Belatedly marking the fiftieth anniversary of his death, Humphrey Jennings: The Man Who Listened to Britain (Saturday 8.05 C4), is an excellently straightforward introduction to the work of an underrated documentary filmmaker. Jennings, who died in September 1950, completed his best work during wartime, as everybody in this film acknowledges: indeed, in the words of Lancaster University’s Jeffrey Richards, "we remember the War through Jennings’s images." The hour-long documentary includes excerpts from his films such as Spare Time , Listen to Britain and Diary for Timothy ; there are also revealing contributions from biographer Kevin Jackson, Jennings's daughter Mary Lou, Mike Leigh and some of the people who worked with the director. Earlier the same day (at 12.40, also C4), his wartime classic Fires Were Started is being shown.
(All times pm unless stated)
FRIDAY December 22
Truman (9.00am BBC2). Last of three-part biography of the US President.
The Civil War: The Arts of Death (10.00 am History Channel). It’s 1862, and part four of Ken Burns’s much-praised epic. Meanwhile, his later series, » The West , reaches part five: "The Grandest Empire Under God",1868–74. (10.50 am BBC2).
In Search of the Black Madonna (11.00 am R4). Bonnie Greer concludes her exploration of "black" icons in Europe.
Fantastic Tales (3.30 R4). Maupassant’s The Night , read by Tom Hollander.
Life Story (8.05 World Service, repeated Sat 2.05 am). Martin Redfern on the fossil evidence of evolution, part three: how animals may have first emerged from the sea – the world’s oldest reptile and what the coelocanth means. Listen to » Life Story online.
Death of the Dome (9.00 BBC2). What went wrong with the North Greenwich folly – a new programme following up the repeats of earlier this week.
The Friday Play: The Cave of Harmony (9.00 R4). Drama based on the friendship of Dickens and Thackeray, with several songs set to original Victorian tunes. By Michael Eaton (who has written the forthcoming BBC tv adaptation of Pickwick Papers ) and silent film music specialist Neil Brand.
» Night Waves (9.30 R3). Including William Boyd on his adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour novels – to be seen on C4 on 2-3 Jan.
Storyville: Donald and Luba (11.25 BBC2). Don Boyd’s documentary is about his parents and his search for their roots in Kiev, Shanghai and Harbin.
SATURDAY December 23
» The West (10.15 am BBC2). "Fight No More Forever, 1874–1877". Today’s episode includes Custer’s defeat at the hands of the Sioux. The final two episodes are on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings (9.05 am and 8.35 am respectively).
Classic Challenge (11.40 am BBC2, also Mon 10.45 am, Thurs 11.55 am). Composers challenged to create new pieces of music in a short time, beginning with Stephen Warbeck composing a piece to be performed on a cross-channel ferry. (On Monday, Dominic Muldowney writes something for a bingo hall; Thursday’s programme features Karl Jenkins composing for Manchester’s Chinese New Year celebrations.)
Choir of the Year (12.10 BBC2, also 10.45 am Monday, Mon 5.05, Tues 1.40). Recordings from the semi-finals of this year’s competition. The final is on Wednesday at noon (also BBC2).
The Medieval Ball (2.30 R4). Terry Jones’s final programme on the medieval world view focuses on maps as tools of commerce and diplomacy.
The Nativity (El Niño) (6.30 BBC Knowledge). World première of John Adams opera, live from Paris.
The Real Alan Clark (7.05 C4). How reliable are the late MP’s diaries? Documentary that has already given rise to a few news stories.
Talking to Gotham (7.10 R3). Interval feature about Ric Burns, film-maker and historian (and brother of Ken) whose latest project is a ten-hour documentary about New York … There’s another programme the following Saturday (7.05), when George Plimpton is the subject.
Humphrey Jennings: The Man Who Listened to Britain (8.05 C4). See Pick of the Week at the top of the page for more details.
Song of the Earth (8.10 BBC2). David Attenborough goes "in search of the origins of human music". Which means that we get both animals (whales, reed warblers, gibbons) and humans (Sumatran war dances, Joseph Haydn, Jimi Hendrix): intriguing but inconclusive.
Our Mutual Friend (9.00 UK Drama). Dickens dramatisation revived.
