TV blog: Remembrance

Benjie Goodhart / 08 November 2018

The centenary of the end of the First World War is covered by the BBC in a series of fascinating and moving programmes this week.

Remembrance programmes, Saturday – Monday, Children In Need, Friday

Sometimes it seems the BBC is constantly under attack. Just a quick look at the newspapers or a glance at Twitter will show you that the BBC is at any one time considered too left-wing, too right-wing, too pro-Brexit, too pro-Remain, in the pocket of Climate Change deniers whilst also being too environmentally minded, and dumbing down whilst being elitist and highbrow. It is also criticised for not spending enough to keep broadcasting rights for various sports and live broadcast events, whilst also attacked for being too profligate. The salaries of its staff are scrutinised in a way that no other institution has to tolerate.

I’m not saying the BBC is perfect. It is, after all, responsible for Mrs Brown’s Boys. But any other country in the world would be thrilled to have a national broadcaster of such sustained quality and variety – though they might wonder why so many of its programmes were in English. And the next seven days are book-ended by two events on BBC One that epitomise the broadcaster at its brilliant best.

The weekend sees a host of programmes dedicated to Remembrance Day, and the 100th anniversary of the armistice that brought to an end the Great War. The BBC is marking the occasion with a series of documentaries and live broadcasts, starting on Saturday night with the Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance 2018 (8:30pm, BBC One), live from the Albert Hall. Huw Edwards presents an evening of music and tributes, with the likes of Sir Tom Jones, Sir Bryn Terfel and Sheridan Smith performing for an audience including the Queen and members of the Royal family, the PM, and senior military figures.

On Sunday, David Dimbleby presents live coverage of the always-moving ceremony at the Cenotaph from 10am (BBC One) , with the Queen and members of the Royal family, the PM, and senior military figures all in attendance. Then, in the evening, there is live coverage from Westminster Abbey (5:10pm, BBC One) where Sophie Raworth will introduce a service attended by (you guessed it) the Queen and members of the Royal family, the PM, and senior military figures.

Away from these live events, though, the programming is, if anything, even more poignant and moving. A special Songs of Praise (1:45pm. BBC One) will see Katherine Jenkins in Southampton, the primary embarkation point for troops heading off to the slaughter. Countryfile (3:45pm, BBC One) visits the village of Rotherfield, one of the last in the country without a war memorial. The team hears the stories of some of the 93 soldiers from the village who died in the war, ahead of the unveiling of the new memorial. Sunday’s coverage finishes with perhaps the most anticipated film of all, a new feature-length documentary from director Peter Jackson, They Shall Not Grow Old (BBC One, 9:30pm), using colourised and transformed archive footage, along with personal testimony, to bring the war vividly to life. Finally, on Monday, Dan Snow examines the terrible and misunderstood phenomenon of Shell Shock in World War I’s Secret Shame (9pm, BBC Two).

And then, on Friday, some of the biggest names in entertainment come together for Children In Need. Graham Norton, Tess Daly, Mel Giedroyc, Rob Beckett, Ade Adepitan, and Rochelle and Marvin Humes present an evening of music, sketches, games and inspiring stories, all in the name of raising money for disadvantaged children and young people across the UK. The action will include the climax of The One Show’s Rickshaw Challenge, the traditional Strictly Come Dancing Children In Need Special, and a Children In Need-themed edition of Mastermind.

Two events, hugely different, hugely complex, and hugely emotive, handled with sensitivity and humanity. Public Service Broadcasting at its best.

Read our article about how the First World War shaped the world we live in now

Running Wild with Bear Grylls: Roger Federer, Monday 12th November, 9pm, ITV

From two very important, and moving, events on television to one very silly one. If you’ve not seen it, Running Wild with Bear Grylls is utterly daft. As indeed it is if you have seen it. I absolutely love it.

For the uninitiated, the show sees Grylls and a celebrity taking to the remote wilderness for a day or two, clambering up and down vertiginous bits of rock and eating insects and fish heads and lichen. It’s very silly because the entire thing is so clearly carefully choreographed and pre-planned, in spite of Bear’s rather lame attempts to suggest that he’s winging the whole thing. Witness, for example, the extraordinary number of dead-but-still-fresh animals he just happens to stumble across every time he sets foot on a hillside.

