For Spring 2017
First transmitted 20th December, 2016 on BBC One.
Margot Fonteyn has inspired generations of ballerinas. She was beautiful, brilliant, talented and never put a foot wrong on stage. Her late flowering partnering with a much younger man, Rudolf Nureyev, created the most dazzling ballet partnership in history. And yet behind the scenes, as Darcey Bussell discovers, Margot's life was marked by tragedy and disappointment. She barely knew her father, and was dominated by her well meaning yet fiercely ambitious mother. She couldn't find love, and never had children. And when she finally did marry, to a man she loved from afar for many years, he turned out to be very different than she expected: a hero to his people, but not always to his wife. Darcey Bussell goes behind the scenes at the Royal Opera House and the Royal Ballet, and travels from London to New York and Panama looking for Margot. She finds how Margot lost out in love, got drawn into a failed foreign revolution, danced on for far too long, and died alone and in poverty, miles from home. Along the way Darcey speaks to many people who have not spoken out before about Margot. In the end, Darcey learns by following her heart, Margot did find a kind of happiness, even though it came at such a high price.
The Guardian - "Its a lovely portrait of the dancer every ballerina - Darcey included, she says - wants to be."
The Times - "Bussell's engaging film was strong on the love Margot Fonteyn inspired onstage and off. You might say she made a melodrama out of her heroine's life, but it was melodramatic anyway; the pushy mother; her unhappy affair with Constant Lambert; her marriage to a Panamanian diplomat and gun-running revolutionary who ended up paralysed after an assassination attempt."
Daily Mail - "This astonishing tale ... a superb tribute."
First transmitted Saturday 19th and Saturday 26th November, 2016 on BBC Two @ 9pm
Christie's is the world's largest auction house- a British institution and an international brand. As Christies celebrates its 250th anniversary cameras have been given access to its global empire. This 2-part series lifts the lid on a private world to reveal what it takes to remain market leader at the crossroads of art and wealth during uncertain times. What goes into selling a rare work of art? Who is buying and why? From London to Dubai, New York to Hong Kong we meet the auction 'insiders'. Will Christie's stay at the top of their £5billion game or will this 250th year see their fortunes turn?
Financial Times: "This is as stylish, slick, smart and exciting as the institution itself ... The bidding scenes have an irresistible zing to then..." 4 stars
Saturday Times: "an entertaining watch..."
Daily Mail: "Don't Miss This ... a captivating two part insight into the drama of the saleroom... If you liked Claridge's you'll definitely want to watch this."
The Daily Telegraph: "Part of the BBC's excellent Saturday night arts season this absorbing two part series explores the financial side of the art world ... the film gives a glimpse into a rarities British institution few of us can dream of accessing."
First transmitted 4th October, 2016 on BBC Scotland
Scotland has exported many great things to the rest of the world and people like Neil Oliver have often celebrated the disproportionate impact of its ideas and energy on places like America. The role of Scots in shaping the concept of the American Dream is a story often told but could Scottish settlers have also had a hand in America's racist nightmare?
Neil Oliver travels over two thousand miles to examine links between racism today in the Deep South and the Scottish settlers that first occupied it.
Throughout the 18th Century, hundreds of thousands of Scots emigrated to America and some believe that it was their wariness and moral certainty that significantly shaped the South into an isolated, fearful society that easily took to slave-owning when the opportunity came. Walter Scott, the creator of a romantic vision of the 'Old Country' is blamed for reinforcing their fantasy world of Georgian gentility. When that world was threatened, the southern states opted for Civil War rather than give it up.
After the devastating war, attitudes in the South were hardened by defeat and fear of the now-freed slaves. When six Scottish-American, former Confederate officers formed a fraternal society, clan turned to Klan. The oldest and most feared racist hate group in America - the Ku Klux Klan - was born.
Now, well over 800 hate groups stalk the United States and Neil finishes his journey by visiting the Neo-Confederate, League of the South. The League advocates a return to a separate Southern society run by what they call 'Anglo Celts' and Neil discovers that here Scottish-ness still abides and that attitudes don't seem to have changed much in the last 200-300 years.
First transmitted 20th September, 2016 @ 9pm on BBC Alba
Do chuid 's e ciorram a tha ann an tarraing-anail. Sgriosaidh Cystic Fibrosis na sgamhain agus faodaidh an gabhaltachd as suaraiche a bhith marbhtach. Tha piseach mòr air tighinn air dùil-bheatha, ach chan eil leigheas ann fhathast. Bheir am program seo dealbh air cò ris a tha e coltach a bhith beò le CF. Ged a tha CF air Rowan (9) à Leòdhas, tha e beothail, tapaidh. Bidh e fhèin 's a phàrantan a' cleachdadh dòighean ùra gus na sgamhain aige a ghlanadh. Tha seo cruaidh, ach mar a chanas e fhèin, "Mur a dèan mi seo, bàsaichidh mi." Tha gabhaltachd cunnartach a' fàgail Hannah NicDiarmaid (21), a' siubhal às an Eilean Sgitheanach gu Inbhir Nis airson frithealadh. Tha cunnart gabhaltachd a' ciallachadh gum feum I a h-obair Colaiste a dhèanamh bhon taigh. Ann an Ìle, tha Sìne Swanson (46), air seasamh ri dùbhlan dùil-beatha an tinneis, ach tha cùisean a' fàs nas dorra. "B' àbhaist dhomh a dhà fhaid de choiseachd a dhèanamh. Tha beatha mhath agam. Dìreach sgamhain ghrod."
For some breathing can be crippling. Cystic Fibrosis destroys the lungs meaning even simple infections can be fatal. Though life expectancy has greatly improved there is no cure. This documentary looks at what it's like living with CF. Despite having CF Rowan, 9, from Lewis is an active, outgoing boy. With his parents he uses new techniques to clear his lungs. It's a relentless regime but as Rowan says "If I don't do all these stuff, I'll die". It's a serious infection that takes 21 year old student Hannah from Skye to Inverness for treatment. Hannah used to live on campus, but the risk of infection means she now studies from home. On Islay Sheena has defied the odds by living to 46 but things are getting harder. "I used to be able to walk double what I can now. But it's a good life I have. Just rotten lungs."
First transmitted 21st June, 2016 on BBC Four at 9pm
In 'Mozart's London Odyssey' Lucy Worsley traces the forgotten and fascinating story of the young Mozart's adventures in Georgian London. Arriving in 1764 as an eight year old boy, London held the promise of unrivalled musical opportunity. But in telling the telling the tale of Mozart's strange and unexpected encounters, Lucy reveals how life wasn't easy for the little boy in a big bustling city. With the demands of a Royal performance, the humiliation of playing keyboard tricks in a London pub, a near fatal illness and finding himself heckled on the streets it was a lot for a child to take. But London would prove pivotal for it was here that the young Mozart made his musical breakthrough, blossoming from a precocious performer into a powerful new composer. Lucy reveals that it was on British soil that Mozart composed his first ever symphony and with the help of a bespoke performance, she explores how Mozart's experiences in London inspired his colossal achievement. But what should have earned him rapturous applause and the highest acclaim ended in suspicion, intrigue and accusations of fraud….
