Betjeman – The Collection. Simply Media DVD Review

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Sir John Betjeman (1906 – 1984) described himself with characteristic understatement in Who’s Who as a “poet and hack”.  There was rather more to him than that though – he was a writer, broadcaster and from 1972 until his death also served as the Poet Laureate.

Betjeman’s love of architecture (especially from the Victorian era) and landscape is explored in detail across the three series which make up this boxset – A Passion for Churches, Bird’s Eye View and Four with Betjeman: Victorian Architects and Architecture.

Four With Betjeman finds him indulging one of his most strongly held passions – that of the Victorian architects and the buildings they left behind.  “I have known for years and so have most of you that there were great Victorian architects, but they have never been given their due. Today, thank goodness, we can see Victorian architecture in perspective”.

This excerpt from a contemporary Daily Telegraph review articulates just why this short series was so entertaining and absorbing.  “There is a precision about his informed enthusiasm which enables one to see the most familiar buildings, such as the Houses of Parliament, in a new light … Sir John, who succeeds in making his conducted tours seem addressed to a personal friend, can move without pause from an appreciation of shape and proportion to an anecdote about an Irish peer rolling the full length of a Barry staircase”.

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Four With Betjeman contains four half-hour programmes – (Charles Barry & Augustus PuginWilliam Butterfield & Gilbert ScottAlfred Waterhouse & Norman ShawSir Ninian ComperWilliam Robinson & Sir Edwin Lutyens).

In Bird’s Eye View we, unsurprisingly, observe Britain from a different angle as we take to the air for an unusual take on the familiar.  The first programme, An Englishman’s Home, sees Betjeman waxing lyrical (with the occasional sharp barb) as the camera swoops over a diverse selection of dwellings.  From stately castle, Georgian terrace, suburban semi to looming concrete tower blocks, Betjeman has words for all.  His comments on tower blocks (“but where can be the heart that sends a family to the twentieth floor in such a slab as this?”) carries a particular resonance today, following the disaster at Grenfell Tower.

From the same series, Beside the Seaside is a treat as we tour past some of England’s most popular seaside destinations.  The somewhat faded colour print helps to give the visuals a faint air of melancholy.

A swooping seagull takes its flight
From Weymouth to the Isle of Wight
From Cornish cliff tops wild and bare
To crowds at Weston-super-Mare
The seaside seen as history
Bournemouth, Butlin’s and Torquay
Whatever paddles, surfs or sails
Braves the waves or rides the gales
A scrapbook made at Christmastime
Of summer joys in film and rhyme

The title music for Bird’s Eye View is a typically jazzy piece from John Dankworth (the incidentals are more classically inclined, all the better to compliment Betjeman’s words).

Also included on the same disc is One Man’s Country – Cornwall (1964).  This isn’t part of the Bird’s Eye View series, but since it has a similar style it fits well with the two later programmes.  The stark black and footage of Cornwall is very striking and helps to make it especially memorable.

Although he’s not on camera, these three programmes (a perfect marriage of visuals and Bejeman’s poetic prose) are probably my favourite from the set.  Both of the Bird’s Eye View programmes run for fifty minutes whilst Cornwall is shorter, at twenty five.

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A Passion for Churches (1974) sees Betjeman explore his long-held fascination with church architecture.  “What would you be, you wide East Anglian sky, without church towers to recognise you by?”  His love of churches began exactly sixty years prior to this, as the eight-year old Betjeman went rowing on the River Bure in Norfolk with his father.  Delightfully, this film opens with Betjeman re-enacting this. He then moves on to take a whistle-stop tour around the area.

From Medieval stained glass and brass rubbings, to weddings and the Edwardian parish church on the Queen’s estate of Sandringham, A Passion for Churches is another leisurely treat.  As with all the programmes, the visuals are anchored by Betjeman’s measured, poetic narration.

