Television: Pick of the week

20th February 2004 at 00:00
Real Chinese. BBC2. Tuesday, February 24, 1-3.30am

No, the BBC doesn't expect you to learn Chinese in one night. The idea is that you should record this ten-part series and watch it over and over again. It will supply some of the basic elements needed for travel and study. The programmes, filmed over two years, are set in and around Beijing, and include a great deal of information about Chinese life and culture. We start with how to greet people and ask their names, and this is followed by information on education, social life, buying and selling, asking the way, and so on. Get a long tape and leave the recorder on, because the broadcast is followed by China Close Up, ten 15-minute documentary portraits of modern Chinese people, including a political party secretary, a business guru and an opera star. With the help of both, you should be ready by the time of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Life Stuff: From the Top. C4. Daily, February 23-27, 9.30-9.55am

Shown for the first time last month, these five films are portraits of people at the top of their professions. We start with hairdresser Nicky Clarke, who happens to be at the tailors. Nicky discovered a talent for cutting hair early in life and and now works on the heads of many celebrated people, who pay more than enough to enable him to afford his expensive pound;2,000 suits. The second subject, Gareth Davies, knew what he wanted to do even before the job existed: he leads a helicopter medical service. In a film that owes some of its inspiration to the television programme ER, we rush with him to the scene of a road accident, then follow the victim's progress from hospital to rehabilitation. The other three subjects are journalist Emma Brockes, black MP David Lammy and make-up artist Ricky Hammer, all of whom have interesting lives. Designed for 14 to 19-year olds, the series could provide inspiration for future careers or be used as a basis for work in English, or for discussion about citizenship and value to the community.

The Battle for Britain's Soul. BBC2. Saturdays, to March 6, 7.10-8.10pm

The Reverend Peter Owen-Jones, who presents this history of Christianity in Britain, likes to be seen walking in water, often with the tails of his ankle-length black cloak trailing behind him in the stream. You feel that this former "ad man" would do anything to get your attention but, in fact, the story he has to tell does not need sexing up. Last week he started with the gradual infiltration of Christian beliefs into Roman Britain and ended with the Synod of Whitby (664 ad), memorably summarised as an argument between Celts and Romans over the date of Easter and the shape of a monk's tonsure. The Reverend Owen-Jones did not approve of the decision in the latter case - he thought the Celtic cut was a good deal cooler than the Roman trim. This week, he moves on to the Middle Ages, promising Henry VIII, Cromwell and other destroyers of the faithful in the eponymous battle. This is very watchable material for both RE and history.

Robin Buss

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