1st TX 25th May @ 9pm on BBC Two
Lily Matthias' dream is to be an ice-skating star and to represent her country - ultimately at the Olympics. What that ambition means for her family, is Mum Lyndsey getting up at 4am, six days a week, to drive Lily to her training in Blackburn: and dad Wayne spending a fortune every month on lessons, ice-time, costumes and competition fees. So strong is Lily's commitment to her training that she's dropped out of school to focus on it. It's been entirely her own decision, and that's despite Lily being just ten. Her trainer Kathryn Hudson says she's the most motivated 10 year old she knows; but also warns that very few actually make it to the top…. Whether Lily can make it will be put to the test at the UK's biggest competition of the year, the British Figure-skating Championships. But Lily faces tough competition from two 12 year olds - Mia Gallagher who trains six days a week, morning and night; and Genevieve Sommerville, the number one skater for her age group, and already competing in the advanced novice category. This film follows the girls' preparation across Autumn 2015 as they train towards the British championships and reveals why having an ice princess in the family comes at a price… Not just the time spent ferrying the girls to practices at dawn, but the huge financial costs and risk of injury involved in the world of competitive skating. If you've ever harboured even the slightest desire that your child had a special talent or serious sporting prowess, then this documentary will serve as a salutary reminder to be careful what you wish for.
Half a million profoundly deaf people across the world have had their hearing restored thanks to cochlear implantation. And the extraordinary clips of their cochlear implant being 'switched on' have become a staple 'fix' on youtube - shared and watched by millions.
Tha leth mhillean duine air feadh an t-saoghail air an claisneachd fhaighinn air ais ri linn 's rud air am bheil cochla fuadain. 'S tha na clàraidhean iongantach sin dhe'n thachair nuair a fhuair iad cochla fuadain air sgaoileadh air "you tube" - air am faicinn leis na milleanan de dhaoine.
Over the past 25 years the Scottish Cochlear Implant Unit at Crosshouse Hospital, Kilmarnock have implanted 1400 people. But the staff here believe that represents only a fraction of the people who need it.
Anns na coig bliadhna fichead a dh'fhalbh, tha Ionad Cochla Fuadain na h-Alba aig Ospadal Chrosshouse ann an Cill' Mhàrnaig air cobhair a thoirt do chòrr air mìle is ceithir chiad neach. Ach thathas dhe'n bheachd nacheil an sin ach earran bheag dhe'n fheadhainn aig a bheil feum air.
This film follows five patients on an extraordinary emotional journey: From the sign maker whose job depends on the implant working, to the teenage girl who went from competitive singer to profoundly deaf over the summer holidays, to the grandfather who desperately wants to be able to hear his grandkids. The stakes are high: the implant may give them their hearing back, but it could equally take what's left of it away. (896 characters)
Seo sgeulachd chòignear a th'air slighe air leth mhìorbhuileach - fear a tha'n eisimeil a chlaisneachd airson obair a ghleidheadh, deugaire a bha seinn aon mhionaid 's a chaill a claisneachd ann an seachdainean, agus seanair a tha dìreach ag iarraidh còmhradh a dheanamh ris na h-oghaichean aige. Ach tha meatair 'na luib - dh'fhaodadh e bhith 'na cheum gu saoghal ùr, air neo a' bheagan claisneachd a th'ac' a thoirt air falbh gu tur.
An intimate documentary that reveals the frightening rollercoaster journey of two mums for whom childbirth triggers postpartum psychosis, one of the most severe forms of mental illness. It is a condition most expectant mothers and their families have never heard of, but around one in every five hundred births can lead to the sudden onset of a psychotic episode. New mothers are overwhelmed by extreme low or high moods, strange and dangerous thoughts, paranoia and delusions - such as the belief that they have given birth to Jesus or the devil. This is the untold story of what it means to battle this terrifying condition. Filmed over six months, we closely follow the intense experiences of two women, Jenny and Hannah, and their families, as they are cared for at Winchester's Mother and Baby Unit. Behind the closed doors of this specialist psychiatric ward, Dr Alain Gregoire and his expert team give women the care and intensive treatment needed to bring them back to recovery. While it is the most severe form of mental distress psychiatrists see, with the right medication and psychological support most women can return home within six weeks. And round the clock support with childcare enables mums and their babies to stay together, rather than face a damaging separation. From the bedroom to the nursery, the hospital theatre to the psychiatrist's chair - we watch the most personal moments of motherhood and mental illness play out for Jenny and Hannah, as Dr Gregoire and his team face two of the most challenging cases they've experienced. But in one respect Jenny and Hannah are fortunate; they have access to the expert treatment they desperately need. With a severe shortage of specialist psychiatric care for mums-to-be and new mothers, it's a postcode lottery that determines whether women get the expert help they urgently need - over 80% in the UK don't.
Ten years ago, in an International Emmy Award-winning series made by Matchlight's Creative Director, Ross Wilson, Stephen Fry first spoke about living with manic depression and began a national conversation about mental health. A decade later, we return to the subject tounderstand where he and thousands of others diagnosed with bipolar (as it is now called) are now. As a society, do we need to do more for those with the illness? Is the treatment better? Has the stigma reduced? Stephen is now the president of Mind. Looking at the changes of the past decade, he finds optimism in the increased awareness of bipolar, especially amongst the young. The film gives a powerful insight into living with bipolar - past, present and, most significantly for the contributors in the film, future.
WINNER: BEST ARTS DOCUMENTARY, CELTIC MEDIA FESTIVAL 2016
A.A. Gill, Sunday Times: "... this look at Hughes' life and work was a magesterial and breathtaking saga about a heroic, tragic and muse-blessed man, a life of such Icelandic drama. ... This long but wholly engrossing documentary was compelling, and included not only the touching, poised and engaging Frieda Hughes, Hughes' daughter with Slyvia Plath, but marvellous contributions from a pantheon of poets, critics and comtemporaries."
Financial Times: "The tragedies in Ted Hughes' life overshadowed his reputation as man and poet. Ted Hughes: Stronger than Death takes a clear-eyed look at how personal and professional entwined in his work. The first in-depth TV study of the poet gains from the presence of Frieda, daughter of Hughes and Sylvia Plath. She is an intelligent, loving commentator: empathetic about both her parents, moments of grief countered by humour. ... The programme is absorbing. Non-judgmental and avoiding prurience, it passes the acid test: it deepens our understanding of what formed Hughes as a poet and of how he developed as an artist. Both he and Plath were fascinating and vulnerable, though he had the thicker skin, the innocent, unaware destructive egotism of the artist. The film chronicles, pauses, perhaps in compassion, and leaves the verdict to others."
Every day three people in the UK die waiting for a transplant. With the exclusive access to Scotland's entire transplant service -covering hearts, lungs, livers and kidneys - Transplant Tales tells the human story behind the shortage of organs.
From 23 year old Lisa Hertwig who's been waiting a year for a double lung transplant to 46 year old Stewart McKay who is suspended from the urgent heart transplant waiting list, Transplant Tales tells the story of life on the transplant waiting list. As their patients die waiting, medics know they must find new ways to increase supply.
EP 1 Transplant Tales: Staying Alive
Transplant organs used to come from young people who died in road traffic accidents. But thanks to better road safety and better neurological care, those kinds of donors aren't around anymore. With the exclusive access to Scotland's entire transplant service - covering hearts, lungs, livers and kidneys - Transplant Tales: Staying Alive investigates how medics are being driven to find innovative ways to get round the shortage of organs.
Dialysis patient Carl Riley becomes one of the first patients in the country to receive a dose of a drug that will allow him to have a kidney transplant. But how does he feel about the fact that it will cost the NHS £300,000 a year? Meanwhile, 30 year old Paul Dooley has signed up to the 'altruistic donor' programme which allows him to donate his kidney to a complete stranger on the national waiting list. The operation carries with it a one in 3000 chance of dying. So why is he doing it?