Also included on the same disc are ABC of Churches (two episodes of approx. 23 minutes, 1961), Journey to Bethlehem (30 minutes, 1966) and a ten-minute fragment from a later edition of the ABC of Churches series (since the two complete editions only go from A – F, presumably the others were wiped).  All of these, unlike A Passion for Churches, are in black and white.

I’m sure that Doctor Who fans will appreciate the tour of Aldbourne’s church (memorably later depicted in 1971’s The Daemons) in the first edition of ABC of Churches whilst Journey to Bethlehem still captures the attention some fifty years on.

Given the age of the source materials, the picture quality is naturally a little variable.  The colour film prints are rather faded in places, although the black and white prints aren’t in too bad a condition at all.  But everything’s perfectly watchable with no major picture glitches to report.

A wonderful collection of programmes, Betjeman – The Collection should appeal to anybody interested in archive documentaries. Recommended.

Betjeman – The Collection is released by Simply Media on the 23rd of October 2017.  It can be ordered direct from Simply here.

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Watergate (BBC, 1994)

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I’ve recently been rewatching Watergate, the five part BBC2 documentary series from 1994.  One of the most remarkable things about the programme was the way that – Nixon excepted – virtually every living participant was not only willing to talk on camera, but did so extremely candidly.  It was written and narrated by Fred Emery, who also penned a tie-in book which is an excellent print summation of this most fascinating of political stories.

Emery’s skill is in letting the participants speak for themselves.  What emerges from their oral history is that the Watergate affair was bungled right from the start – this was no controlled mission, rather it was a collection of loose cannons ricocheting off each other. And loosest of all must be G. Gordon Liddy, the former FBI agent who was the chief architect of the Watergate break in.  Liddy is a mesmerising interviewee, not least for the moment when he recalled that he would have been quite happy to murder Jack Anderson, a Washington reporter who was something of a thorn in the side of the Nixon administration, had the order been given.  Just one of a number of jaw dropping revelations from Liddy, easily the most entertaining interviewee.

Although Richard Nixon, who coincidentally died just before the programme was broadcast, didn’t take part, he’s still very much present – thanks not only to the David Frost interviews but also via the infamous White House tapes which would eventually lead to his downfall.

Watergate is a quality documentary that’s well worth four hours of your time.

Dunkirk – Arrow DVD Review

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Even today, nearly eighty years on, the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation still resonates.  Possibly it has something to do with the British character – the way that a crushing military defeat could be turned around into a moral victory – or maybe it’s the logistical scale of the rescue (some 340,000 British, French and Belgian troops snatched from the shoreline by a raggle-taggle collection of ships and boats).

The British Expeditionary Force had found itself in trouble as soon as they landed in France.  The French army were in disarray, and although the BEF could boast substantial numbers, they were quickly outgunned and outmanoeuvred by the Germans.  Viscount General Gort, commander of the BEF, therefore faced a stark choice – stand and fight (and face certain capture or death) or attempt to force a retreat back to the port of Dunkirk (where hopefully as many men as possible could be rescued and live to fight another day).

The story of their rescue (and the story of the men back in England who coordinated it) is retold in this three-part 2004 drama-documentary scripted by Alex Holmes, Neil McKay and Lisa Osborne and directed by Holmes.  The drama-documentary is a curious beast – often it satisfies as neither a drama or a documentary – but Dunkirk fares better than most.

The authoritative tones of Timothy Dalton as the narrator certainly helps, as does the impressive list of players.  Simon Russell Beale as Winston Churchill, Benedict Cumberbatch as Lt Jimmy Langley, Phil Cornwell as Harry Noakes and Kevin McNally as Major General Harold Alexander are amongst the familiar faces on show whilst an intriguing piece of casting sees Richard Attlee play his grandfather, Clement Attlee.

Casting was key to Dunkirk‘s success, with several actors offering eerily accurate recreations of familiar historical characters.  Christopher Good as Neville Chamberlain for one, although he’s overshadowed (just as Chamberlain was in real life) by Simon Russell Beale’s towering Churchill.  So many good actors have had a crack at playing Winston Churchill over the years (Brian Cox being the most recent) but Russell Beale really nails the man.

