The Buildings That Shaped Britain, Five

by | May 26, 2006 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

An authoritative and enlightening chronicle of how Britain’s buildings and architecture can be used to trace its historical path.

What was good about it?

• The presentation. Perhaps we’re exhausted and our tethers have been eroded by the incessant over-presenting of Davina McCall, the abnormal solemnity of Graham Norton and the excruciating faux dramatics of Kate Thornton, but the sober, sedate manner in which this documentary was fronted was very appealing.

• In fact, the inexperience of the four main presenters awarded a sense of authenticity and sincerity. Main host Simon Thurley had that endearing trait of passionate but naïve presenters where they haven’t a clue what to do with their hands. Simon’s hands sometimes hung limply by his sides or were crammed in his pockets; but this merely meant his passion shone through more.

• Anna Keay, who explored Anglo-Saxon churches, again came across as a TV novice with a tone more used to the Open University. But this was again a strength as she documented intriguing facts about how Mercian king Offa was proof that Anglo-Saxon civilisation was so much more than the accepted falsehood of a bunch of barbarian tribes living off the defunct Roman innovations. Offa had communicated with the Pope and had been jealous of Islamic culture to the point where he tried to imitate it.

• Fascinating facts such as how the Normans proliferated their construction of castles so after 100 years there were more than 500 castles.

• Admittedly there was plenty of glorious source material, but it was very well filmed with presenter often being shot from below so as much of the fine building they were standing in front of could be shown. Unfussy economical film of other locations, such as still shots of a reconstructed Anglo-Saxon home, also added to the intelligent tone.

• Ed McCann up in the vaults of the otherwise magnificent Durham Cathedral that looked like an underground quarry. Ed went on to explain how the Norman architects built their numerous arches through employing half-wheels to act as the base for each arch before removing the support once it was complete, and how the use of huge pillars known as “ribs” along the trunk of the cathedral meant that windows could be positioned to let light flood in.

• Simon then visited a castle that was built in the 12th century that illustrated that the Normans were no longer fearful of insurrection. The castle was the property of a particularly pompous landowner who adorned the walls with decorations rather than battlements, and Simon added would today be viewed as “an English country gentleman”.

What was bad about it?

• The rather unimaginative use of chanting monks and quaint medieval piping to soundtrack the pilgrimage all over the country. Such music is a very hackneyed accompaniment to an interesting voyage.

• Steven Parissien doing that artificial walk past the camera that politicians do to introduce an interview with them with all the stiffness and spontaneity of the living dead.

• For all its captivating detail and because of the dry nature, an hour was perhaps a little too long and would have been better served as two half-hour portions. But this is probably our fault for watching too much of that mentally-corrosive Big Brother.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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