The best of this week’s TV
Thursday Blitz: The Bombs That Changed Britain – Clydebank 9pm, BBC Two
OUR flat in Glasgow still has the old sash windows, which aren’t great at keeping out the cold, and a nightmare for condensation. But I’m loath to have them replaced. There’s something about the glass. It ripples. When sunlight hits the tenement in the mornings, if you look closely at the bright patches the windows cast over the carpet, you’ll notice the light lies mottled with strange little shadows – imperfections buried in the glass.
One day, Mary, the lady who used to live downstairs, asked if we’d noticed it, then revealed the reason. “Cheap, poor-quality glazing,” she said. “It was all they could get during the war. These windows were all blown out by the bombs.”
She was living here when they fell. In the street around the corner, a parachute landmine took out three closes. Thirty-six people were killed. Walking along it today, you wouldn’t notice where they rebuilt the destroyed buildings. There are faded scar spots like this scattered around the city, places you pass every day, oblivious to what happened back then.
There are other places, though, where you can still feel the past. The people around the corner from my flat died on the night of March 13, 1941, from “stray” devices dropped from a fleet of over 200 Luftwaffe bombers as it droned west, following the river toward Clydebank.
The bombs that hit certain parts of Glasgow were called “stray” because they had no identifiable target. The bombs that devastated Clydebank over March 13 and 14, however, had definite objectives: the John Brown shipyard, the armaments factory at the Singer Sewing Machine works. By the second relentless night, though, it seemed Clydebank itself was the target, singled out to be made an example of, wiped off the map. Statistics sum it up. 528 killed, 617 injured. Of 12,000 houses, only eight left undamaged. But the most haunting figure concerns a single address: 78 Jellicoe Street, where 15 members of one family, the Rocks, all died together the first night.
Clydebank is the focus of this week’s episode in the excellent series Blitz: The Bombs That Changed Britain. It’s a valuable programme. The sustained bombing London endured is justly remembered, but awareness of the concentrated attacks on other areas has faded, to the point it is becoming specialised local knowledge. We know about the suffering of Clydebank in these parts, or think we do. But people in Hull or Bristol might not – just as we might not know much about their blitzkriegs, which are the subjects of other episodes. The series is created by the Who Do You Think You Are team, and has the same way of blending official records with family archives and oral histories to bring the past astonishingly close. Alongside a meticulous account of the devastation, the Clydebank documentary does a superb job sketching the tense, political, class-war divisions along Red Clydeside during the early part of the war. Yet the most memorable figure was just a child then: Brendan Kelly, last survivor of the Jellicoe Street tenements at the time of the blitz. As a boy, he counted the Rocks family among his friends. As an old man, his memories remain vivid. “My head’s full of tombstones.” Clydebank knows this history, but its streets might be unusually empty when the programme goes out. Watching it made me think about my parents, telling me about when they were kids during the war: one blackout night in their Lanarkshire town when they heard the planes; seeing a red glow growing in the northwest. Probably the same night Brendan Kelly lost his pal, and our windows shattered.
Sunday Blue Planet II BBC One
THE Rolling Stones sang of The Midnight Rambler – but that’s kid’s stuff compared to … The Leaping Blenny! Tonight’s episode of David Attenborough’s weekly dayglo brainmelter explores the weird kingdoms of the coast, where ocean and land collide, and the behaviour can get very strange. Found on remote Pacific islands, the blenny is a gloopy little critter that lives in tiny wee caves just above the tideline – these are fish that have given up the sea for life on dry land. Poor swimmers, they hate the water, and prefer just to stay a bit damp. But the waves that threaten to drag them back into the ocean are a constant hindrance, particularly when a male blenny is trying to court a female. As a result, they do a lot of leaping, flying from rock to rock. They’re among the oddest fish this series has yet featured. Elsewhere, there are harassed puffins, and an examination of life in the rock pool that plays like a banned psychedelic stop-motion kid’s show.