EP 2 Transplant Tales: Life on the List
Due to an aging population, drink and obesity, the demand for transplant organs is set to explode over the next ten years.
With the exclusive access to Scotland's entire transplant service - covering hearts, lungs, livers and kidneys - Transplant Tales: Life on the List tells the story of the growing numbers of patients being referred to the transplant waiting list.
Former alcoholic Fiona Carson is being assessed in Edinburgh for a transplant. But with a fifty percent rise in the demand for livers in the last five years, competition is steep. Meanwhile, in Newcastle two lung patients - Margaret Murphy and Mick Burns - wait to hear which one of them will get the lungs that save them. And in Glasgow, Caroline Monaghan has come across a revolutionary new treatment that will allow her to help get her husband off the waiting list.
First broadcast on Tuesday 26th May 2015 at 9pm on BBC Two.
Joan of Arc is a saint, revered as one of the most outstanding women of the Middle Ages. But by viewing Joan as a saint, people tend to forget the extraordinary nature of her life: a 17-year-old girl who came from nowhere and seized an exceptional moment, leading an army in a world that believed that women could neither fight nor lead. In a new film, Helen Castor reveals the reasons Joan was able to do what she did, reasons that sprang from the times in which she lived but had nothing to do with her being a saint. This is the story of the real Joan - in part a striking tale of religious and military events, and in part a psychological courtroom drama that has been passed down through history from the records of her trial.
The Guardian 26.05.15 "Dr Helen Castor stripped away the accreted layers of subsequent interpretation, myth and legend to give us the barest, cleanest bones she could of what is, even at its sparest, an astonishing story."
The Times 26.05.15 "God's Warrior was elegant, engaging and rigorous. [Dr Helen] Castor wanted us, as Joan's image becomes appropriated by cause after cause, not to forget the human underneath."
The Independent 26.05.15 "There was a lot of walking round medieval ramparts bathed in beatific light, which might have felt trivial if it was not for [Dr Helen Castor's] access to contemporary documents from the trial. She reconstructed original dialogue and where some historical reconstructions jar, the words were the stars here."
Daily Mail 26.05.15 " Phew! A history show without the usual high-tech histrionics - With such a theatrical story, of a peasant girl inspired by visions of angels to lead armies and treat kings as her equals, the temptation must have been to fill the screen with computer effects and extras. ... It proved far more effective to let Moffett, a former star of The Bill whose husband is David Tennant, tell the story in Joan's own words. We were allowed to picture the scenes ourselves - such as this 17-year-old illiterate girl crossing hundreds of miles of enemy territory, during France's sadistic civil wars in the 1420s."
First broadcast on Wednesday 25th February, 4th and 11th March, 2015 at 8pm on BBC Two.
The fight for women's right to vote is often presented as taking place at a specific moment in time, with campaigns across 25 years ending when women won technical voting rights in British Parliament in 1928. In reality, the fight to win the vote was a battle fought over many centuries. In this three-part series for BBC Two, Amanda Vickery reveals why the journey towards Parliamentary power became such an important issue, and why the 1918 victory can only be truly understood when seen as the culmination of a much longer struggle. The female vote wasn't a reward for women's work in the First World War, but it was in fact the result of a long engagement between men and women in the battle for equality in political power and influence.
The Guardian, 21.02.15 "a well-timed reminder that having a vote is not a trival matter."
Daily Mail 21.02.05 "Fascinating,"
The Times, Saturday Review, 21.02.15 "The historian Amanda Vickery presents this absorbing three part history of the suffragette movement. The good news is that some progress has been made over the past 300 years. Wives are no longer the property of their husbands and cannot be auctioned at country markets, which happened 300 times during the 18th and 19th centuries. Also women who murder their husbands can no longer be found guilty of "petty treason" and partially strangled and burned alive, as was the fate of Mary Hilton in 1772. Women who engaged in political activity used to be pilloried by cartoonists and attacked for their private lives . . . and, er, that couldn't happen any more."
"The war on drugs isn't working: drug addiction should be treated as a health issue rather than a criminal one." These are the views of Russell Brand, as he sets out on a personal journey for BBC Three which sees him speak to addicts, care workers and politicians in the UK and overseas, as he explores potential alternatives to the UK government's policy on drugs. From visiting a legalised drug consumption room in Berne, Switzerland, to attending a U.N. drugs conference in Vienna, Russell probes the different perspectives of other nations' approach to drugs in search of evidence that there could be a different approach to current UK government policy. He meets people who challenge his views and in an interview with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg Russell gets the opportunity to put his point of view to the heart of government.
The Times, Saturday Review 13/12/14: "A considered polemic."
Behind Audrey Hepburn's dazzling image, Darcey Bussell unravels an epic tale of both courage and heartache. For as long as she can remember Darcey Bussell has been fascinated by Audrey Hepburn: style icon, star of Breakfast at Tiffany's, an Oscar winner at 24. Now, Darcey follows in Audrey's footsteps through Holland, London, Rome, Switzerland and Hollywood to find out more.
First broadcast on Monday 3rd, 10th, 17th and 24th November, 2014.
Every weekend more than a thousand performers - from cabaret stars to comedians, magicians to tribute bands - take to Scottish stages to showcase their talents. But what does it really take to survive in one of the toughest and most cutthroat industries? We're going behind the scenes of the Scottish entertainment industry to reveal what it's really like to perform in 21st Century variety. How do you break into the big time? Can our stars earn a living from it? And is all the struggle worth it? 'Viva Variety' goes backstage to explore the dreams and realities of those who burn to entertain. Welcome to the very real world of variety.
The Herald, 17/11/14: "And that's where the strength of this series lies. They strip away the glamour yet show the people having a brilliant time, swearing it's the best job in the world. There's no distracting nonsense about 'dreams'. Instead, entertainment is shown as a real job, portrayed as an attainable career for talented youngsters … Certainly no glamour there, and so the theme recurs: this isn't glam, it's a job. It's work. It's reality. It's a way of bringing home the bacon. Yet it's fun, not soul-destroying. But you're lucky to have a job. That's what they say to people stuck in miserable work, isn't it? It's certainly what I was told for years. You're lucky to have a job so keep your head down. Then comes a brash and exhilarating series like Viva Variety to show there are others ways to live a life and earn a crust."
Presented by Stephanie Flanders.
First broadcast May 19th 2014, BBC Two at 9.00pm
The Times, Saturday Review, 17.05.14 "This superb programme is made by Stephanie Flanders, the former BBC Economics Editor ... Her subject here, the search for a polio vaccine, is intensely personal. Her father, Michael Flanders of Flanders & Swann fame, contracted polio during the war and died when she was six and a half. Her uncle, the journalist Patrick Cockburn, caught polio in Ireland a year after the Salk vaccine had been rolled out in America. It is easy to forget now how frightening this disease was ... The virus was so small that it was 20 years before a sufficiently powerful microscope was developed to see it. The search for a vaccine became a catalogue of errors, breakthroughs, catastrophes and rivalries among scientists ... It is an incredible story, brilliantly told."
The Observer, 18.05.15 "Former BBC Economics Editor Stephanie Flanders explores her own family's story and the history of the search for a vaccine for poliomyelitis. It's a tale of clashing scientiﬁc egos told against a backdrop of a disease that paralysed and killed children in their thousands. Stephanie's father, Michael Flanders, one half of musical duo Flanders & Swann, survived polio as a young man, but still ended up having to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair and succumbed to an early death when Stephanie was just six years old. In this superbly illustrated account she details and laments the absurd rivalries which impeded the search for a vaccine."