SUNDAY December 24
Two Thousand Years (11.00 am ITV). Christianity in the third century AD.
Desert Island Discs (11.15 am R4). Astronomer Jocelyn Bell Burnell.
5 Live Report (12 noon R5). "Experimenting with Us". Drug trials and the human guinea-pigs who don't know they are.
» Castaway Christmas Diary (12.30 BBC1). The news from Taransay (also Wed 10.25, Thurs 11.05, Fri 11.20, Sat 10.00, Sun 1.10 and 10.35).
Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols (3.00 R4). The usual seasonal music from King’s College, Cambridge (repeated on Radio 3 at 2.00 on Christmas Day).
» Bach Year (4.45 R3). On his Christmas Oratorio . (Parts 1–3 of which can also be heard and seen, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner, on BBC Knowledge from 7.00 tonight.)
A Christmas Carol (5.20 C4). Unusually faithful Dickens adaptation starring Patrick Stewart, Joel Grey and a mostly British cast – but originally made for US television (and shown there last year).
» Sunday Feature : The Ballad of Reading Gaol (5.45 R3). Bournemouth University’s Sean Street introduces a reading of Oscar Wilde’s poem by Simon Callow.
Lorna Doone (6.05 BBC1, also Tuesday 7.00). This year’s "prestige" Christmas drama from the BBC.
The Nativity (7.15 R4). Repeat of the National Theatre rendering of Tony Harrison’s medieval mystery play version.
» Time Team : The Real King Arthur (7.10 C4). To go with repeats of the US-made miniseries Merlin (2.05 C4 and Monday 1.10), Tony Robinson and experts look for the truth behind the Arthurian legends.
» Sunday Play : The Importance of Being Earnest (7.30 R3). A starry cast in a new production of the Wilde classic, directed by Howard Davies. (The famous 1952 film starring Edith Evans is on BBC2 on January 2 at 1.20)
» Behold the Man (8.00 R2). Final programme in series: the crucifixion in history and theology.
Camelot (9.00 History Channel). More Arthurian investigation: this repeat includes the expertise of David Freke (Liverpool University).
When Christmas was Illegal (10.10 R4). Accounts of the decade (1649–60) when seasonal celebrations were outlawed.
MONDAY December 25
Composer of the Week (9.00 a, R3 and rest of week) is Tchaikowsky.
A Short History of the Fork (11.00 am R4). Instrument of civilisation or tool of the devil? Joe Farrell (Strathclyde University) on the everyday object’s origins, with contributions from Simon Moore, Drusilla Beyfuss and David Mellor (no, not that one).
» Are You Superhuman? (11.15 am BBC2, also Tues 11.20 am, Wed 11.20 am). Three programmes fronted by Gary Lineker, looking at human physical performance, the role of nature and nurture in athletic prowess, etc. Presumably to be followed by trailers for re-runs of Robert Winston’s Superhuman series, which begin late on Wednesday night on BBC1.
» Walking with Dinosaurs Special: The Ballad of Big Al (4.35 BBC1). The reanimated life of an allosaurus. For some scientific background, best wait for Big Al Uncovered (Wed 8.00 BBC1).
The Real Joan of Arc (5.30 C4). A French icon reassessed. With dramatic reconstructions of her trial for heresy, and the opinions of feminists and others.
La Bohème (6.50 C4). The Glyndebourne production.
Belief (7.00 R3, also rest of week). Joan Bakewell begins a series of interviews by talking with Andrew Motion. Others to be interrogated include David Puttnam, Anish Kapoor and John Bowker.
Alfred Brendel: Man and Mask (8.10 BBC2). The great pianist profiled. (He’s also to be seen performing on Friday, Brendel in Performance, 12.05 BBC2).
Gormenghast (8.55 UK Drama). Re-runs.
Dear Sarah Bernhardt (10.20 R3, also Tues and Wed 9.40, Thurs 9.45, Fri 9.30). An "experiment in biography" by Francois Sagan, adapted for radio.
Tuning with the Enemy (3.55 am C4). Repeat documentary about US blockade-breakers taking pianos to Cuba from the US.
