two ago, young people are bound to come into contact with smokers, even if they do not have one in the family. As for alcohol, its misuse is more often funny than a matter for concern. So how can one help to mould sensible attitudes towards smoking and drinking? These three dramas for nine-to-eleven-year olds (one broadcast today, the other two next Friday) will stimulate discussion and give viewers the basis for making their own, informed choices about health and lifestyles. The programmes are also available on video (pound;14.99 from BBC Customer Services 0870 830 8000) and there is a teachers' activity pack.

WORLD BIRTH DAY. Discovery Channel Sunday, March 30, 8-9pm

The Discovery Channel is marking Mother's Day with two programmes. The first is a documentary about childbirth around the world, examining differences in tradition and culture, as well as medical facilities, in places as diverse as Kabul, Hiroshima, Vladivostok, Bombay, Belfast and Memphis (Tennessee). Later in the evening, "21st Century Sons and Mothers" considers whether the relationship has changed since it inspired Freud to develop his theory of the Oedipus Complex and Norman Bates to go psycho in the shower.

SECRET LIVES OF THE ARTISTS. BBC2 Saturday, March 29, 7.10-8pm

Last week, in the first of this two-part series, Andrew Graham-Dixon considered John Constable's love for Maria Bicknell, suggesting that it may have helped him towards a new concept of landscape painting, in which the picture was imbued with the painter's emotional response to the scene. In this second programme, he considers the Dutch painter Jan Vermeer, whose work we associate with minutely observed scenes of tranquil order and domestic harmony. The life, as so often, was a different story. The grandson of a convicted forger, married into a dysfunctional family, Vermeer was constantly in debt and eventually died penniless at the age of 43. It does not take a trained art historian to guess that the work reflected an ideal rather than the reality; but Graham-Dixon is a good communicator, particularly when you stand him up against a canvas and get him to talk you through it.

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