The Mail on Sunday, 18.05.14 "A hundred years ago, a mysterious new epidemic took hold of Britain and the US ... the victims were mostly children. Mostly, but not all, says Stephanie Flanders, former BBC economics editor, whose father contracted the disease while serving in the Navy. He was paralysed at the age of 21 and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair, but went on to find fame as one half of the singing duo Flanders and Swann … But could her father's illness have been prevented, asks Stephanie in this film, which looks at the race at the start of the 20th century to find a vaccine; the March of Dimes charity, set up by polio victim Franklin D Roosevelt; and the rivalry between medical scientists Albert Sabin and Jonas Salk." Five Stars.
An iPlayer Premier (selected by BBC Director General, Tony Hall). First broadcast 16th, 23rd and 30th May 2014.
Nominated as Best Factual Series at the British Academy (BAFTA) Scotland Awards 2014
It is an inescapable truth that throughout history, women's artistry has rarely been seen as 'true art' in the eyes of institutions and commerce. Yet, the female hand and the female gaze have more than played their played their part in shaping the visual culture of the modern world.
In a three-part series, Amanda Vickery travels from the Renaissance to the 20th century to explore and explain the story of female creativity through the ages. Tackling art professionals and ordinary women, Amanda will explore how the story of women in art can help us unlock the key to the female psyche and how the representation can help us understand how artistic attitudes and social tastes have evolved through the years.
The Sunday Telegraph, 18.05.14 "According to Professor Amanda Vickery, The Story of Women in Art is that women have never been allowed to be part of the story. Her mission is to redress this imbalance … a little sleuth work through up a host of brilliant and largely unknown female artists. Where Vickery really came into her own in asking why they are unknown … Vickery's argument is enticing, not least because unlike so many modern arts documentaries she actually has an argument. So in the case of each of these unsung heroines she would take a picture and pick it apart … offering suggestions as to why these women are forgotten. In many cases it was a distinctly modern problem - the women faced a choice between careers and family life and plumped for the later. The stopped working. Any BBC programme that casts new light on obscure works of art, and cocks a snoop at the canon in the process, is one worth watching in my book, and on those grounds alone The Story of Women in Art earned its slot."
The Guardian, Last Night's TV, 17.05.14 "… the serpentine journeys Vickery kept having to do to view their work - squeezing herself into dark corners behind the museum's carousels of postcards, following staff down featureless corridors to their farthest distant storage rooms - said more about their fates since than even Vickery's swift, vivid and comprehensive delineations of their lives and legacies. She made them move one of the hidden paintings out into the light, but she illuminated everything wherever she went."
First broadcast April 3rd 2014 at 10pm on Channel 4
Three teenagers with troubled backgrounds each want to make it as jockeys. They're not from the ranks of Champagne-drinking, hat-wearing spectators normally associated with race days. They aren't world-renowned sportsmen on horseback, dedicated to what they do and in peak physical condition. They're fighters, travellers and troublesome teens, who have not had the best start in life. But they're passionate about horses, and this could be their way to a better future. The Northern Racing College near Doncaster offers an intensive 10-week course, the possibility of a second chance and training for these teenagers to become jockeys. Chaos meets order as the teenagers enter a world of 7am starts, discipline and hard work, and face the no-nonsense approach of the tutors. Can the rigid structure and routine of Britain's toughest jockey school and a love of horses give these teenagers a fighting chance of a better life?
First broadcast 10th December, 2013
Nominated Best Current Affairs at the British Academy (BAFTA) Scotland Awards 2014
Brian Reade, The Daily Mirror, 12/12/13 - "I occasionally give the BBC a good kicking but still believe that at its best it is the finest broadcasting company in the world. And one of the bravest. Take Tuesday's Panorama which exposed how Comic Relief has been investing the money we give to help emaciated Africans in weapons manufacturers, tobacco and alcohol firms. This was public service broadcasting at its best. Because it is the BBC which has promoted Comic Relief since birth, which throws its schedules over to it, whose newsreaders humiliate themselves in leather costumes. Comic Relief IS the BBC. Yet here it was rocking its credibility to the core in the greater interests of transparency ... Auntie, take a bow."
First broadcast on Saturday 25th Nanuary, 2014.
For over two hundred years, Scots have been celebrating the life and work of our national bard Robert Burns every January. However, Burns Suppers aren't a phenomenon unique to Scotland and in the year that Glasgow welcomes 71 nations to Scottish soil for the Commonwealth Games, this documentary reveals how, and why, this night is still celebrated in some of the furthest-flung corners of the Commonwealth.
From the villages of Sri Lanka, where only three Scots remain in an ancient society that is still going strong; to Singapore, where only 'pure blood' Scots are eligible to join the club; and from Ghana, where the marriage of Scots and African culture has generated new 'traditions'; to the remote island paradise of Bermuda, where every Scot on the island - including the new Governor - has to speak for their supper.
'The Commonwealth of Burns' follows the trials and tribulations of these far-flung St Andrews and Caledonian societies as they prepare for their big day. It tells the story of the Scots characters who have settled in these countries, and reveals why the celebration of Burns Night still has such meaning around the Commonwealth. It also explores 'Scottishness' and what it means to people, some of whom have never actually visited Scotland.
First broadcast 9th, 16th and 23rd October, 2013.
Topped BBC Four ratings on each day of transmission.
The Telegraph, 12/10/13, "The medievalist who gave us the fantastic series on female rulers, She Wolves, returns with another refreshingly unfussy set of histories. Helen Castor looks at rites of passage in the Middle Ages."
The Guardian, 10/10/13, "But what's this? A 12th-century Italian book about women's health called The Trotula, written by an actual woman? ... Its contents are spectacular. There's a section on how to choose the sex of your baby, which Castor reads out - quietly, nicely, soothingly. "If she desire a man-child, they must take the womb of a hare, and the c**t, and dry it, powder it, and drink it with wine." Blimey. "At least wine was involved," Castor quips. At that point I was sold. This is primarily a story of women's lives - women who were thought of, according to one historian, as "rather botched and bungled versions of men". Castor is an excellent, engaging storyteller, with a strong feminist undercurrent to her analysis. There are child brides, superstitions, gruesome births, curious traditions, rules about sex and death and life handed down by supposedly celibate male clerics. It's fascinating. And the patron saint of pregnant women and childbirth, St Margaret, was even eaten by a dragon, which is pretty House Targaryen."
First broadcast August 17th 2013, More 4 at 9.00pm
A Very British Witchcraft (1x60) tells the extraordinary story of Britain's fastest growing religious group - Wicca - and of its creator, an eccentric Englishman called Gerald Gardner. Historian and leading expert in Pagan studies, Professor Ronald Hutton, explores the unlikely origins of modern pagan witchcraft and experiences first hand its growing influence throughout Britain today. Gardner's story and the story of Wicca itself is a bizarre one. Born of a nudist colony in 1930s Dorset, Wicca rapidly grew from a small new forest coven to a worldwide religion in the space of just 70 years. Its a journey that takes in tales of naked witches casting spells to ward off Hitler, tabloid hysteria about human sacrifices and Gerald Gardner himself appearing on Panorama. The film tells of a peculiar man who saw that the world was ready for a new religion based on magic, sex nature and ritual - and gave it to us. In doing so, he created in Wicca, the UK's first religion, one that has taken on a life of its own and is today counted amongst one of the fastest growing faith groups in the world. Through interviews and encounters with Wicca followers, experts and these who knew Gardner, Professor Hutton delves into this unusual world and the story of how its eccentric founder created a religion that is today increasingly seen as a valid alternative to the more orthodox faith groups.
