Herald Sun - Switched On - - Sunday -

FOR those of us who had te­dious tales of Bri­tain’s naval dom­i­nance beaten into our skulls, this se­ries is a breath of fresh sea air. It be­gan last week with a splen­did de­bunk­ing of mythol­ogy: The Royal Navy was founded, we learnt, in in­famy — by brig­ands such as Fran­cis Drake, whose first no­ble en­ter­prise was as a slave­trader. The swine.

And apart from Drake’s fa­mous vic­tory against the Span­ish Ar­mada, Bri­tain’s navy achieved lit­tle of note be­fore the end of the 17th cen­tury. But then, as tonight’s episode of this rip-roar­ing, four-part se­ries pre­sented by rugged Bri­tish his­to­rian Dan Snow demon­strates, things be­gan to look up. And from that point on, Snow ex­plains, it is hard to over­es­ti­mate the im­pact of Bri­tain’s soar­ing naval stocks as the nation — on the ships’ backs, so to speak — achieved global supremacy.

How­ever, the im­por­tance of naval dom­i­nance was not con­fined to the seas. Or even to the beaches. The suc­cess of the Royal Navy, ac­cord­ing to Snow, ‘‘ rev­o­lu­tionised agri­cul­ture and eco­nom­ics, and laid the foun­da­tions for the in­tro­duc­tion of in­dus­try’’.

Snow’s ap­proach is to tell this tale, with some as­sis­tance from archival maps and other il­lus­tra­tions, in a thor­oughly mod­ern set­ting and with­out cheesy recre­ations. This works ad­mirably and con­vinc­ingly.

In the first episode, it was Sa­muel Pepys, a de­vout volup­tuary who hap­pily con­fessed to en­thu­si­as­tic in­volve­ment in the oc­ca­sional orgy, who emerges as the hero of the day, rather than Drake.

In tonight’s episode it is naval hero Ge­orge An­son, who in­tro­duced uni­forms, a for­mal sys­tem of rank and rewrote the sailors’ book of rules, who car­ries the day.

By 1759, not all that long af­ter the nation had been caned at sea — em­bar­rass­ingly, by the con­founded Dutch— Bri­tan­nia re­ally did rule the waves. And may even have sung about it. Em­pire of the Seas SBS One, 7.30pm

Sea legs: Dan Snow

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