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Russell Beale is never better than when, chairing a War Cabinet meeting, Churchill opines that “nations which go down fighting rise again. Those which surrender tamely are finished”.  Later he tells his colleagues that “if this long island story of ours is to end, let it end only when each one of us is choking in his own blood upon the ground”.  Russell Beale brings Churchill back to life with this classic and characteristic piece of oratory.

Alex Holmes would comment that Dunkirk wasn’t “revisionist but accurate. The notion that everyone leapt into boats at the drop of a hat to save their fellow man isn’t the whole story. There is great heroism but it is complex heroism”.  This comment highlights one of the problems inherent in mounting any drama or documentary which attempts to examine the Dunkirk evacuation.  Given the number of people who took part, it would clearly be wrong to treat them as simply a gestalt – they’re a group of individuals with diverse opinions and objectives.

Episode one – Retreat (original tx 18th February 2004) sees Churchill under pressure from his colleagues to sue for peace with Hitler.  He refuses and orders the evacuation to begin.  Private Alf Tombs (Clive Brunt) and his unit hold the Germans at bay for 48 hours, enabling many of their colleagues to escape, although this leads to their own capture.  Tombs lived to tell the tale, although as he explains here, many of his comrades weren’t so fortunate.  Meanwhile, Captain Bill Tennant (Adrian Rawlins), tasked with organising the operation on the ground, begins the evacuation.  But when the Luftwaffe begin to attack in earnest, the situation looks grim.

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Episode two – Evacuation (original tx 19th February 2004) finds the BEF on the coast of Dunkirk, awaiting rescue.  But with so many men and too few ships, the Admiralty begins to requisition any craft they can find – including cockle fishing boats from Leigh-on-Sea.  The heroic tale of one of the Leigh cockle boats – Renown – is featured heavily in this episode (further information on the Renown can be found here).

The final episode – Deliverance (original tx 20th February 2004) sees the embattered British still attempting to hold off the Germans.  Although many troops have already been lifted off the beach, a considerable number still remain. This puts their lives in the hands of soldiers such as Lt Jimmy Langley (Benedict Cumberbatch) who attempts to delay the Germans for as long as possible.  Although Langley is successful in buying more time for his colleagues he’s not so fortunate himself.  Langley’s autobiography (reviewed here) looks to be a fascinating read, especially his post-Dunkirk activities.

The bare statistics of Operation Dynamo, which ran between the 27th of May and the 3rd of June 1940, are eye-opening.  338,226 troops were evacuated from Dunkirk (98,780 men were lifted from the beaches whilst 239,446 were taken from the harbour and pier). Out of the 936 ships which took part, 236 were lost and 61 were put out of action (the number of small boats who sailed on their own initiative will never be known).

Dunkirk manages to put these bald facts into perspective by concentrating on the human and heroic endeavours of that hellish week.  It’s an absorbing and compelling tale brought to life across the three 60 minute episodes thanks to a mixture of fine performances and carefully selected archive footage.  Arrow’s release contains all three episodes on a single DVD and – apart from subtitles – offers no additional special features.  This is a slight shame, but the programme is the main thing.  Dunkirk is an exceptionally well-crafted drama-documentary and comes warmly recommended.

Dunkirk is released by Arrow on the 10th of July 2017.  RRP £15.99.

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Bob Monkhouse – Behind the Laughter

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I’ve recently, after a long break, uploaded some archive bits and bobs to my YouTube channel, including this two part documentary from 2003.

Sadly part one cuts out early (presumably there was a late schedule change and the timer let me down) whilst uploading part two is proving to be rather problematic, since BBC Worldwide appear to have a block on even short clips of Tony Hancock’s BBC shows.  Quite why they should be so protective of him is a bit of a mystery.  I’ll have another go at uploading part two – I’ll probably just cut the whole Hancock section out to be on the safe side.