TUESDAY December 26
Omnibus: Up in Flames (4.05 am World Service, repeated Thurs 2.30). Why did Venice’s Fenice opera house burn down in 1996? Michael Dibdin investigates, using his fictional detective Aurelio Zen to speculate. He diesn't reach a conclusion, but still, it’s nice to be told that "Venice without La Fenice is like Paris without the Eiffel Tower".
» The West (9.05 am BBC2, also Wed 8.35 am). "Geography of Hope, 1877–87".
Adventures in Science (9.30 am R4). Ben Silburn begins this series (which sounds as if it might be aimed at children) with the low-down on comets.
Behind the Chicken Shed (10.20 am ITV, also Wed - Fri same times). North London-based children’s theatre group profiled.
Soldier, Scientist, Spy, Fraud (11.00 am R4). The life, work and dubious achievements of naturalist Richard Meinertzhagen.
» Royal Institution Christmas Lectures (11.30 am C4, also Wed 12.05, Thurs 12 noon, Fri 12.05, Sat 4.15). Usually broadcast by BBC tv, this year’s lectures have moved to C4. They are given by Kevin Warwick (Reading University), who talks on "The Rise of the Robots". (Warwick is also to be heard on the same subject in Heaven and HAL on Sunday 4.00).
In Search of Longitude (1.00 National Geographic). Patrick Malahide as John Harrison (a repeat from a BBC tv Horizon special of two years ago.) The C4 version of the John Harrison story, with Michael Gambon as the chronometer maker, is being repeated on Saturday and Sunday (Dec 30-31).
Oklahoma! Behind the Scenes (3.00 C4) and Oklahoma! (3.45 C4). The National Theatre production.
Darkness Visible (3.45 R4 and for rest of week; long-wave only today on account of the 8 hour Harry Potterthon beginning at midday). The meanings of fairy tales explored.
The Count of Monte Cristo (5.30 BBC2, and following days). The first two parts of a French-made adaptation (in 8 parts) of Dumas's classic, starring Gerard Depardieu.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (7.25 BBC2, also Wed 5.55, Thurs 6.15, Fri 7.30, Sat 6.40, Sun 7.10, Mon 6.50). Re-run of classic 1979 spy series.
John le Carré – The Secret Centre (8.15 BBC2). A new profile of the author.
Richard Hillary: A Fighter Pilot's Story (8.00 C4). Drama-documentary about the writer and airman who died aged 23 in 1942.
Case Notes (9.00 R4). New ways of treating childhood illnesses.
Hippo Talk (2.45 am C4). How hippopotami communicate with each other both above and under water.
» The West (8.35 am BBC2). Final episode, "One Sky Above Us", takes us to 1914 and the transformation of the USA’s West.
Choir of the Year Final (12 noon BBC2). Extracts from the performances of eight choirs at the Royal Albert Hall.
» Royal Institution Christmas Lectures (12.05 C4). Kevin Warwick continues his robot theme.
Thinking Allowed (4.00 R4). On shopping and television. Laurie Taylor with Roger Silverstone and Paco Underhill.
The Odyssey Of Troy (6.00 History Channel). The Trojan War in myth and history.
» Time Team : The History of Britain (6.35 C4). A " Time Team night " begins with an 85-minute mixture of highlights from the previous series and new visits to UK sites, to show how history has been illuminated by archaeological discovery.
» Walking with Dinosaurs Special: Big Al Uncovered (8.00 BBC1). How one of the most complete dinosaur skeletons ever uncovered, in Wyoming ten years ago, led to new information about life in the Jurassic era – and its eventual recreation as an audience-booster on BBC1.
ID (8.00 C5). On being the "wrong" gender, including a female-to-male transsexual law lecturer.
Driving Mum Crazy (8.30 C5). Twelve-year-old Ben, his Asperger’s Syndrome, his doctors and his treatment.
» Time Team : The Mystery of Mine Howe (9.0 C4). The C4 archaeological team visits a month-long dig by the Orkney Archaeological Trust around a mysterious underground stone chamber.
» Superhuman (12.50 am BBC1). Back-to-back re-run of three episodes from Robert Winston’s recent series. Three more the follow on Wednesday night.
THURSDAY December 28
» The Routes of English (9.00 am R4). Last in Melvyn Bragg’s series debates the rise of "Estuary English", with English Prof. John Wells, Lynda Mugglestone and Ben Elton.
