THE title commits a serious misrepresentation: Keeping
Britain Alive: The NHS in a day (BBC2, Tuesdays), in which 100
camera crews followed every aspect of the work of the world's
largest public-health service throughout 18 October 2012, documents
a greater reality than it advertises.
Last week, it followed several cases where the likely outcome
was the impossibility of keeping a patient alive; and how good it
was to hear the doctor on the Isle of Islay express the even wider
aim: "helping people to achieve a good death".
We saw moving mini-dramas, including that of Laura: would she
return to consciousness after her emergency brain surgery? No, she
did not, but so involved had we become with her husband Ray's
despair that the message on the closing credits that, a few days
later, she had, brought us all palpable relief.
Nothing could be more irritating than the chipper couple from
the hospital radio who visited patients to solicit requests; but
the subsequent broadcast was moving. The mortuary assistant was
impressive in her respect for the corpses under her care: "They're
still our patients, even if they've died."
This episode presented, despite the ominous shadow of NHS cuts,
scene after scene of care and commitment. We all know that the full
picture must also include failures of responsibility, of personal
and professional inadequacy, of dereliction of basic care and
respect, but here TV reminded us that the good news is
overwhelmingly in excess of the bad.
One aspect of healing, eschewed by the NHS but central to
medieval health-care, was explored in The High Art of the Low
Countries (BBC4, Thursdays). Van der Weyden's glorious
Last Judgment, in the hospital at Beaune, France, was
intended to assure the patients' eternal salvation: gazing on its
choice between everlasting bliss or damnation would, of course,
impel anyone to confession and the acceptance of God's grace.
Andrew Graham-Dixon's latest art-history series demonstrates
once more that by far the least apologetic presentation of
Christianity comes from this TV genre. We have seen how the
exquisite miniatures from devotional books moved from monastic
scriptorium to secular workshop, and grew into the wonders of van
Eyck and Bosch. We have seen how Frans Hals, Rembrandt, and Vermeer
constructed a new art that celebrated the transcendence and mystery
of everyday life.
Despite Graham-Dixon's irritating tone and arch expression, this
is terrific stuff, brilliantly setting the art in contexts of
politics, economy, and religion.
When Frost Met Bakewell: Joan Bakewell at 80 (BBC4,
Sunday) was a TV encounter that marked an epochal milestone. Can
Joan Bakewell really be 80 years old? She has aged better than her
interlocutor, Sir David Frost, who has turned from sniggering
satirist to establishment pillar.
Prepared to discuss the effect of her sobriquet as the "thinking
man's crumpet", Bakewell still exudes the heady mix of head girl
with dashing woman-about-town that gives her a unique niche in the
nation's cultural life. Explicitly open about sex, she still
worries away at the reality and effect of religious faith - a