Although it wasn’t known at the time, Monkhouse was reaching the end of his life and this might explain the downbeat tone of the piece.  Heroes of Comedy this certainly isn’t ….

But whilst Monkhouse does dwell on the self destructive nature of some of Britain’s comedy greats, he also acknowledges their undoubted skills  – even if, as with Frankie Howerd, he also admits that he never understood his appeal.

Part one tackles Tommy Cooper, Benny Hill, Frankie Howerd and Ken Dodd.  There are no major revelations, since the frailties of Cooper, Hill and Howerd were already well known (had the recording not cut out I’d assume that the only living subject – Dodd – would have received an easier ride).  The most absorbing sections occur when Monkhouse relates his own personal experiences with his subjects.  Frankie Howerd, painted as an unpleasant sexual predator, certainly comes off worse here.

In part two, Monkhouse turns his attention to Morecambe & Wise, Peter Sellers and Tony Hancock.  The character flaws of Sellers and Hancock were also very familiar, although again the personal touch from Monkhouse is of interest (he claims that Tony Hancock and Morecambe & Wise were rather condescending towards him).

Monkhouse’s comedy partner, Denis Goodwin, who took his own life at an early age, is also discussed, which fits into the general tone that comedy can be bitterly self-destructive.

Not always an easy watch then, but Bob Monkhouse doesn’t seem to have an axe to grind and – unlike some talking heads who have passed judgement on these people in other documentaries – at least he knew and worked with them.

 

Connections – Simply Media DVD Review

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James Burke (b. 1936) first came to prominence on Tomorrow’s World during the mid sixties, where his relaxed and conversational tone provided a sharp counterpoint to his co-presenter, the more precise and patrician Raymond Baxter.  His profile on TW meant that he was an obvious pick for the BBC’s Apollo coverage – he would go on to helm numerous hours of live television alongside Patrick Moore and Cliff Michelmore.

After leaving TW in 1971, Burke moved onto his own series, The Burke Special (1972 – 76), in which he examined various aspects of modern life and conjectured how they might develop in the future.  Already in place was Burke’s trademark style of swiftly jumping from one subject to another and some of the topics covered – such as test tube babies and gun control – ensured that the series generated a certain level of controversy.

Burke then moved out of the studio and onto film for Connections (1978).  Subtitled An Alternative View of Change, it sought to challenge the accepted linear view of technological progress.  Burke would argue that no part of the modern world can be regarded in isolation – instead you need to track back through history to find apparently unconnected events which can be linked together in order to show a continuity of change.

This interdisciplinary approach wasn’t to all tastes and neither was Burke’s presenting style – contradicting himself or walking out of shot during mid-sentence, for example.  But it’s fair to say that Connections was a programme which made a deep impression on a section of its audience and – whether you disagree or agree with all his theories – still provides substantial food for thought.

This three disc set contains the following –

The Trigger Effect – Original broadcast 17th October 1978

Death in the Morning – Original broadcast 24th October 1978

Distant Voices – Original broadcast 31st October 1978

Faith in Numbers – Original broadcast 7th November 1978

The Wheel of Fortune – Original broadcast 14th November 1978

Thunder in the Skies – Original broadcast 21st November 1978

The Long Chain – Original broadcast 28th November 1978

Eat, Drink and Be Merry – Original broadcast 5th December 1978

Countdown – Original broadcast 12th December 1978

Yesterday, Tomorrow and You  – Original broadcast 19th December 1978

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Burke’s idiosyncratic style is clear right from the opening moments of The Trigger Effect. He asks the audience (“would you do me a favour?”) to consider all the man-made objects in the room where they’re sitting (television, lights, etc) and the impact they have on their lives. He then moves out of shot, leaving an empty frame for a few seconds, an obvious visual cue which gives the audience some “thinking time”. It’s a good example of the way Burke challenges the viewers not to be passive observers, but instead to interact with the arguments and theories he’s generating.