Monday The Art That Made Mexico: Paradise, Power And Prayers, 9pm, BBC Four
IN this three-part series, Mexican-British artist and photographer Alinka Echeverria explores what she describes as the three dominant forces that have shaped Mexican art. Future programmes consider the enduring roles played by faith and the struggle for political power, but she begins with the fundamental influence of nature and the landscape. In the early 20th century – 100 years after Mexico won independence from the rule of Spain – a radical generation of artists began to look back to the pre-European era, and the traditions and imagery in place before the Spanish conquest of the 1500s. The indigenous influence was expressed in depictions of ancient landscapes, such as the symbolic volcanoes that dominate the Valley of Mexico, and a new style of painting that was resolutely Mexican. Launching a short season on Mexican art, it’s followed tonight by Handmade In Mexico (10pm), which tonight considers the making of huipil, the loose, intricately embroidered tunic, as exemplified by the tehuana dresses famously worn by Frida Kahlo.
Tuesday Baltimore Rising 9pm, Sky Atlantic
IN April 2015 in Baltimore, a young black man called Freddie Gray died from spinal injuries sustained while in custody in a police van, following his arrest for possessing a knife. His death sparked riots, and this rough-edged, intimate film follows what happened next, as an increasingly tense community waited for the outcome of the prosecution of the police officers involved – a divisive case many felt sure could only lead to more violence. Baltimore, of course, had its most famous TV treatment in The Wire, and scholars of that show will have extra reason for seeking this film out, as it’s directed by Sonja Sohn, who played Detective Kima Greggs in the drama, and has since worked on community outreach projects in the city, aimed at young people involved in crime. Talking with all sides – police, angry activists, community leaders and regular residents – as they await the results of the investigation, Sohn simultaneously gets up close, yet takes a step back. It’s a beautifully balanced film, a portrait of frustration that doesn’t try to offer easy answers.
Wednesday Detectorists 10pm, BBC Four
THE magpies are not what they seem. And the hedgehogs know more than they’re letting on, too. It’s the penultimate episode of – apparently – the final series of Mackenzie Crook’s masterpiece of slow folk sitcom, and the pace, relatively speaking, is reaching breakneck speed. Lance remains obsessed with tracking down the feathered thief who stole his gold, but is he simply using that as an excuse not to address his pressing personal problems? Meanwhile, Andy is increasingly anxious about having quit his job, and worried about how his family will manage. On top of this, a new emergency: their favourite tree has been condemned to be cut down. What can they do? Who can help? Keep calm. In Detectorists, the landscape, its flora and fauna, is as important as any other character, and it has a way of nudging things in the right direction. Just an amazing programme – beneath all the gags, there’s a deep, constant aching after the past, and yet it still holds out hope for the future.
Friday The Crown Netflix
I T was decent of the royal family to organise a new wedding as a promo for the second series of Netflix’s smash hit saga. We’re in 1956 now, and the marriage between young Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy and Matt Smith, both excellent) is hitting a rocky patch. Restless, feeling the weighty boredom of duty, and distant from the missus, Philip has let his eye wander toward a ballet dancer. Meanwhile, the Queen has other problems, including the Suez Crisis, an affair not being well handled by her Prime Minister, Anthony Eden (Jeremy Northam). As ever with writer Peter Morgan, he respects the history, while filling in the cracks to craft characters easy to believe in as human beings – and in focussing so closely on them, paints a picture of the wider society around them. This 10-part series will be the last we see of Foy and Smith in the roles. When the show next returns, it will be on to later years, with Olivia Colman wearing the crown.
Saturday John Noakes: TV Hero 5.30pm, BBC Two
O OH, get off me foot ...!” Sure, you’ve seen it a gazillion times, but there’s always room for one more helping of John Noakes’s star turn in the legendary “Lulu The Elephant” Blue Peter clip of 1969. Across the 1960s and 70s, Noakes’s Northern brio helped shake the show out of its staid middle-class stance. In this tribute to the great man, who died in May, former co-presenters including golden-era faces Valerie Singleton, Peter Purves and Leslie Judd share memories of the sleeves-rolled enthusiasm that made him a natural for live TV. Meanwhile, colleagues recall trying to keep up with his often reckless adventuring, including insane stunts like scaling Nelson’s Column without a harness. There are also words from his wife, Vicky, who took her own place in the history books after Noakes concussed himself on the Cresta Run tobogganing track in Switzerland, and later revealed his bruises to the nation … while wearing her knickers, which he’d accidentally put on in the dark.