TV and radio

21st April 2000 at 01:00

E Nesbit's story about three children who move to the countryside with their mother when their father is wrongly imprisoned was made into a classic children's film in 1970. It was re-released a few years ago and has been screened on television. Now the book has been readapted, with a script by Simon Nye, and produced by Carlton Television, to be shown as one of the highlights of the ITV Easter schedule.

Jenny Agutter, who played BobbieRoberta, the eldest child, in Lionel Jeffries' 1970 film, here plays the mother. Jemima Rooper, Jack Blumenau and Clare Thomas take the children's roles.

The exercise is a homage not only to the book, but to the earlier film - and likely, of course, to be greeted with outrage by lovers of both.

Nonetheless, it does have its merits. Some of the minor characters (the station master, the Russian refugee, the wounded schoolboy) are more convincing than their 1970 counterparts, while others (the doctor, Perks the porter, the old gentleman) are interestingly different.

Gregor Fisher takes off his Rab C Nesbit string vest to play Perks, with predictable eccentricity, and Richard Attenborough offers what is described as his "first television role" as the old gentleman (though few people would see much distinction between this and any of his previous roles for the cinema).

Classics have to be reinterpreted for successive generations and this new version will give much pleasure to its real target audience, the young people who come to it with no prior attachment to Nesbit's book or Jeffries' film. There is a problem, though, inherent in the book, which has got worse with time - the characters are so relentlessly nice. Here is a story in which everything comes right in the end because there are no villains, only children and adults of unctuous kindness and delicacy who will go to any lengths to oblige and to avoid hurting each other's feelings. Even the angry bargees are tamed by the middle-class reasonableness of the children.

I worry a little about what may happen to young viewers who believe in this teddy-bear world when they eentually meet the grizzlies who inhabit the real one.

The Railway Children.


April 23, 8-10pm.

In the last years of his life, Lord Menuhin became increasingly critical of musical education in the United Kingdom, both from the point of view of the resources devoted to it and the methods used for teaching musical skills. So, with the help of a former pupil at the Yehudi Menuhin School near Cobham, Surrey, he embarked on an imaginative project to teach the violin from scratch to a dozen seven-year-olds who had no previous musical experience.

Although he had been involved with education all his life, Lord Menuhin had never taught absolute beginners and this project at last gave him an opportunity to put his ideas into practice. Sadly, when it was only one-third complete, Menuhin died, so Rosemary Warren-Green was left to carry on the course on her own.

This informative BBC film shows Menuhin and Warren-Green working with the children, includes interviews with pupils and their parents, and ends with them playing a short piece composed by Malcolm Singer, director of music at the Menuhin School.

Menuhin's Children.


April 22, 6.35-7.35pm.

Radio 3 is devoting the whole of Sunday April 23 to a celebration of Shakespeare's birthday. The highlight, at 7.30pm, is a performance of As You Like It, with Helena Bonham Carter, Natasha Little and David Morrissey (who, by an odd coincidence, is appearing on the same evening in the BBC1 comedy-drama, Happy Birthday, Shakespeare).

This is followed at 9.45pm by a complete performance of Purcell's The Fairy Queen. Earlier in the day are masterclasses, a performance of Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream, a talk by Iain Sinclair on Shakespeare's London and an investigation into the reasons for the dramatist's universal popularity.

Why have plays such as Hamlet, The Tempest and Titus Andronicus appealed to such a variety of audiences in such a variety of cultural and political contexts? Jonathan Bate suggests some answers.

Shakespeare Day.

Radio 3.

April 23, 9am-12 midnight.

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