Woman’s Hour (10.00 am R4) Discussing four different Marys in history – Mary Queen of Scots, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Mary Wollstonecraft and Victorian novelist Mary Braddon.
» Royal Institution Christmas Lectures (12 noon C4). Part two of Kevin Warwick’s robot exposition.
The Material World (4.30 R4). A group of 14- and 15-year-old science students question a panel of experts.
Belief (7.00 R3). Joan Bakewell interviews sculptor Anish Kapoor.
Who Massacred the Innocents? (8.00 R4). Herod’s bad behaviour as recorded by St. Matthew, and how artists and writers have responded to it.
Analysis (8.30 R4). "The Ill-Adapted Male". Rosalind Gill wonders about the current "crisis of masculinity".
Expeditions (9.00 R4). First of three programmes about scientists on summer expeditions focuses on a team looking for Neolithic remains in the Picos de Europa, Northern Spain. (First heard on the World Service in August.)
Life and Death and Damien Hirst (11.05 C4). Portrait of the artist.
FRIDAY December 29
Brendel in Performance (12.05 BBC2). Alfred Brendel playing Schubert, Haydn and Mozart.
» Royal Institution Christmas Lectures (12.05 C4). Fourth of Kevin Warwick’s five lectures on robotics.
Mozart in Turkey (2.40 BBC2). Directed by Elijah Moshinsky, a version of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail , filmed in Isanbul’s Topkapi Palace and with documentary inserts about the background to the production.
The Message (4.30 R4). Do the media value curiosity more than academics? Richard Howells, communications lecturer at Leeds University, thinks so. Also involved in discussion are novelist Val McDermid, Gerald Hammond (Manchester University) and Paula Betteridge (Salford University).
Mysteries of Easter Island (6.00 History Channel). Those statues – see also the re-run of David Attenborough’s programme on the subject next Thursday .
Belief (7.00 R3). Joan Bakewell interviews physicist Paul Davies.
» Life Story (8.05 World Service, repeated Sat 2.05 am). Martin Redfern on new fossil finds of feathered dinosaurs in China. (Last in series.) Listen to » Life Story online.
Looking for Richard (11.20 BBC2). Al Pacino’s documentary on what to make of Richard III .
SATURDAY December 30
Theodore Roosevelt (8.55 am BBC2, also Sunday 8.10 am). Two-part documentary of US president.
Private Passions (12 noon R3). Robert Skidelsky, politic is academic (and Lord) chooses music.
Longitude (6.10 C4, also Sunday 7.00). Repeat of much praised version of Dava Sobel’s bestseller, first shown a year ago, with Michael Gambon as John Harrison.
Talking to Gotham (7.05 R3). Interval feature about George Plimpton.
The Secret Life of Japan: Snow in Japan (8.00 C4). Season on Japan begins with Jon Snow travelling from Osaka to Tokyo to ask about the current economic situation, talking to farmers, local politicians, the homeless and others … His interpreter, journalist Mayu Kamide, knows so much more than Snow that she could just as well have presented the programme herself. Also tonight: Teenage Japanese Killers (10.00 C4) and various late-night programmes featuring Japanese erotica etc.
» Castaway 2000 (10.00 BBC1). Live update from Taransay.
Great Exhibitions (4.10 am C4). Repeat of Jonathan Glancey’s excellent exhibition survey from last year, featuring 1851’s Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, the expositions in Paris (1889 and 1900) and those at Shepherd’s Bush (1908), Wembley (1924-5) and the South Bank (1951).
SUNDAY December 31
5 Live Report (12 noon R5). "No Room at the Infirmary". Can the NHS cope this winter?
Sounds American (12.15 R3). What makes (North) American music sound American?
Two Thousand Years (12.30 ITV). The fourth century AD.
Locations (1.30 BBC2). Sarah Miles returns to the Irish locations of Ryan's Daughter , which seems to have had a lasting impact on the area.
2001: Heaven and HAL (4.00 R4). Is HAL, the murderous but oddly lovable computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey , likely to become reality? Nick Baker investigates, with the help of Kevin Warwick and others. (NB: from Monday,10.45, R4’s Book at Bedtime is 2001: A Space Odyssey ).
