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Handmade: Britain’s Best Woodworker and Four Hours at the Capitol

Benjie Goodhart / 15 October 2021

A new competitive reality show aims to find Britain's best woodworker, and Four Hours at the Capitol looks at the events of January 6th.

Four Hours at the Capitol, Wednesday 20th October, 9pm, BBC Two

People often despair of politics, and the quality of political discourse, in this country. All too often, soundbites are used instead of facts, policies are thought up on the hoof, and mud-slinging and points scoring replaces genuine debate and discussion of ideas. You’ve only got to tune in to the twice-weekly pantomime of Prime Minister’s Questions, with all the catcalling and jeering and general tribalistic idiocy to see that we could conduct our political business a whole lot better than this fiasco.

Mind you, politics is a beacon of civility and a paragon of intellectual probity compared to the carnival of lunacy that passes for politics in the United States. For some time now, the country has been tearing itself apart in a culture war, with the Democrats and Republicans, progressives and conservatives, becoming ever more polarised, and in many cases pushed to the political extremes.

Add into this volatile cocktail a large dose of wilful misinformation, subterfuge and lying, and you end up with a situation like the one that occurred in Washington DC on 6th January of this year. President Trump had taken his defeat at the polls with all the good grace you’d imagine of a five-year-old who’d just been told Christmas was cancelled, and chocolate had been outlawed.

His baseless assertion that the election had been stolen from him was whipping his supporters into something approaching a frenzy. On the morning of 6th January, when Congress was due to ratify the election of President Biden, Trump exhorted his supporters to rise up and ‘fight like hell’, and to march on the Capitol building in a show of force. The results, as this extraordinary feature-length documentary shows in forensic detail, were horrendous.

We all know what happened on that day. An angry mob of thousands marched on the Capitol, stormed the building, walked around shouting threats and evoking God and chuntering on about America and patriotism and freedom, and then basically went home again. But this documentary, featuring a huge cast of witnesses and participants from both ‘sides’ of the confrontation, vividly brings to life the visceral rage and corresponding fear that was felt by those involved. And it shows how desperately close the day came to being a bloodbath.

The cast of interviewees includes a number of Trump supporters, from Proud Boys to right-wing website journalists to the founder of Cowboys for Trump. Other witnesses include journalists, photographers, policemen, and a roster of politicians, not least among them Chuck Schumer, one of the most recognisable faces in American politics. The testimony of each one is riveting, but it is the footage here that is most shocking of all.

Splicing together CCTV footage, news footage, and most dramatically of all, the film shot by the rioters themselves, we are taken to the heart of the action in all it’s terrifying, insatiable, mob-fuelled insanity. To start with, a lot of it is just men with facial hair and questionable dress sense mugging at the camera and saying stuff like “F*** yeah, bro,” and “We’re gonna take our country back!” But quickly, it becomes something much more sinister.

You can literally see the confrontation building, almost by the minute, as events play out on the screen. Inside the Capitol, the sense of mounting panic is palpable. Leah Han, a staffer in Nancy Pelosi’s office, recalls switching the lights off in a locked office and hiding under the table, as the mob rampaged through the building. “Everyone just held their breath. It was silent.” Later, she reveals: “I thought I was going to die. I didn’t think I was going to go home that day.”

The bizarreness of the unfolding drama is impossible to avoid. “I remember walking through blood that came from one of our sergeants who lost part of his hand,” recalls one police inspector. “We’re civilian police officers. We see trauma every day. We see the worst of humanity every day. But nothing can prepare you for that. This is something that you would see in combat.”

The almost surreal nature of it all simply grows as the film goes on. There’s footage a guy who made it to the huge hall beneath the rotunda and announced “Time to smoke some weed in here.” A guy appears on camera and says he’s there because he believes 800,000 kids a year are being kidnapped and tortured and sexually enslaved. It is, of course, conspiracy theory nonsense.

And then there is the moment, shocking in its suddenness, when a protestor, Ashli Babbett, is shot dead by a panicked police officer. Or the moment when an officer, Mike Fanone, is dragged from the police lines and into the angry mob. He believed he was going to be killed and, in the chaos, he had a heart attack.

And then it all stops. And all that is left is a huge clear up operation, a lot of badly injured people, and some devastating statistics at the end of the film. And the sense, unmistakably, that something is very, very wrong with politics in 21st Century America.

Handmade: Britain’s Best Woodworker 1/6, Thursday 21st October, 8pm, Channel 4

And so we move on to yet another competitive reality show. We’ve already got cooking, singing, baking, sewing, more cooking, more singing, pottery, cooking again, painting, dancing, yet more singing, dog-grooming, you name it, it’s been turned into a competitive TV format. It would be very easy to roll one’s eyes and reach for the remote to find something else but (a) you’d probably just flip over to a different competitive format and (b) this one is absolutely out of this world.