The Daily Mail (19.08.13) The presenter, Professor Ronald Hutton, has a wonderful way with eccentrics: with his long hair and earnest face, he radiates a terribly English respect for them. And Gardner's witches and wizards did merit respect. In 1940, when a German invasion was expected at any hour, the Wiccans would gather in a wooded clearing on the Dorset coast and cast spells all night to keep the Nazis from crossing the sea. Those retired accountants and spinster librarians dancing naked to defy Hitler were gently heroic in their own way.
View a trailer for this programme on Vimeo
First broadcast August 5th 2013, Channel 4 at 8.00pm
In this one hour special Channel 4 Dispatches goes undercover to investigate what's real and what's fake in the brave new online world.
Celebrities have considerable influence on social media, but are some less than transparent when tweeting brand names to their legions of fans?
Dispatches exposes the new tricks used by marketeers to plug brands, from buying fake Facebook 'likes' and YouTube 'views' to influencing social media conversations.
Film-maker Chris Atkins travels to Bangladesh in search of backstreet 'click farms' where poorly paid workers manipulate social media for the benefit of big western brands.
Broadcast, 7th August, 2013: "Channel 4's expose Celebs, Brands and Fake Fans has become the most tweeted-about Dispatches ever recorded by the strand … The show accounted for 20% of all TV-related tweets during the period it was on-air, according to data provided by SecondSync … It dwarfed the amount of conversation sparked on Twitter by previous instalments of Dispatches, significantly ahead of June's The Police's Dirty Secret film which investigated undercover officers and drew 3,700 updates … The majority of activity took place around the #fakefans hashtag, which was displayed on-screen during the doc.
First broadcast March 25th 2013, Channel 4 at 8.00pm
Thirteen years ago, Dr Christian Jessen was a junior doctor
working dangerously long hours which he feared might be putting
patients at risk. He wasn't alone. The excessive hours junior
doctors worked was front page news.
But three years ago, European regulations were brought in to limit hours, protecting doctors and patients. Like most people, Dr Christian thought the problem had been dealt with. But in this Dispatches, Dr Christian discovers that junior doctors across Britain say they are still regularly working 90 hours a week.
He follows two junior doctors through their gruelling working weeks, and as they are tested before and after their shifts to assess the toll their fatigue takes on their performance. As one junior doctor puts it, "Having to put a very very small drip into a baby's vein is quite hard when you're kind of going bog-eyed and a bit fuzzy-brained". He had just worked over 90 hours on seven consecutive night shifts.
Dr Christian also investigates why junior doctors can feel pressured to work these hours and not speak out about their concerns. He unearths documents that prove that some NHS Trusts and Health Boards are aware of problems and concerns around their junior doctors' hours, and asks why Trusts seem to be struggling to safely schedule their junior doctors. He also finds out that the consequences of not resolving these issues can be tragic."
View a trailer for the programme on Vimeo
First broadcast January 31st 2013, Channel 5 at 8.00pm
Some of Britain's worst licence-holding drivers seek professional help to sort out their problem driving. Building on the success of the first series we've assembled a rich cast of characters whose driving could all change for the good in just one remarkable lesson. We see how their phobias, quirks, and bad habits - often developed over years - have damaged their relationships with friends and family and severely dented the undeniable joy of motoring. You'll be amazed by the sudden and positive impact on their driving we have - making Britain's roads a safer, more courteous place in just one day.
View a trailer for the series on Vimeo
First broadcast August 16th 2012, BBC Three at 9.00pm
The Times, Saturday Review (In overview of week's highlights) 11/08/12: In this remarkable documentary, Russell Brand remembers his destructive 11-year heroin addiction with brutal honesty and has some alarming advice for the addicts he meets who are struggling to get clean.
The Times, Saturday Review (In Thursday preview) 11/08/12: Russell Brand has never hidden from his junkie past, even now Hollywood has come calling. In this searingly honest film, he explores the nature of addiction, what makes certain people into addicts and how society deals with it. Brand is wildly articulate and able to paint a compelling yet bleak portrait of his past, as he meets doctors, therapists and addicts, both active and recovering. The most telling moment comes when Brand, sitting in the Savoy as a hugely successful and wealthy celebrity, watches footage of himself smoking heroin in a drab flat in Hackney and declares: "I'm jealous of me then."
The Observer, 12/08/12: Love him or hate him, one thing that you cannot question about comedian and former heroin addict Brand is his commitment to explaining the nature and seriousness of drug addiction and how it should be treated. In this intelligent, impassioned film he gleans eye-opening information from scientists researching the psychology of addiction, alternative recovery therapists and drug addicts themselves. Is addiction a disease? he asks. Should it be criminalised? And is abstinence-based recovery the way forward? The answers he uncovers may surprise you. Policy-makers please wake up and pay attention!
The Guardian Guide, 11/08/12: On the floor of a sparse Hackney flat, a young barefoot addict chases the dragon, before slumping against the wall with unfocused eyes. This home movie footage of Russell Brand is pretty hard to watch, but it's typical of Russell's self-absorbed/searingly honest character that he's chosen to include it in this frank documentary about heroin addiction. Along the way, he meets a recovering addict, chats with former drug czar Professor David Nutt, and has a passionate disagreement with a methadone endorsing GP. Impressive.
View a trailer for the programme on Vimeo
First broadcast September 24th 2012, BBC Two Scotland at 8.00pm
There are 120,000 people in Scotland with a learning disability. But how do you find love when your disabilities get in the way? We follow three young people with learning disabilities as they struggle to assert their independence, fight loneliness and get their heads round the dating scene. Just like everyone else, Peter, Richard, and Natasha want independence and love, so will they find that someone special?
View a trailer for the programme on Vimeo
First broadcast May 28th 2012, BBC 2 at 9.00pm
Winner Best Factual Series at the British Academy (BAFTA) Scotland Awards 2012
NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD FROM AMAZON (and other good retailers).
Mike Bradley, The Observer, 27/05/12: This intelligent two-part film is the television highlight of the week, a superlative history of Afghanistan through the eyes of author, former Black Watch officer and diplomat Rory Stewart MP. He explains how one of the most isolated and barren nations on Earth might seem a strange place for a superpower to invade, but how it became an enduring obsession for Britain, Russia and latterly America. Most surprising of all is his account of a foolhardy attempt by an Afghan elite to impose western ideas and modernity on the country … Worthy of an award.
The Sunday Times, 27/05/12: It has been the Afghans' misfortune to be the obsession of three superpowers: since the early 19th century, their country has been invaded, intimidated and misunderstood. Rory Stewart, a former deputy governor of Iraq, who walked across Afghanistan in 2002, takes time out from his job as an MP to consider why the territory has been so important to the British, Russians and Americans. ... It is a bloody history, clearly told and well researched.
The Daily Telegraph, 26/05/12: Afghanistan is a country so isolated, barren and alien, it is "hard to believe any empire would want to invade it" says Conservative MP and former diplomat Rory Stewart in this engrossing two-part documentary. ... In this first film Stewart traces the history and motivations of the British Empire's repeated efforts to subdue the country in the 19th century. It is a thoroughly blood-soaked story of adventurers, espionage, paranoia and cultural arrogance - which led to the deaths of tens of thousands, and Afghanistan being dubbed the graveyard of empires. "The one lesson Britain should have learned is don't invade Afghanistan," says Stewart. Yet it was a lesson that fell on deaf ears, and not only British ones, into the 21st century.
