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What the Tudors Did for Us

BBC2 Mondays, 8.30-9pm

Adam Hart-Davis is almost a caricature of the eccentric teacher, the kind whose experiments always seem about to go wrong and blow up the science lab, but whose lessons you remember long after more conventional types. After the Romans and the Victorians, he buttons his doublet for a go at the Tudors. He started last week with the humble pencil, made of graphite from a 16th-century mine in Cumbria, an aid to "seeyng the worlde" which led him on to the camera obscura, map-making and Mercator's projection. Mercator was a Dutchman, and so only an honorary Tudor - which shows up the flaw in a series that sometimes finds its Anglocentricity constricting. Next, we learn about printing and the extension of learning. Great stuff, memorably presented.

Mountains and Coasts

BBC2 Thursday, October 3, 12.10-12.30pm.

This week and next, this primary geography series for nine to 11-year-olds examines the forces that have shaped the coastal landscape starting, naturally enough, with the sea. The Pembrokeshire coast offers illustrations of how the sea has helped to form beaches, caves and arches. But the appearance of the coastline is not only dependent on nature. Next week, "Life on the Coast" shows how a variety of human activities has influenced it in the very different environments of Brighton and Holderness.

King Jamie and the Angel

C4 Tuesday, October 1, 9.30-9.45am

The third of these enjoyable dramas for nine to 12-year-olds about the life of King James VI of Scotland brings us up to the beheading of our hero's mother, Mary Queen of Scots. He turns to his guardian angel for advice on how to respond: should he go to war with England? Or should he opt for peace, hoping that eventually he might succeed to the English crown? Meanwhile, plague is rife in the expanding Scottish towns. A game of golf ends in Jamie's favour (though he may not be much of a sportsman) and his castle at Stirling proves to have been built for both comfort and defence.

Before the Booker

BBC4 Wednesdays, 9-9.50pm

A neat idea: essentially, an excuse to discuss and compare novels from a particular moment in the past. Clive Anderson hosts a panel of distinguished guests, each of whom chooses a book from a given year and defends its claim to the pre-Booker Prize. So, for 1934, Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night competes with Robert Graves' I, Claudius, Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express and PG Wodehouse's Thank You, Jeeves. The winner is not predictable, because the politics of committees come into play (which may be why The House at Pooh Corner survived longer than Orlando in the first week's programme). The really tough contest will be for 1847, when Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights come up against Vanity Fair and Dombey and Son. Silly as such competitions may be, they do make us ask why we admire some literary classics.

For full schedules go to: www.channel4.co.uklearningmainprogrammesautumn2002.cfm and www.bbc.co.ukschoolswhatsontvindex.shtml

Robin Buss

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