In addition to Burke’s sometimes provocative statements, Connections boasts impressive visuals, thanks to the skills of director Mick Jackson. Jackson’s later and very varied CV includes the Whitney Houston/Kevin Costner movie The Bodyguard, the devastating nuclear drama Threads and the Ray McAnally political serial A Very British Coup.

Connections allowed Jackson a wide palette in which to craft some striking images.  And he was granted a very healthy budget – the series took fourteen months to shoot, travelled to nineteen countries and took in a hundred and fifty individual locations along the way.

Jackson’s eye for the unusual can be seen in the first episode as even the simple act of Burke travelling in a lift is presented in a memorable way. But this isn’t simply gloss for the sake of it – Burke makes the point that just as we have become increasingly dependent on technology, so our understanding of how it works has decreased sharply. Does he know how a lift works? No, he just accepts that it does.

I take going up in the world like that for granted. We all do. And as the years of the 20th century have gone by, the things we take for granted have multiplied way beyond the ability of any individual to understand in a lifetime. The things around us, the man-made inventions we provide ourselves with, are like a vast network, each part of which is interdependent with all the others.

This increasing dependency on technology is examined during The Trigger Effect as Burke looks back to a massive power-cut which engulfed New York in 1965. With discordant music (courtesy of Richard Yeoman-Clarke from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop) and the help of those who were present, re-enacting their roles, it’s presented in highly a dramatic fashion.

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“What does survival without technology look like?”. Burke effectively paints a nightmarish picture of the stuggles inherent in existing in a world without electricity (tapping into many of the themes developed in numerous post-apocalyptic dramas, such as Survivors) and then links this back to show how previous civilizations, such as the Ancient Egyptians, could be said to have been the first technological nations. He therorises that once an invention – such as the plough – is created, it must inevitably lead to further inventions through the ages (even if the connection between them isn’t immediately apparent).

The series’ aims are restated at the start of Death in the Morning.  Burke reflects that because knowledge of the future is impossible, tracing a modern man-made object back thousands of years is somewhat akin to a historical detective story, with twists and wrong turns along the way. He sets things up nicely by teasing us that the modern intention of this edition “affects the life of every man, woman and child on Earth” but doesn’t say what it is. Instead, his story begins two and a half thousand years earlier in the Eastern Mediterranean and is concerned with money, but will have become something totally different when we reach the present day. How we get from there to here, the intuitive leaps Burke makes and the visual imagery along the way, all help to make this a typically captivating instalment.

Highlights of later episodes include Burke’s imaginative arguments which connect the Little Ice Age of 1250 – 1300 AD to a whole host of later inventions, including the chimney and diverse objects as buttons and knitting (episode six, Thunder In The Skies).  Also of interest is Eat, Drink and Be Merry, which discusses how modern credit – the plastic credit card – can be traced back to the Dukes of Burgandy, the first state to use credit.  This then springboards into the problems of keeping food fresh (a particular issue for large armies in the nineteenth century) and Burke then presses on to show how these innovations led to the Saturn V rocket which took men to the moon.

The final edition, Yesterday, Tomorrow and You, neatly summaries everything that we’ve learnt in the series to date and returns to a theme posed by Burke posed at the start of the series, concerning the way that the world is developing increasingly advanced technology at a rate faster than our ability to understand it.  Should we be concerned about this, or just accept that change is inevitable?

With its globe-trotting camerawork, Connections engages on several levels.  Not only is it a visual treat, but it’s an intellectual one as well.  It may flit from subject to subject, but James Burke remains the series’ solid centre and his quirky approach helps to ensure that the series is much more than a series of dry lectures.  Picture quality is what you’d expect from material of this era – had fresh prints been struck from the negatives it could have looked much better, but as always it’s a question of cost.  What we have is perfectly watchable though.

