thu 31/07/2014

TV reviews, news & interviews

Art of China, BBC Four

Florence Hallett

If, like me, you switched this on feeling sheepish about your sketchy knowledge of Chinese art, you would have welcomed as a ready-made excuse the news that some monuments synonymous with Chinese culture are relatively recent discoveries. It seems unthinkable that the terracotta army guarding the burial site of China’s first Emperor Qin Shi Huang was the stuff of legend and rumour until 1974, but it turns out that much of the 22-square-mile area occupied by the memorial is still to be explored...

A Hundred Million Musicians: China's Classical Challenge, BBC Four

Jasper Rees

A few years ago I sat high up in a rapt, sweltering Albert Hall as a lone pianist performed for two hours in the round. Neither before nor since has the BBC Proms treated a classical musician like a rock god. But then Lang Lang, whether his music-making causes you to cheer or shudder, was and remains the poster boy of a cultural revolution. A few weeks earlier he'd opened the Olympic Games in Beijing.That afternoon he duetted with two guests: his father on the Chinese erhu, representing China’s...

Red Arrows: Inside the Bubble, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

The RAF's renowned aerobatics team found itself at the centre of a political mini-storm last week when it was asked to use only blue and white smoke...

The Secret History of Our Streets, BBC Two

Veronica Lee

Joseph Bullman's first series – about six London streets – won several awards, and deservedly so. Now he has turned his attention to Scotland in a...

Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony, BBC One

Jasper Rees

What is an opening ceremony for? For the taste gendarmerie on Twitter, it’s a juicy chance to fall on the festivities like a pack of wolves and tear...

The Mill, Series 2, Channel 4 / The Lancaster: Britain's Flying Past, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

Return of 19th-century industrial saga is dingy, drab and didactic

The Joy of the Guitar Riff, BBC Four

Andy Plaice

Beethoven, Berry and Black Sabbath: cracking the rock'n'roll code

Glasgow Girls, BBC Three

Lisa-Marie Ferla

More drama than musical in TV adaptation of the inspirational true story

Coast, Series 9, BBC Two

Jasper Rees

Maritime series washes up on screens at the wrong time of night

Utopia, Series 2, Channel 4

Adam Sweeting

Dennis Kelly's tortuous spine-chiller roars back in lethal form

Opinion: The docusoap must die, again

Jasper Rees

A generic mutation has come back from the grave, and it still sucks

Britain's Most Dangerous Songs: Listen to the Banned, BBC Four

Adam Sweeting

Stories of the tunes the Beeb refused to play

The Lance Armstrong Story - Stop at Nothing, BBC Four / The Nation's Favourite Motown Song, ITV

Adam Sweeting

The inside story of the biggest fraud in sporting history

Common, BBC One

Matthew Wright

Jimmy McGovern shines a light on both the humanity and legality of joint enterprise

theartsdesk Q&A: Writer Jimmy McGovern

Jasper Rees

Television's premier dramatist on righting wrongs in his new courtroom drama Common

The Honourable Woman, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

In which Hugo Blick tackles the personal and political complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian question

Rebels of Oz: Germaine, Clive, Barry and Bob, BBC Four

Fisun Güner

A lovely Howard Jacobson essay on four fearless expat Aussies

The Culture Show: Girls Will Be Girls, BBC Two

Lisa-Marie Ferla

Exploration of women in punk strikes only a few bum notes

Arena: The 50 Year Argument, BBC Four

Fisun Güner

A warmly engaging film about the 'New York Review of Books' might have been more than a birthday love-in

Beauty Queen or Bust, Channel 4

Andy Plaice

It's nail extensions at dawn in the battle to become Miss Black Country

DVD: Wallander – Collected Films

Kieron Tyler

Sweden’s troubled detective bows out with a dazzling performance from Krister Henriksson

Shopgirls: the True Story of Life Behind the Counter, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