In this new six-part series, nine woodworking enthusiasts are squirrelled away in a workshop in the middle of ancient Welsh woodlands, where they will try to whittle, carve, saw, plain, hammer, tongue and groove their way to woodworking glory. Each week, they face two challenges – a big build and an on-the-spot skills test. They will be judged by architect Alex Di Rijke and Helen Welch, founder of the London School of Furniture Making. Overseeing proceedings, with her usual chipmunkish enthusiasm, is Mel Giedroyc, who knows her way around a competitive format show.

First off, the obvious. In the best tradition of Bake Off, this show is going to be full of double-entendres. Almost before the show’s begun, we’ve got people guffawing about wood, holding your tool, all that sort of thing. You half expect Sid James and Barbara Windsor to pop up and start giggling at any moment.

But don’t be put off, because this programme features some of the most breath-taking artistry and skill I’ve ever seen on one of these shows.

You might think they’d kick things off with an easy, gentle challenge in week one. You know. Whittle a spear. Make a door handle. Instead, the woodworkers are asked to build the bed of their dreams in two days. What? In most shows, you might have to make a Victoria Sponge or destroy a Beyoncé song. Here, they’re required to make the flipping double bed of their dreams. Surely it’s not possible. It takes me that long to assemble a flat pack chest of drawers. It’s insanity!

“I think the bed of my dreams would have at least two members of Take That,” chirps Mel. My dream bed would just be massive, near a telly, and behind a locked door so my kids couldn’t sneak in for a cuddle and end up kicking me repeatedly all night long. But I’m not sure that’s quite what the judges are looking for.

Events move at breakneck speed in the workshop, as you might imagine with so much to do. With a background of hammering, sawing, plaining and drilling in the room, some of the interviews are more like shouting matches than conversations. And, initially, it just looks quite a lot like we’re just watching people cut stuff and drill stuff. But, bit by bit, creations of astounding beauty and ingenuity begin to emerge before our eyes.

Events are interrupted by the skills round. The woodworkers are asked to carve their own printing block, inspired by nature. The winner gets immunity from elimination that week. The artistry on display from almost all of the contestants is remarkable.

But the real story of the show is the big build. And the results are simply astounding. If I were a judge on the show, I’d give them all first place, and probably buy all the beds, which would leave me with rather a lot of wooden beds. I’d probably have to start a hotel. Fortunately, the real judges are a little more discerning – sometimes unnervingly so. They’re not afraid to be brutally honest in their assessments, as if both of them were going for the Craig Revel Horwood baddie-judge role.

Next week, dolls houses. And from the taster clip at the end of the show, that one looks a stupefyingly wonderful effort too.

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The best… and the rest:

Saturday 16th October

Arctic Drift: A Year in the Ice, 6:30pm, Channel 4: An intrepid team of 300 scientists spend a year in harsh conditions deep in the Arctic, on a pioneering expedition to secure vital answers to help us deal with climate change.

Robson Green: Coastal Fishing, 1/4, Channel 5: The actor searches for the tastiest fish in British waters, exploring distinct maritime cultures around the British Isles. He begins by travelling around the south-west of England as he goes on a mission to find the conger eel.

Sunday 17th October

Celebrity Trash Monsters: What's Your Waste Size? 9pm, Channel 4: Comedian Jon Richardson gets three celebrities to wear their own rubbish for two weeks, to highlight the impact of their waste on climate change. The three stinky unfortunates are John Barnes, Jodie Kidd and Kerry Katona.

Monday 18th October

The Trick, 8:30pm, BBC One: Jason Watkins stars as a climate change scientist hacked by cyberterrorists in this feature-length fact-based drama. The ensuing storm damaged the public’s belief in human-created climate change. Victoria Hamilton and George MacKay co-star.

Tuesday 19th October

Who Do You Think You Are? 9pm, BBC One: National treasure Dame Judi Dench is the subject of the delightful genealogy show this week, discovering some remarkable Shakespearian links.

Ashley Banjo: Britain in Black and White, 9pm, ITV: The dancer examines the negative reaction to Diversity’s Black Lives Matter dance on Britain’s Got Talent last year, and speaks to contributors ranging from David Harewood to Jim Davidson to assess racism in Britain today.

American Crime Story 1/10, 9:15pm, BBC Two: The drama that forensically examined the cases of OJ Simpson and the assassination of Gianni Versace turns its expert gaze to the events that led to Bill Clinton's impeachment in 1998. Beanie Feldstein stars as Monica Lewinsky, and Clive Owen plays Clinton.

Wednesday 20th October

Shetland 1/6, 9pm, BBC One: Douglas Henshall returns as DI Jimmy Perez in the atmospheric police drama. Tonight, a prominent Shetlander is shot dead on their own doorstep in broad daylight.

Thursday 21st October

Charlene White: Empire's Child, 9pm, ITV: The newsreader and Loose Women presenter explores how the legacy of the British Empire has shaped her family’s destiny, with deeply moving results.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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