Nearly four decades on, the series still engages, entertains and stimulates – a testament to the work of James Burke, Mick Jackson and the whole production team.  Warmly recommended.

Connections is released by Simply Media on the 7th of February 2017.  RRP £24.99.

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Another Six English Towns – Simply Media DVD Review

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Another Six English Towns, originally broadcast in 1984, was the third and final series in which Alec Clifton-Taylor cast his expert eye over the architectural merits of a variety of English towns.  My review of the first two series can be found here.

The format remains unchanged.  Architectural historian Clifton-Taylor inspects the streets and notable buildings of each town, dispensing approbation or disfavour as he sees fit and quietly applauding those towns which have managed to preserve their status without recourse to the horrors of modern life (high rise buildings and pebbledash being two particular bête noires of his!).

We open in Cirencester, the capital of the Cotswolds, which finds Clifton-Taylor in an approving mood.  He’s particularly taken with the pleasing mixture of styles on display, commenting that “in the market place, the buildings burst forth into a chorus of painted stucco”.  The town’s mansion, Cirencester House, complete with a ten thousand acre park, also catches his eye.

Up next is the fishing town of Whitby, which nestles on the North East coast.  The ruins of Whitby Abbey are striking and whilst St Mary’s Church may look somewhat unprepossessing from the outside, inside it’s quite a different matter.  Clifton-Taylor regards it as “a thrill. Absolutely unforgettable. Not a work of art, but a most illuminating social document.”

Bury St Edmonds has an impressive collection of Georgian buildings, created with different varieties of coloured clay, although Clifton-Taylor is a little miffed that “they are so smothered with Virginia creeper that one can hardly see what colour they are!”  This town has rich pickings elsewhere though – the town hall (reconstructed by the notable eighteenth century architect Robert Adam) appeals, as does the Theatre Royal, designed by William Wilkins, architect of the National Gallery.

Clifton-Taylor travels to Wiltshire for the fourth episode, his destination being Devizes.  He’s saddened that the twelfth century castle no longer remains (on the site is something he dubs as a pantomime recreation from the Victorian period) and reacts in horror when he sees that some of the eighteenth century timber houses have recently “been smothered with that most repellent material – pebbledash!”

He remains in a slightly caustic mood when he reaches Sandwich, sorrowfully reflecting that the original character of some of the 16th century brickwork has been submerged under fresh coats of paint.  But the Salutation, a house and garden designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869 – 1944), is much more to his taste.  Clifton-Taylor has little hesitation in regarding him as “the greatest English architect of the last 100 years”

The series concludes with Durham.  He’s impressed with the Cathedral, especially the vaults, which have remained unchanged for eight and a half centuries.  Clifton-Taylor is also taken with a public convenience, built in 1841, concluding that “few loos, surely, can hold their heads so high!”.  An idiosyncratic, but delightful, moment.

A lovely snapshot of six English towns frozen in time some thirty years ago, Another Six English Towns will certainly appeal both to those who have already collected the first two series, as well as anyone who is familiar with the featured locations and wishes to compare then to now.

Shot on 16mm film, the picture quality is on a par with the earlier releases.  The prints are rather faded and dirty in places, but still perfectly watchable.

Alec Clifton-Taylor maintains the persona of a kindly headmaster, eager to give credit where it’s due, but also quite capable of expressing irritation and exasperation (albeit with his impeccable manners always intact).  An impressive series of travelogues, Another Six English Towns also educates and informs, as Clifton-Taylor is effortlessly able to show how different periods of architecture can live side by side in harmony (or not, as the case may be!)

Another Six English Towns is released by Simply Media on the 23rd of January 2017.  RRP £19.99.

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Six English Towns/Six More English Towns – Simply Media DVD Review

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Originally broadcast on BBC2 during August and September 1978, Six English Towns saw Alec Clifton-Taylor cast his experienced eye over the following towns – Chichester, Richmond, Tewkesbury, Stamford, Totnes and Ludlow.

