Category Archives: TV and film

Michael Palin’s superb documentary on North Korea

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Channel 5 have surpassed themselves in presenting Michael Palin’s two-episode programme on his travels in North Korea.

It is a surprise to find the great Python on Channel Five, but the show reminds one of his enormous skill at presenting charming and informed pictures of foreign places.

Palin makes clear, up front, that he and his crew went where they were allowed and an “entourage” of five or six North Korean government officials accompanied them, supervising their filming and every word said on camera.

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Reporting Trump’s first year – fascinating insight into journalists on the ropes

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I have a guilty secret.

Every so often, I retreat to Greggs for a Steak Slice, sausage roll, cup of tea and a read of last Saturday’s New York Times.

I get quite excited by the Anglo-American mixture of it all.

Why last Saturday’s New York Times? – I don’t hear you cry.

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How the government tried to win hearts and minds during the Northern Ireland troubles


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Available for the next 17 days on BBC iPlayer, there’s a very interesting documentary produced by BBC Northern Ireland. It chronicles the public service television adverts that were commissioned by the Northern Ireland office between 1988 and 1998.

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The secret world of Whitehall – and other BBC Michael Cockerell gems


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If you’ve missed them when they were originally broadcast, YouTube has a wealth of BBC political documentaries for you to watch at leisure.

I missed Michael Cockerell’s “The Secret World of Whitehall” when it was originally broadcast. All three programmes from the series are on YouTube in full:

Episode 1 – The Real Sir Humphrey – This looks at the role of the Cabinet Secretary, chronicling the historic evolution of the role through its various job holders.

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Vintage election nights: the time a painter had to come on screen to extend the Swingometer

I have always remembered the classic moment when, during the BBC general election night TV coverage of 1970, a painter had to be brought on to extend the swingometer. This was because the Conservative swings were unexpectedly high, and the swingometer didn’t go far enough to cover some of them.

In these days of high tech, it is difficult to believe that such a thing happened. Indeed, as I have recalled the incident over the years, I don’t think many people have believed me.

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Superb TV programme: The Bombs that changed Britain


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The devastation of South Hallsville School in East Ham, London after a bomb hit it in 1940.

The BBC is to be congratulated on a superb history series currently going out on BBC2 – Blitz: The bombs that changed Britain.

We often think of the wartime blitz and see film footage of mounds of rubble and people trying to find loved ones.

But this TV series goes one step further and very specifically outlines the terrible impact of one bomb (in each of four episodes).

In the first programme, now on BBC iPlayer for the next 28 days, they follow the story of an unexploded bomb which fell on Number 5 Martindale Road, Canning Town in London. Because it was unexploded, the whole area had to be evacuated. This led to 600 people being crammed into nearby South Hallsville School. The idea was that people would be quickly moved from the school out of danger. But due to bureaucratic incompetence and official indifference to the plight of the mainly poor people there, the numbers mushroomed over several nights. Then the inevitable happened and the school was bombed, with horrific and widespread devastation.

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Remarkable TV programme – Chris Packham: Asperger’s and me


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Available on BBC iPlayer for the next 27 days is a remarkable TV programme – Chris Packham: Asperger’s and me. It’s a beautifully made film, in which Chris Packham is ‘brutally honest’ about his autism – he has Asperger’s syndrome. He welcomes the cameras into his home – deep in the New Forest where he lives with his dog, Scratchy. With the assistance of actors, Chris recalls his childhood and teenage years.

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Is this why there is no rush to make Boris Johnson Prime Minister?

Theresa v Boris: How May became PM is highly recommended viewing. It’s available for the next ten days on BBC iPlayer. Made for BBC2, it is an attractive mix of key player interviews, contemporaneous news footage and dramatised scenes.

Theresa May is played very well indeed by Jacqueline King (who I might gratuitously point out is well known to the legions of Lib Dem Doctor Who fans!) and Boris is captured brilliantly by Will Barton, even though his hair and nose make him look more like Michael Fabricant.

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Dan Snow on Lloyd George: My Great-Great-Grandfather


On BBC iPlayer, history broadcaster Dan Snow takes a look at Liberal Prime Minister from 1916-1922, David Lloyd George, who was his great-great-grandfather.

It’s an excellent documentary, drawing on photos and footage from the era of Lloyd George’s life, as well as commentary from a team of excellent historians and biographers.

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Filmmaker shows the sinister and, sometimes, bizarre reality of life under dictators

I thoroughly recommend the TV series “Dictatorland”, which is going out on BBC Three at the moment. You can watch the episodes as they are published on BBC iPlayer. Young journalist and filmmaker Benjamin Zand travelled, at some risk to him and his crew, to a number of countries which still have dictatorships.

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