But it’s also brilliant. It’s brilliant because he gets proper, A-lister guests. Where some shows relentlessly churn out gym bunnies from TOWIE or Made in Chelsea, Grylls gets Hollywood royalty, sporting legends and, memorably, Barack Obama. (Your turn, Mr Trump. Don’t get lost out there…). And he then subjects the A-listers to properly scary activities (apart from the President, with whom he basically took a gentle country stroll, surrounded by nature and wilderness and 500 secret agents).

The celebs always come out of the whole thing smelling of roses. Not literally, of course. They actually smell of body odour, sweat, fear, bonfire smoke, and whatever carcass they’ve been carrying around. But something about the nature of the exercise, and Bear’s guileless questioning, brings out an honesty and openness that you don’t normally get in a soundbite-filled, PR-controlled 20-minute interview slot.

And so to this episode. Roger Federer is driving through the Swiss Alps. Bear, being Bear, has to make one of his flashy entrances, parachuting in and landing on the road in front of the car. They pack a few much-needed supplies, and Bear decides ‘on a whim’ (yeah right) that the four tennis rackets might come in handy. Snow shoe alert! Meanwhile, Roger wonders aloud if his tennis skills might come in handy in the wilderness. Yep, there’s nothing like the ability to execute a topspin lob on the run to help you out when you’re dangling from a cliff face or being attacked by a hungry bear.

Our Roge appears to be a little nervous. “I might look like a tough guy on the court…” he begins. Um… no you don’t. Your whole thing is being an artist, all delicate shots and elegant movement. You wear monogrammed blazers when you walk on, for heaven’s sakes.

It also turns out he’s never worn crampons. He’s Swiss, for heaven’s sake. I thought they were born in crampons. (Actually, that would be quite the birthing experience). Bear’s giving him a pep-talk. “I’ve got to warn you, you live in a country with a lot of steep terrain.” I imagine that even a man as dedicated to tennis as our Roge might have looked up once or twice and noticed that.

And off they go. And it all happens, just as it should. Snow shoes? Check. Unappetising but fresh dead animal? Check. Oh, and there’s even a sequence where Roger has to use his tennis skills to get them out of a jam.

It doesn’t matter, though. It’s great fun. Bear is, as ever, a genial and generous host, Federer is game and cheerful and charming, and they even manage to bring their adventure to a close with a quite brilliant sporting challenge.

The best… and the rest

Sunday, 11th November

Escape to the Chateau 1/7, 8:30pm,. Channel 4: Time to catch up once again with Angel Strawbridge and her husband Dick, owner of the finest moustache in human history, as they continue to build a very new life in a very old and very big house in France. Delightful.

Extreme Everest with Ant Middleton, 9:30pm, Channel 4: The world’s hardest man takes on the world’s highest mountain. Middleton, of SAS: Who Dares Wins fame, chronicles his attempts to climb Everest in a one-off documentary that is at once riveting and ruddy exhausting!

Britain’s Poppies: The First World War Remembered, 9:30pm, ITV: Following the four-year journey of the ceramic poppies after their unforgettable exhibition at the Tower of London in 2014.

Monday, 12th November

Liam Bakes 1/5, 8pm, Channel 4: Bake Off 2017’s hugely popular Liam Charles presents his own baking show. Charles is a charismatic presence and a marvellous baker, though the programme’s attempts to bring a streetwise and edgy element to proceedings is cringeworthy.

24 Hours in A & E, 9pm, Channel 4: The fly-on-the-hospital-wall documentary show returns for a 16th series, once more from St George’s hospital in Tooting.

Tuesday, 13th November

We Are Most Amused and Amazed, 8pm, ITV: Prince Charles marks his 70th birthday with a visit to The London Palladium to see the likes of Kylie Minogue perform. Doubtless exactly how he wanted to mark his landmark milestone.

Thursday, 14th November

Children In Need Rocks, 8:30pm, BBC One: Live from the SSE Arena, Wembley, the BBC brings you Rod Stewart and… and… and a load of people you probably haven’t heard of. It’s all in a marvellous cause, though. And there’s always the all-important mute button…

Inside the Foreign Office 1/3, 9pm, BBC Two: Documentary-maker Michael Waldman’s new three-part series focuses on the goings-on in Whitehall, and in our embassies overseas, during a tumultuous time at home and abroad.

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