The Daily Telegraph, 30/05/12: Rory Stewart proves a clear and measured guide to Afghanistan's complicated political history. In the second part of his excellent documentary, Stewart outlines the delicate relationship between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan from the 1970s...
Daily Mail, 28/05/12: Now a Tory MP, Rory Stewart has an air of the Victorian adventurer, a spirit that led him to walk across Afghanistan alone soon after 9/11. With his love of the land and understanding of its past, the former diplomat is well qualified to unpick Britain's misbegotten military adventures there. In this powerful history lesson, he reveals how 19th-century invasions were underlain by myths and ignorance, with disturbing echoes in today's involvement. Stewart's Afghan friends say it's easy to get into their country but difficult to find an exit; it's a joke with far too much truth to leave us laughing. The second half of this film is on Wednesday (9pm). Five Stars
Daily Mirror, 28/05/12: IS there no end to Rory Stewart's talents? The author, former tutor to Princes William and Harry, one time deputy governor in Iraq and current Tory MP for Penrith turns out here to be a natural and engaging documentary presenter as well. In his new two-part series he explores the folly of invading Afghanistan - it's the one lesson that no nation has managed to learn from history, despite invasions ending in predictable tragedy and humiliation. Stewart speaks with the calm authority of someone who knows the country inside out. In 2002, not long after 9/11, he walked across Afghanistan solo, from Herat to Kabul. He is also the founder of Turquoise Mountain, an organisation geared at the urban regeneration of Kabul and the promotion of its traditional crafts. All of which means that he knows his stuff and that the Afghan people he speaks to are happy to share their experiences about why their bloody history has made this remote and impoverished country a nation of warriors. The concluding part is on Wednesday.
Rory Stewart brings his expertise from his
years as a soldier, diplomat and historian to the story of two
centuries of foreign intervention in Afghanistan - from the British
in the 19th Century through to the Soviet and US interventions of
the 80s. In the 19th Century the British tried to add Afghanistan
to the Empire and failed while in the 20th Century the Russians
lost their empire fighting in Afghanistan. Today, the Afghan War is
the central foreign policy challenge we face in the twenty-first
century. So what, for Rory Stewart, are the
lessons of history for those countries that have chosen to invade
and occupy Afghanistan again today? His conclusions may not
be what viewers expect.
View a trailer for the series on Vimeo
First broadcast April 1st 2012, ITV
As a teenager and aspiring comedian from a black working class community in Dudley, Lenny Henry had a deep-seated aversion to Shakespeare and his "gobble-de-gook" language. Yet now he is one of the Bard's most passionate fans, starring in a new National Theatre production of Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors", and wants the rest of us to "get" Shakespeare the way he now does.
View a trailer for the programme on Vimeo
First broadcast 7th March, 2012 @ 9pm on BBC Four. Was the highest rated multi-channel programme of the day with 989,000 viewers (4.2% share) and BBC Four's best performing show in that slot for over a year.
VOTED into The Radio Times Top 40 TV Shows of 2012!
NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD FROM AMAZON (and other good retailers).
"Riveting … She-Wolves was as fun as The Lion in Winter and a hundred times more accurate." (Andrew Billen, The Times, 08/03/12).
"A rich story, full of captivating twists and shocking betrayals. ... Helen Castor displays a firm grip on her material, and her calm delivery is full of measured interpretation." The Radio Times
"Walking through imposing cathedrals and beautiful French chateaux, Helen Castor highlights the royal wives and mothers who were kings in all but name. She begins with Henry I's daughter, Mathilda, who nearly won the crown for herself but was betrayed by her cousin in 1135. And while Eleanor of Aquitaine is associated with courtly love, she was a wily political player who helped her sons to rebel against her husband Henry II, endured a decade of house arrest and governed England during the long absences of her son, Richard the Lionheart. Castor provides an unflashy, authoritive take on her subject." The Observer, New Review
"It's hard to imagine, as we celebrate Elizabeth II's 60-year reign, even the most strident anti-monarchist calling her a "she-wolf"; and woe betide anyone who tried to give future Queen Catherine that label. But historically that's the cuss that has been thrown at females who have attempted to take the English crown. This fact-pact three-part series delves into that relationship between women and power, examining cases from Medieval and Tudor times ... Dr. Helen Castor, above, is a thorough, occasionally lyrical, guide...", The Times
In 2012, Queen Elizabeth II's diamond jubilee year, Dr. Helen Castor, historian of medieval England and a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge, explores how a queen moved from being merely the wife of a king, to a monarch in her own right. In the Middle Ages royal power was inescapably male. Kings had to be warriors, winning and defending their power on the battlefield. Queens were just their wives. But in the 400 years before Elizabeth I six queens did challenge the presumption of male power, despite the obstacle of their sex. She Wolves (BBC Four, 3x60) tells the stories of these queens. The lives of Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, Margaret of Anjou, Lady Jane Grey and Mary Tudor reveal a gripping tale of how power evolved in medieval England. But the prospect of powerful women still has the ability to unsettle and the unease with which these medieval queens were viewed, coalesced in their vilification as She Wolves - aberrations of the true nature of womanhood, sexual predators, who fight tooth and claw to defend their young. This series is the story of power and women's attempts to claim it. The challenges faced by these queens are more familiar to modern eyes than we might first assume.
View a trailer for the series on Vimeo
First broadcast March 13th 2012, BBC Three at 9.00pm
Star of BBC3's hugely popular The Real Hustle, Alexis Conran is definitely someone you don't want to be playing cards with. An expert poker player and a man thoroughly at home in a casino and on a racecourse, Alexis enjoys the thrill that comes with gambling. But what for Alexis is a pleasurable past-time and part of a lucrative career, ruined his father. Alexis's Greek father was a gambling addict who committed fraud to get money for betting and went to prison for his crimes. He lost his wife and brought his family to the point of ruin. Because of his father's experience and because of a growing realization that his own gambling habits are different from his friends, Alexis has become increasingly interested in exploring the tipping point that turns the odd flutter into something darker and more dangerous. Why can most people place one bet and then walk away; when some men and women are compelled to lose their shirt, their house and their families on a losing streak? The answer is important to Alexis - because it could identify both the differences between him and his father and the worrying similarities. In this documentary for BBC3, Alexis wants to explore what happens when gambling becomes an addiction.
View a trailer for the programme on Vimeo
Written and presented by Prof. Amanda Vickery.
First broadcast December 23rd 2011, BBC Two at 9.00pm
NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD FROM AMAZON (and other good retailers).
Prof. Amanda Vickery returns to mark the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen's first novel Sense and Sensibility. When Jane Austen died her slight reputation appeared to die with her. Her books soon went out of print. Now, 200 years later, she sits at the summit of English literature and thanks to television and film adaptations, as well as the internet, she is an international cultural brand. What interests Amanda is how different periods and generations have looked for their own reflection in the characters and plots of the novels. She wants to work out what that says about them, as well the hold Jane Austen's fiction has on us now.
The Guardian: "Essential viewing here for fans of the author. Professor Amanda Vickery, a leading chronicler of matters Georgian, discusses why Austen has had such pan-generational appeal, and how each has sought to find reflections of themselves in her work. Academics, directors and even becostumed devotees provide the answers. Attending the auction of a rare, handwritten manuscript of an unfinished Austen novel provides its own insight into the enduring mania surrounding her."
The Sunday Times, Culture: "… this excellent documentary … Vickery will not be short of admirers after this accomplished and enjoyable extension of her television career."
The Guardian Guide: "Amanda Vickery plunges forearm down history's breeches; tugs out fistful of literary loveliness."
