TV Blog: World’s Tiniest Masterpieces

Benjie Goodhart / 05 July 2018

Discover the art of miniaturist sculptor Willard Wigan who makes artworks often only visible through a microscope.

World’s Tiniest Masterpieces, Sunday 8th July, 10:10pm, Channel 4

How’s your dexterity? Mine isn’t all that great. When I use chopsticks, I look like a drunk Brontosaurus learning to knit. But it’s nothing as compared to my patience – or lack thereof. I have found, since bringing small people into the world, that I am actually a far more short-tempered and unpleasant person than I had previously imagined. If I make it out of the house and on to the school run without shouting so loud the windows rattle, I consider it a small personal victory.

In short, I will never be a Willard Wigan, MBE. Wigan is a man who has a very unusual job, requiring incredible dexterity and astonishing patience. He makes tiny artworks. In fact, he makes the smallest hand-made works of art in history. And he is nothing short of absolutely, completely and miraculously extraordinary, as this quite remarkable documentary reveals.

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It is all well and good trying to explain what it is Wigan does, but it really has to be seen to be believed. Hopefully, at the top of this column there is a picture of some quite beautiful piece of sculpture… that is sitting inside the eye of a needle. I have had the privilege of seeing Wigan’s art in person (with the use of a microscope) and it is almost incomprehensible it is so amazing.

Examples of his work are owned by Simon Cowell, Mike Tyson, and The Queen, for whom he created a crown that sits on the head of a pin. “She can’t wear it, because it’s too small,” he says, a quite marvellous case of the bleedin’ obvious being stated. He creates all of his own tools himself, and when he works, he makes movements specifically between heartbeats so as to keep perfectly still. He has painted a 1mm Mona Lisa, using an eyelash as a paintbrush. He has carved a grain of sand into a church.

His latest project is a plan to create the world’s smallest sculpture, carved from a microscopic carpet fibre. When finished, he will sit it inside a hollowed-out human hair from his shaved head. But his is a profession fraught with difficulty. Even if he manages to keep his own movements sufficiently precise and dextrous to work on such a microscopic level, static electricity can strike at any moment, and whatever it is he is working on simply vanishes. He has to learn Zen-like patience. Not least to cope with moments like the one where he inhaled his own, just-completed sculpture of the Mad Hatter’s tea party.

This utterly beguiling film observes Wigan in his extraordinary work, and hears him movingly describe the reasons behind what he does. There are some irritatingly jarring bits where he is depicted as a giant bestriding the city, or as a midget running around on tables like a modern day Lilliputian. But his work really has to be seen to be believed. And just when you think you’ve seen it all, he unveils his latest, tiniest creation, called simply ‘The Beginning’.

Celebrity 5 Go Caravanning 1/4, Friday 13th July, 8pm, Channel 5

In 1944 the French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote the play No Exit, in which three people find themselves in hell, trapped in a confined space together for all eternity. The idea being that hell is other people. I mention this for two reasons. Primarily, because it makes me sound fabulously intellectual, but also because if Sartre really wanted to depict hell, he’d have had the action taking place in a caravan with bunk beds.

This new four-part series from Channel 5 is a not unfamiliar concept. Indeed, when they’re not making shows about traffic policemen or bailiffs, this is pretty much Channel 5’s meat and drink. You take five celebrities who (whisper it) might be enjoying a not insubstantial amount of leisure time, and watch them pootling about together on a boat/in a caravan/in a house. Okay, it’s not Citizen Kane, but it’s a step up from watching Can’t Pay, We’ll Take It Away.

For this latest iteration of the formula we have Corrie-star-turned-Loose-Woman Sherrie Hewson, ex-Doctor Who actor Colin Baker, former Grange Hill and EastEnders actor Todd Carty, DJ Tony Blackburn and chirpy Scouse songstress Sonia. They are taking a couple of caravans around the Lake District, which looks almost implausibly gorgeous in every shot. I find myself immediately warming to Colin, with his confusion about caravanning. “Why would you do that when there are perfectly good hotels?” His face when he sees the bunk beds makes Munch’s The Scream look like a soft focus wedding photo.

Actually, I’m warming to Sherrie pretty quickly as well. “The first thing we need is wine. Pink wine and white wine.” By the truckload, if you’ve got to sleep in a tin can. For some reason, the group has to go and pick up Sonia from a farm shop. I think it’s to add a spot of jeopardy to proceedings. You might scoff at anything in such a gentle programme constituting jeopardy, but you haven’t see Colin trying to manoeuvre a caravan along a narrow road past parked cars. Watching that, my palms became so sweaty, I think I actually ended up dehydrated. The England penalty shoot-out didn’t leave me as emotionally drained.

Finally, the group arrives several hours late to pick up a concerned Sonia. “I’ve never been so pleased to see a celebrity caravan convoy,” she chirps, like it’s a weekly occurrence. By the way, Sonia never speaks. She chirps. She is the world’s chirpiest person, endlessly cheerful and upbeat, even in the face of Sherrie’s heroic snoring. It sounds infuriating, but it’s actually rather endearing. (Sonia’s chirpiness, that is, not Sherrie’s snoring, which would indeed be infuriating).

And therein lies the key to the programme. They’re all rather lovely. Yes, they seem to spend an inordinate amount of time roaring with laughter at nothing in particular, but they are all engaging company in their own ways, and the Lake District is a picture-postcard backdrop for their giggly shenanigans. Jean-Paul Sartre, it seems, was wrong all along.

The best and the rest

Saturday 7th July

MOTD Live: FIFA World Cup 2018, 2:15pm, BBC One: England v Sweden. Anyone who tells you this will be a cakewalk wants their head examined. Sweden are an incredibly resilient defensive unit, who simply do not concede goals. This one has penalties written all over it. I don’t know how much more of this I can take…

Sunday 8th July

Formula 1 British Grand Prix Live, 1:40pm, Channel 4: Eeeeek! There’s no football on today. What are we going to do? We might have to talk to each oth… oh look, there’s the British Grand Prix. Hurrah!

The Great British Germ Hunt, 7pm, Channel 4: Kate Quilton explores the mysterious world of bacteria, and discovers why there definitely is such a thing as being too clean. Something I’ve been telling my wife for years.

Monday 9th July

747: 50 Years of the Jumbo Jet 1/2, 9pm, Channel 5: Celebrating the history of this iconic vessel, ‘the plane that shrank the world’.

Wednesday 11th July

Picnic at Hanging Rock 1/6, 9pm, BBC Two: If you thought the limit of Australian TV involved the goings on in Ramsay Street and Summer Bay, you might want to catch this six-part adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel, about a group of female students who vanish into the Outback on a Valentine’s Day picnic. Nathalie Dormer stars.

Thursday 12th July

The Gameshow Serial Killer: Police Tapes, 9pm, ITV: The broadcaster continues to feed its true crime fetish, with another documentary involving Susannah Reid looking into historic murders. This time, she’s looking at the case of John Cooper, whose quadruple muder spree went unpunished for 20 years.

Friday 13th July

Food Unwrapped Summer Diet Special, 8pm, Channel 4: Exploring the world of tiger nut milk, collagen drinks and crash diets, so you don’t have to.

8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, 9pm, Channel 4: An all-female edition of the comedy game show, presented by Katherine Ryan, to mark 100 years of female suffrage. Doubtless Emmeline Pankhurst would be thrilled…

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