40 years of BBC2


I watched a bit of the BBC 2 40th birthday celebrations last night, which reminded me what a lot of excellent and innovative programmes they've produced over the years. The snippets they showed were tantalizingly short, but some made me wish I'd been old enough at the time to watch the documentaries they made in the 60s and 70s, like the Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski. The clip showed Bronowski standing in a pond made of human ashes from the gas ovens at Auschwitz and talking about how we have to "cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power", and to touch real people. He then bent down and picked up a handful of the wet ashes from the pond. It was an extraordinarily powerful moment.

Other highlighted programmes that I did watch and enjoy at the time included:

  • Red Dwarf. It went downhill a bit in the final series, but the first few were wonderful. I love the scene when we first see Cat (the result of a few million years of evolution on the kittens of Lister's pet cat) yowling his way around the corridors like a feline James Brown, checking out his reflection in a mirror ("How'm I lookin'? Lookin' goood!") every few minutes, and spraying things with a little silver aerosol ("This is mine… so's this…"). They managed to capture exactly what you would expect a cat to evolve into: a vain, lazy, selfish and barely sapient creature.
  • I, Claudius. Or ‘I, Clavdivs' as it was jokingly known in our house. I was hooked on this series, and it got me interested in the Roman period. There was an awful lot of sex and violence, but that seems pretty authentic — Roman emperors never seemed to die peacefully in their sleep of natural causes. It had some really wonderful acting talent in it too: Derek Jacobi, John Hurt, and even Patrick Stewart — with hair, if I remember rightly.
  • The Goodies. Very silly and wonderfully funny. We got the DVD for Christmas, so we're enjoying Kitten Kong and the great Yorkshire martial art of ‘Ecky-thump all over again.
  • Shooting the Past. This was a fantastic Stephen Poliakoff drama that I'd love to watch again. It was about a huge photographic library that was threatened with closure. The somewhat eccentric employees of the library try to persuade the man charged with closing it down to preserve it by piecing together a part of his family history using only the photographs in the collection. It was a wonderfully gripping story, unfolding slowly and drawing you in to it, and it was one of those things that stays in your mind for years.

They covered the decades in chronological order, and there was a marked decline in quality when we got to the 00s; the first show they featured was ‘The Weakest Link'. Still, I think that there's a lot of life left in Beeb 2 yet — Little Britain is a brilliant comedy show (though it started on Radio 4 and then BBC 3 before moving to 2), and there's still some good drama on 2. Here's to another 40 years.