Lisa Appignanesi, Saturday Review, Radio 4: "I loved this film … full of verve and brio…".
View a trailer for this series on Vimeo
Written and presented by John Humphrys
First broadcast October 27th 2011, BBC Two at 9.00pm
In February 2011 UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced a welfare reform bill he described as "the most fundamental, ambitious and radical reforms to the benefit system since it began." The benefit bill, he said, had gone up by nearly sixty billion pounds in the last decade alone. Its critics say that the Welfare State is in crisis. And yet at the same time, there's resounding support among the British public for the idea of a safety net. In an Ipsos MORI poll commissioned for this programme 92% of adults agreed with the statement "it is important to have a benefits system to provide a safety net for anyone that needs it. In The Future State of Welfare John Humphrys travels the country to talk to the people with the most to lose as the Government tries to reform the benefit system - people on incapacity benefit; the long-term unemployed; people on housing benefit; lone parents. Are they prepared for the harsher future ahead? Is Britain really ready for the future state of welfare? John returns to the area where he was born - Splott in Cardiff - to show how attitudes to work and welfare have changed over his lifetime. When he was growing up, the man on his street, who didn't work was regarded as a pariah; today one in four of the working aged population in Splott is on some form of benefit. John also visits America where fifteen years ago they embarked on what has been called a 'welfare revolution.' Is this more punitive model where we are heading? And he looks at the specific reforms the Government have in mind, or are already underway.
The Daily Telegraph: "This was a serious programme about an important subject with a fundamental question at its heart: how did the great ambitions of William Beveridge to banish the Five Evils of Want, Ignorance, Squalor, Disease and Idleness produce a society in which hundreds of thousands of people, maybe millions, choose to live off their fellow taxpayers and consider that they are entitled to do so? … Humphrys brought his interrogative skills to bear on a subject that we too often tiptoe around in this country, though not in America where welfare recipients are expected to work for their assistance or lose it. … Humphrys postulated the existence of a new evil spawned by the welfare state - an age of entitlement that in some communities has seen two or even three generations of a single family spend their entire lives on benefits. The Coalition has set out a strategy for ending it; judging by this documentary it has a monumental task ahead."
View a trailer for the programme on Vimeo
First broadcast Wednesday 19th OctobeR 2011, Channel 5 at 8.00pm
Having battled to pass your test in the first place, what makes people give up on driving? Or become so terrified of negotiating a roundabout that they'll drive 10miles out of their way in order to avoid them? And once they've developed a phobia about driving, is there anything that they can do to reverse it?
The series peaked at 1.74million viewers and a share of
6.5% with a series average of 1.17million viewers and 4.8% share.
For comparison the Channel 5 average share peak-time share was
View a trailer for the series on Vimeo
First broadcast July 14th 2011, BBC Three at 9.00pm
If your body carried a deadly gene that increased your chances of getting breast cancer to 80% - would you want to know? 18-year-old Josie Bellerby is a gorgeous, fun-loving, typical teenager. Except for one thing, her Mum carries a hereditary gene that has cursed their family for generations, killing her grandmother and her mother. Now there's a test that tells you if you have the gene. Josie's Mum Julia was one of the first in the UK to take it. She proved positive, but to save her life she had to have drastic surgery - to remove both her breasts. Josie and her two sisters face the same heartbreaking choice. Big sister Lucy has decided she's ready to take the test and will soon receive life-changing news. Josie has a dilemma should she find out if she has it too? Her family think she's too young to know, she should be enjoying her young life not worrying about the risk of cancer and a double mastectomy. Josie's an ordinary girl searching for the answer to an extraordinary question: is she old enough to cope with finding out if she carries the cancer curse?
View an extract from this programme on Vimeo
A Matchlight/BBC Scotland Co-Production.
London is known as the "libel capital of the world" with people coming from all over to use the British legal system to sue or defend their reputation or right to privacy. In a major six part documentary series for BBC One, we gain extraordinary access to the top lawyers and firms operating in this field and, through a rich range of cases, we unpack this fascinating and timely subject.
First broadcast March/April/May 2011, BBC 1 at 10.35pm
The Independent: "The exciting thing is that last night also offered a real example of Magic Evidence, in See You in Court, a new series about our spavined legal system, which began by following Sheryl Gascoigne and Lembit Opik in two individual libel cases. Struggling to refute an accusation that she hadn't talked to her mother-in-law in eight years, Sheryl discovered footage of herself making a sympathetic phone call to Gazza's mum, after trailing through hours of raw footage from a fly-on-the-wall documentary. Gotcha, as they like to say in tabloid land. Lembit Opik wasn't quite as successful in his attempt to seek redress for a pugnacious Rod Liddle column that had represented him as a somewhat comical figure, and the deserving recipient of the last election's most surprising defeat ... His case might have been lousy, but his larger point was sound, though rather more convincingly backed up by Sheryl's experience. Thoroughly monstered by the tabloids, she actually had to put her house up for sale in order to cover the legal deposit should her wealthy opponents actually fight all the way to the courtroom. And if it went to court, even if she won and had costs awarded to her she would have ended up seriously out of pocket. In a game of chicken with a big newspaper, most individuals blink first, so it was rather heartening that Sheryl eventually extracted an apology and damages in all her cases. Unfortunately, the newspapers were probably still ahead on the deal, since they may have made more from the lies than the correction eventually cost them. It looks as if future episodes will demonstrate the unfitness of our libel laws with cases in which the positions of complainant and defendant are reversed, and journalists and commentators find themselves bullied into silence by the same threat of ruination."
The Guardian: "Lembit Opik, the comedian, is doing a standup gig in front of a rowdy audience. "I want to thank a group of people without whom it would have been effectively impossible for me to appear before you tonight," he says. "The voters!" shouts a heckler. Oh, yes, the heckler's right. That kind of ruins Opik's opening joke; his own punchline's been stolen from under his nose. So now all he can do is agree. "Yeah, 13,900 Conservatives in Montgomeryshire," he says, limping in a rather lame second, once again. To be fair, the heckler wasn't being specially smart, you could see the punchline coming a mile off. (When I say a mile off, I don't mean literally a mile off of course, it's a figure of speech that the reader will understand. The reader will also understand that this article is an opinion piece ...) The reason for my caution is that here in See You in Court (BBC1), the start of an interesting series on high- profile libel cases, the former MP issues a threat. "Woe betide the next person who libels me," he warns, ominously. He thinks he lost his seat because the press made him a figure of fun (obviously that has nothing to do with his behaviour); now the gloves are off. He wants to sue the Sunday Times for a particularly vicious column by Rod Liddle. The other case the programme looks at is Sheryl Gascoigne's fight for her reputation after lurid headlines appear in various tabloids, accusing her of being, among other things, a liar. It's a battle she wins - she gets an unreserved apology and damages. Opik isn't so lucky. He doesn't have the financial muscle to pick a fight with News International on his own, and no barrister is prepared to take the case on a no-win-no-fee basis, presumably because they fear no win at the end of it, and therefore no fee."
View a trailer for this series on Vimeo
Written and presented by Alan Yentob.
First broadcast March 27th and April 3rd 2011, BBC One at 10.35pm
Shortlisted in the Best Arts Documentary category at the Grierson 2011: British Documentary Awards
The Guardian: "The success of War And Peace and Anna Karenina brought Tolstoy fame and riches. But this most restless of spirits wasn't content. Instead, as Alan Yentob explores in the second part of his excellent profile, the novelist became increasingly ascetic. And as he lay dying, the novelist's wife Sofya was turned away, a scene shown here in remarkable archive footage."
