This is a gem of a television show produced by the British channel BBC four. The presenter, Tony Robinson, was Baldrick (a dogsbody) on the wonderful Rowan Atkinson series Black Adder. Fresh off his terrific history/archeological series Time Team, Tony’s new show is four seasons of him taking long (60 miles) walks over four days in a particular area in Britain in order to tell a historical story. So you have an interesting presenter, beautiful scenery all over Britain, and a great story of British history in each episode.
Season one is a great example of the formula, one episode tracing the birth of the Industrial Revolution in Britain led by Richard Arkwright, the inventor of the spinning frame (water frame), which enabled manufacturing of textiles on a large scale. (Previously, textile making had been small-scale industry, woven in homes). In every episode, Tony meets experts, usually historians from local universities, but keeps these academic interactions short and concise. There’s a lot of information but it’s presented in a breezy manner.
So, what we have here is a hybrid travel-cum-history show, and I find it utterly charming. Season two has Tony in The Lake District, following the path of Roman occupation in this region of Britain. There’s a great episode in Cornwall, famous for it’s smuggling. (Adrienne’s note: as we learn on Poldark!) Tony explains how and why the smuggling started (Britain was broke after the war of Independence in the American Colonies and taxed the hell out of goods) and how it all worked, attached to wonderful panoramic views of this beautiful coastal area.
Season three has a great episode of the building of the Leeds and Liverpool canal, used to send coal to the industries in the south and returning with, um, ‘night soil’ from London (human waste) that was fine fertilizer for the farms up north. The canals are real works of architecture and the waterfowl they attract now are stunning.