How British retailing was transformed by its own sexual revolution

Murdered By My Boyfriend, BBC Three

Lisa-Marie Ferla

Domestic violence drama single-handedly makes the case for BBC Three

Glyndebourne: the Untold History, BBC Four

Adam Sweeting

How an operatic revolution was born in the rural splendour of east Sussex

A Cabbie Abroad, BBC Two

Jasper Rees

Telly natural Mason McQueen finds out about Pol Pot

Fostering & Me with Lorraine Pascale, BBC Two

Andy Plaice

Telly chef unravels the secrets of her tortuous upbringing

American TV not always better, claims BBC boss Danny Cohen

Adam Sweeting

BBC supremo takes viewers to task for their transatlantic tastes

Tigers about the House, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

Outrageously photogenic Sumatran cubs do their bit for wildlife conservation

World Cup Finals 2014, BBC One

Matthew Wright

Cool psychological class puts the Italians on top

Footnote: a brief history of British TV

You could almost chart the history of British TV by following the career of ITV's Coronation Street, as it has ridden 50 years of social change, seen off would-be rivals, survived accusations of racism and learned to live alongside the BBC's EastEnders. But no single programme, or even strand of programmes, can encompass the astonishing diversity and creativity of TV-UK since BBC TV was officially born in 1932.

Nostalgists lament the demise of single plays like Ken Loach's Cathy Come Home or Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party, but drama series like The Jewel in the Crown, Edge of Darkness, Our Friends in the North, State of Play, the original Upstairs Downstairs or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy will surely loom larger in history's rear-view mirror, while perhaps Julian Fellowes' surprise hit, Downton Abbey, heralds a new wave of the classic British costume drama. For that matter, indestructible comic creations like George Cole's Arthur Daley in Minder, Nigel Hawthorne's Sir Humphrey in Yes Minister, the Steptoes, Arthur Lowe and co in Dad's Army, John Cleese's Fawlty Towers or Only Fools and Horses insinuate themselves between the cracks of British life far more persuasively than the most earnest television documentary (at which Britain has become world-renowned).

British sci-fi will never out-gloss Hollywood monoliths like Battlestar Galactica, but Nigel Kneale's Quatermass stories are still influential 60 years later, and the reborn Doctor Who has been a creative coup for the BBC. British series from the Sixties like The Avengers, Patrick McGoohan's bizarre brainchild The Prisoner or The Saint (with the young Roger Moore) have bounced back as major influences on today's Hollywood, and re-echo through the BBC's enduringly successful Spooks.

Meanwhile, though British comedy depends more on maverick inspiration than the sleek industrialisation deployed by US television, that didn't stop Monty Python from becoming a global legend, or prevent Ricky Gervais being adopted as an American mascot. True, you might blame British TV (and Simon Cowell) for such monstrosities as The X Factor or Britain's Got Talent, but the entire planet has lapped them up. And we can console ourselves that Britain also gave the world Jacob Bronowski's The Ascent of Man, David Attenborough's epic nature series Life on Earth and The Blue Planet, as well as Kenneth Clark's Civilisation. The Arts Desk brings you overnight reviews and news of the best (and worst) of TV in Britain. Our writers include Adam Sweeting, Jasper Rees, Veronica Lee, Alexandra Coghlan, Fisun Güner, Josh Spero and Gerard Gilbert.

Close Footnote

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

latest in today

Guardians of the Galaxy

Chris Pratt delights in James Gunn's thrilling and funny space adventu...

Art of China, BBC Four

Andrew Graham-Dixon's series offers so much more than the title sugges...

CD: Eric Clapton & Friends - The Breeze: An Appreciation...

Tom Petty, Willie Nelson and Mark Knopfler summoned to salute the late guit...

PUSH, Guillem/Maliphant, London Coliseum

An astonishing evening from three dance world greats

WOMAD 2014, Charlton Park

Sold-out World Music Festival warms to revolutionary Ukrainians

What Lies Beneath: The Secret Life of Paintings

From mystery men to missing whales, paintings can reveal unexpected secrets

Prom 16: Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic, Goetzel/Prom 17: Les...

Communication at the highest level in orchestral orientalia and Rameau mote...

Mood Indigo

There's method in the visual madness of Michel Gondry's tale of t...

CD: Jenny Lewis - The Voyager

California girl's return confounds expectations

Romeo and Juliet, Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House

Dated choreography is redeemed by luminous performances