The Daily Telegraph: "Sometimes, Imagine hits the spot perfectly. This biograpghical look at Leo Tolstoy reveals what made him more than just a great novelist, but also one of Russia's most important moral thinkers, and a life-long anti-authoritarian ... Narcissism, the battle between his morality and his libertine instincts, and an obsession with the truth are the key themes in Tolstoy's life and Alan Yentob draws them out well. But this film shows more than just Tolstoy: it examines the Russian world he lived in, giving a sense of its extremes ("Compromise is not a positive word in Russian", says one talking head), its vastness and its stark beauty. It is hard to watch this without wanting to go back to your old copy of War and Peace and actually finish the damn thing this time."
The Times: "Alan Yentob travels across Russia to present this gripping two-part series about the colossus of world literature."
NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD FROM AMAZON (and other good retailers).
Written an presented by Prof. Amanda Vickery, Professor of Early Modern History at Queen Mary, University of London.
Nominated RTS Programme Awards 2010, History.
First broadcast Nov/Dec 2010, BBC 2 at 9pm
DVD available now from Amazon and all good retailers.
The Guardian: "At Home with the Georgians: Another Snifter of Brilliance from Auntie's history cupboard."
The Sunday Telegraph: "Amanda Vickery is a naughty, clever, humourous eavesdropper on the past… She has the Georgians in her sights like no one since Jane Austen."
The Sunday Times: "Simon Schama possibly excepted, television has never before seen so exuberant a history presenter: Vickery enthuses about her Georgians like soap-opera characters and treats the viewer as a confidante; and when she says her Essex chatelaine combined Margaret Thatcher's bossiness and Nigella Lawson's flirtatiousness, there's a hint of self-description."
The Daily Mail: "This fascinating three-parter… With a little discreet dramatisation, these people come vividly alive, often in surprising ways. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Georgian house-hunting was such an emotionally charged process, and driven less by women than by men."
Radio Times: "We've already seen that Professor Amanda Vickery can evoke an intimate picture of domestic life just from reading a set of 17th-century accounts. But she can also detect hubris or sorrow from a persons choice of wallpaper and a pitiful social life from a Georgian gents missing teapot. Neatness is what the Georgians called style and, with the new trend of visiting each other at home for tea and gossip, it was vital for your house to have it. But while we glimpse some splendidly elegant interiors, it wasnt all grand designs. In a desperately sad sequence, Vickery reveals how snippets of fabric were used to keep track of foundling children's parentage."
Amanda Vickery is Professor of Early Modern History at Queen Mary, University of London. She is the author of Behind Closed Doors: At Home with the Georgians (2009) and The Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England (1998).
View a trailer for the series on Vimeo
First broadcast September 20th 2010, BBC 2 at 9.00pm
The Financial Times: "Broadcaster John Humphys … mobilised his habitual controlled rage when unwinding a narrative of education failing those who might benefit from it most: a tale of the "pushy middle class" grabbing after feepaying schools or the best state schools, making sure that - as the education secretary Michael Gove put it - "thick rich kids" will do better than talented poor ones."
The Guardian: "This is a thorough look at how poor children in the UK are 25 times less likely to make it to a top university than their private school counterparts. Presented, pleasingly,by Humph, who doesn't pull his punches even when speaking to eager young graduate teachers, where other interviewers might be happy to nod enthusiastically."
The Times: "Before they even arrive at school … rich thick kids do better than poor clever children. And then when they arrive at school the situation they go through gets worse." It sounds like a startling statement, especially when you consider it was made by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary. But research bears out that there's a huge attainment gap between pupils from rich and poor backgrounds and, despite the efforts of successive governments, it just doesn't seem to be shifting. Here the debate is in the thoughtful hands of John Humphrys, who scours the country for potential solutions."
The Independent: "The irascible Today presenter examines why the British education system is struggling to narrow the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils. Visiting schools across the country, he hears from teachers committed to changing the status quo, and reflects on his own background to better understand the dilemmas faced by parents concerned about their children's academic success."
First broadcast December 2nd 2010, BBC Three at 9.00pm
Watch an extract of My Boyfriend the War Hero.
In July last year, 17 year-old Vicky got engaged to her soldier boyfriend Craig, during his two week R&R from his tour of Afghanistan. Less than three weeks later, 18 year old Craig was hit by a roadside explosive. He lost both legs and an arm, becoming the youngest British serviceman to be injured in Afghanistan and one of only three British soldiers with a triple amputation to have survived his injuries. My Boyfriend the War Hero tells the story of this exceptional young couple.
The Daily Telegraph: "My Boyfriend the War Hero (BBC Three) performed a truly impressive feat: it took a harrowing story, and told it with sensitivity and a lightness of touch. Vicky Swales was 16 when she learned that her 18-year-old fiancé, Craig Wood, had been blown up in Afghanistan. The handsome, 6' 4" soldier lost both his legs as well as one hand and suffered facial disfigurement, but Vicky decided to stay with him. The documentary followed the couple as they tried to build something like a normal life together. As well as the daily struggles - Vicky hoisting Craig up the stairs, the two of them counting out all the pain killers he had to take - we saw them shopping for tea towels for their new home and planning an engagement party. It was the details that were most affecting: the way Craig leant his head against his fiancée's cheek or stoically joked through his appalling injuries: "Ha! A cripple beat you!" he said, when he won at pool. Both handled their situation with grit and astonishing maturity."
View a trailer for the programme on Vimeo
First broadcast January 5th 2011, BBC One at 9.00pm
This film follows the children at two Scottish schools as they prepare for and take part in the ritual of the prom/dance that marks the close of their lives at primary school. Through preparations for and participation in the dance itself we see into the world of today's 11 year olds. Most parents now believe that childhood is over by 11. Are they right? And how does your background and home life affect the pressures of growing up? It's 9pm, the sun still hasn't set, but the evening is drawing to a close. The kids cry, some wail. It's time to say goodbye to primary school.
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First broadcast November 2nd 2010, BBC One at 10.35pm
For the majority of pensioners, getting behind the wheel is an activity that maintains their sense of independence, while age conspires to rob them of it in so many other ways. But, according to the Department of Transport, drivers over the age of 80 have more accidents per mile than any other age group. Those over 75 are, according to one former Transport Minister, "as dangerous, on average, as newly qualified 17 year-old drivers". This film explores the dilemma faced by thousands of families every day - do they intervene to prevent an elderly relative, who they consider to be a danger, from driving or do they carry the risk? We see the dangers the drivers pose to themselves and others on the road and see, very clearly, why their families worry. We also hear why the elderly drivers are so insistent on keeping going, whether its pride, a desperate desire to retain independence, a love of driving or fear of the isolation that comes from being car-less.
Metro: "There must be one day in our lives when we are the best at everything we do, when all our talents come together and the world is a boundless swirl of possibilities. If today is one of those days for you then hang on to it because somewhere down the line someone will be Taking The Keys Away (BBC1). This film on the circle of life looked at the tricky moment when grown-up children face up to the fact their elderly parents are a menace every time they sit behind the wheel of their car. The parents don't see it like that, clinging on to the steering wheel as the last remaining symbol of their free will. It's a moment when generations uneasily switch roles, the child now turning into the one taking control."
First broadcast July 19th 2009, Channel 4
Peter Mitchell is a very normal married man who drives a four by four and lives in a Kent suburb. What's unusual about Peter is what he does for a living. He digs up bodies. As the UK's foremost Exhumation expert, Peter has been responsible for some of the biggest mass exhumations both in the UK and abroad.