» Bach Year (4.45 R3) In Leipzig and Dresden, Joshua Rifkin describes JSB’s final years.
» Sunday Feature : Art Isn’t Easy (5.45 R3). Stephen Sondheim (also in Desert Island Discs, 11.15 am R4) talks to Jeremy Sams about what’s important to him.
David Copperfield (6.45 and 8.30 BBC1). Re-run Dickens adaptation, from last Christmas.
» Sunday Play : Shakespeare's Fools (7.30 R3). Extracts from the plays, with the Nimmo Twins, Joss Ackland, Sylvester McCoy, Sylvestra Le Touzel et al ., in front of an audience at Wilton’s Music Hall, London.
» Castaway 2000 (10.35 BBC1). Possibly the final appearance of the Taransay videotapers?
MONDAY January 1
Composer of the Week (9.00 am, R3 and rest of week) is Vivaldi.
Start the Year (9.00 am R4). Recorded at the Royal Society of Arts, a balloon debate with geneticist Steve Jones, Shakespearean scholar Jonathan Bate, theatre director Jude Kelly and Ann Widdecombe nominating the hero/heroine they consider most suitable for 2001. (Never mind Start the Year – isn’t anyone celebrating the fact that this is the proper first day of the twenty-first century?)
Work in Progress (10.00 am R3 and rest of week). Daniel Libeskind, architect.
Endurance (12 noon C4). Leslie Woodhead and Bud Greenspan’s 1998 film about long-distance runner Haile Gebrsellasie.
Music Around the World (from 12.40 R3). Radio 3 does its duty to the music of the rest of the world, with live broadcasts from Australia, Japan, Java, Tibet, Georgia, Armenia, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Portugal, Cuba, Brazil and the US, and a finale (after a performance of Bernstein’s On the Town (7.00) in London.
The Real Macbeth (4.55 C4). Historical investigation conducted by Tony Robinson. Followed by the RSC production of Shakespeare’s play (6.05 C4), starring Anthony Sher and Harriet Walter.
UK Confidential (5.20 BBC2). What the latest declassified information from the Public Records Office (about 1970) reveals. Brian Walden, Peter Snow and Edwina Currie look back at the last days of a Wilson government and the early day’s of Heath’s, with "exclusive" access to the once secret files.
Making Animal Babies (6.25 BBC1). On breeding animals in captivity.
Tourists of the Revolution (10.00 am BBC Knowledge, also 1.00, 4.00, 7.00). Repeats of Daniel Wolf’s excellent series from last winter begin with the Brits who thought fascism in Italy and Germany was a good thing in the 1920s and 1930s.
Victorian Week: The Victorian Roadshow (7.30 BBC2). The upcoming centenary of Queen Victoria’s death celebrated in a BBC2 season starting with a programme about Victorian inventions (featuring, of course, Adam Hart-Davis). This is followed by Victoria and the Jubilee (8.30 BBC2), which looks at the pomp and pageantry of 100 years ago (which apparently Victoria herself wasn’t too keen on). More programmes on Tuesday and Thursday.
Nick’s Quest: In Search of the Polar Bear (8.00 C5). Wildlife documentary from the western shores of Hudson Bay, and towards the north Pole.
Nature (9.00 R4) New series starts by examining the urban deer.
Destination Space (9.00 National Geographic). Astronauts, scientists and entrepreneurs on the possibilities of living extraterrestrially.
TUESDAY January 2
Adventures in Science (9.30 am R4). Ben Silburn on volcanoes.
Sweet Charities (3.45 R4 and for rest of week). Ray Gosling on some lesser known charities, beginning with the Bee Research Association. Others are the Northumbrian Language Society (Wed), the Bakers’ Benevolent Society (Thurs) and the Polite Society (Fri).
Belief (7.00 R3). Joan Bakewell series continues. Tonight, James Macmillan, composer.
The Secret Life of Japan: Virtual Japan (7.05 C4). Waldemar Januszczak looks at Japanese technological innovation.
Great Expectations (7.30 BBC2, also Wed 7.30). Tony Marchant’s adaptation, revived for BBC2’s Victorian week.
