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08-02-2010

David Dimbleby

On TV these days, we are blessed with two (count ‘em,…two) brilliant dissections of our island. And, wow, are they different, says Richard Lutz.

You don’t have to look very far these days if you want a summation of what this swampy muddy ancient place called Britain is all about. You have to look about ten feet – above your feet propped up on the coffee table, in fact - to peer into that crystal screen jammed between the Wii and the mock Edwardian fireplace.

TV is giving us a pair of programmes that delivers up two superb telly-opsies of Britain.

The first is David Dimbleby’s Seven Ages of Britain (Sundays, BBC1, 9.00). Here the old boy, the Englishman who is so English he seems to come from another planet if not his own private club, travels back in time and across Europe to find out about our past.

This week, he peered at precious stones set in Richard II’s wife’s crown. Pearls, diamonds and more pearls. He seemed almost speechless.

But this is TV so he, in perfect Dimbleby’s Private Club English, told us how and why it is so beautiful…and why it is in a German museum (see, he got his trip to the Continent after all though this is a series on Britain).

Then, he got strapped into a climber’s cradle and creakily, warily, tentatively, gingerly, near enough cowardly (you get the idea…),  had his aged body hoisted up to  a church archway in Coventry to see an exquisite Doom painting.

Boy, was he frightened, more scared than having to talk to real people which he makes a hash of everytime time he pokes a microphone near an inhabitant of this country. . It’s a great series.

Then off to another Britain, a dystopian, cracked, rusty, perverse whacko Britain as Jonathan Meades (Off Kilter, Wednesdays BBC2,  11.20) explains Scotland to us.

Here this mordant frowning extremely funny bullfrog of a  man sweeps away the tartan and the McKitsch to explain why anything north of Carlisle is handsome, intriguing, boggy, cranky and locked into its own craggy world.

His style is a scream - taking apart TV conventions we accept as normal. He gets out of a car to deliver a Very Serious piece to camera and the car rolls away down a hill. 

He arrives on a beach on the island of Harris and Lewis in his black suit and ignores the seagull droppings on his shoulder. 

He picks at the rusty remains of a car to explain it is as important as some inexplicable standing stone jammed into a peat bog. He never interjects an interview into his essay, he never recreates anything with all those BBC costume department false beards and soft focus angles. He never smiles and he is hilarious

So with Dimbleby you get this sceptred isle…with Meades you get  this unseptic isle. Which one do you think it is? Fingers on the buzzers, the winner gets an HD video of Peter Andre crying on Sky TV.

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