Clifton-Taylor (1907 – 1985) had been a respected, if fairly obscure, architectural historian, so it may have come as something of a surprise to him that fairly late in life he became a recognisable television figure.  It’s easy to see why this happened though – he had a pleasingly direct style and his ease in front of the camera meant that he was able to deliver both brickbats and bouquets in an authoritative, but accessible, way.  Put simply, Alec Clifton-Taylor had the air of a faintly distracted schoolmaster who dispensed learning lightly but with passion.

At the start of the first edition he sets out exactly what he’s aiming to do.  “These are not guidebook programmes. Our main concern will be with buildings and especially with houses. I’d like every programme to be an exercise in looking.  Looking at the changing styles and fashions.  And at the traditional building materials of England.”

One of Clifton-Taylor’s abiding interests was the way that towns prior to the industrial age used materials which were readily at hand.  He therefore had some criticism of the Victorian era, since the age of steam meant that materials could be transported around the country with an ease that simply hadn’t been possible before – therefore the characteristic look of towns began to fade a little.

When visiting Chichester he says that “the cathedral apart, brick and flint are what give Chichester its essential character, the right materials in the right place.” He’s therefore delighted to find examples of good brickwork – and this moment is one that gives pause for thought.  We may pass similar buildings each day without giving them a second glance, but one of Clifton-Taylor’s skills was to find interest in what may appear to be commonplace.  And after watching the series it’s made me appreciate the buildings in my area a little more – how different styles and eras may exist side by side, for example.

When watching the series now it’s impossible not to wonder how the towns look today.  Clifton-Taylor had forthright opinions on how modern buildings (especially high-rise ones) shouldn’t encroach on the old.  Sadly, I’m sure that some of the places he visited over the course of three series have lost some of the features which so pleased him.  When visiting Richmond, he was taken with the way that the old railway station had been sympathetically turned into a garden centre.  He comments that it’s “a shining example of what enterprise and imagination can do to save an excellent building no longer required for its original purpose.” It’s therefore pleasing to note that the building still exists today and – following the closure of the garden centre in 2001 – now serves the community as a heritage centre.

The remainder of the first series has plenty of interest. The House of the Nodding Gables in Tewkesbury, the impressive churches of Stamford and Totnes’ slate decorated houses are just a few examples. The final edition of the series, Ludlow, saw Clifton-Taylor visit his favourite town and there was plenty which appealed to him there.  Ludlow exemplifies his concept of a pattern of building – stone for the church, the bridges and the castle, wood for the medieval houses and brick for the houses of the Georgian period.  He’s less impressed with some of the Victorian additions though.

Six More English Towns followed three years later in 1981.  This time Clifton-Taylor visited Warwick, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Saffron Walden, Lewes, Bradford on Avon and Beverley.

The opening episode has some predictable highlights, such as Warwick Castle, but less well-known buildings – such as Lord Leycester Hospital – are of just as much interest.  He wasn’t at all enamoured with the modern council building though – a monstrosity in concrete which obscures views of the impressive-looking church.

Berwick-upon-Tweed finds Clifton-Taylor appreciating the character of the town even if there’s nothing of outstanding importance or interest, although some of the architectural flourishes don’t really meet with his approval.  “Even the carved lions on the gate piers seem perplexed”.  Elsewhere, he’s not impressed with the amount of traffic which flows through Saffron-Walden, declaring that most of it should be “firmly re-routed.”  The series closes with Clifton-Taylor’s visit to Beverley, North Humberside, of which the medieval Minster church is of special interest to him.

A third and final series, Another Six English Towns, would follow in 1984 and this will be issued on DVD in early 2017.

Six English Towns/Six More English Towns won’t be everybody’s cup of tea – a man wanders about looking at buildings – but if you’re interested in history, architecture or English towns then there’s plenty which should catch your attention.

Six English Towns was released on the 12th of September 2016 and Six More English Towns will be released on the 7th of November 2016.  Both have a RRP of £19.99.

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