The Consultants (8.00 R4). The life and work of hospital consultants. First of two programmes.
Servants of Evil (8.00 UK Horizons). World War Two from a German perspective. First of a series begins with the fighting on the Russian front.
Driving Mum Crazy (8.30 C5). Last in series that seems to be an extended commercial for the beneficial effects of Ritalin.
Islam: Revolution and Reform (8.30 World Service, repeated Wed 2.30 am). Four-part series by Jane Little begins in Iran, where the winds of reform are detected.
The 1940s House (8.30 C4, also Thurs 9.00). A new series, a new "living experiment" – in this one, a Yorkshire family experience domestic life as it was lived in wartime Britain.
Case Notes (9.00 R4). How to give up smoking.
Sword of Honour (9.00 C4, also Wednesday 9.00). New dramatisation of Evelyn Waugh’s trilogy (his best work?), adapted by William Boyd.
Fred Dibnah’s Victorian Heroes (9.05 BBC2). They are three engineers: Robert Stephenson, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and William Armstrong.
The Mayfair Set (9.50 am BBC Knowledge, also 12.50, 3.50, 6.50). Re-runs of Adam Curtis’s award-winning series from 1999, interpreting recent history via four key members of the Clermont Club, Mayfair. First up is mercenary leader (and SAS founder) David Stirling and his influence on British foreign policy.
WEDNESDAY January 3
Stealing the Glory: The Conquest of the North Pole (11.00 am R4). About the Black explorer Matthew Henson.
Call My Bluff (12.30 BBC2). What’s Susan Greenfield doing here?
Animal Sanctuary (7.30 BBC1). Conservationists on Mauritius, with John Craven.
The Countryside Debates (8.00 R4). First of three programmes on the decline of the countryside comes from the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester.
History of Britain (8.00 UK Horizons). Repeats of Simon Schama’s series begin here. (The second part of the history, going beyond Elizabeth I, is not likely before March at the earliest, I’m told.)
Raising the Dead (8.00 C5, also Thurs same time). Persistent vegetative states (PVS), and some of the people who have recovered from it.
Victorian Week: Scandalous Women (9.00 BBC2). The stories of (among others) Lady Harriett Mordaunt, one of the Prince of Wales’s lovers, prostitution campaigner Josephine Butler, and Caroline Norton, who fought for property rights for divorcing women.
Reel Victorians (9.50 BBC2, also Thurs and Fri). First-hand accounts of Victorian life.
Signs of Life (9.00 R4). First in new series of docudramas is about Alzheimer’s Disease and features expert Richard Harvey and carers.
Sound of the City (9.00 R2). Charlie Gillett begins a series on the musical styles of different cities, beginning with New Orleans.
Clive Anderson’s Conspiracies (12 midnight BBC Choice). New series exploring great conspiracy theories of the twentieth century.
Superhuman (1.45 am BBC1). Three more episodes from Robert Winston’s series.
THURSDAY January 4
The X File (11.30 am R4). Alex Cox on film censorship’s history and the first "X certificates" in 1951.
Belief (7.00 R3). Joan Bakewell interviews John Bowker, theology professor.
Gold Domes, Black Earth (8.00 R4). Series about Russia (first broadcast on the World Service)
Lost Gods of Easter Island (8.00 BBC2). David Attenborough documentary repeat (first shown last April) in which he attempted to trace the provenance of an Easter Island carving he bought at a New York auction. This involves visits to museums in London, St Petersburg and Australia as well as Easter Island itself. A useful guide to the facts rather than the myths of the mysterious Pacific island.
Analysis (8.30 R4). "Tales of the Unexpected". Andrew Dilnot on economic forecasting.
Costing the Earth (9.00 R4). Is enough done to protect us from contaminated food imports?
Music Masters: Peter Maxwell Davies (9.00 BBC Knowledge). Composer profiled.
Victorian week: The Victorian Way of Death (9.00 BBC2). Dan Cruickshank on the circumstances and rituals surrounding death in "Victorian England" – does that mean things were different in Scotland and Wales?
Storyville: Black and White and in Colour (11.20 BBC2). Absorbing portrait of Prague-based Romany singer Vera Bila and her fellow musicians, made by Czech filmmaker Mira Erdevicki-Charap.