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Live and emotional

15 August 2014


GIVE the BBC a decent anniversary, and it licks its lips in expectation. Give it a centenary, and joy is unconfined. On 4 August, the anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War, all the stops were pulled out, and the result was nearly seven hours of live television. A vast audience experienced a once-in-a-lifetime event almost entirely through the TV camera.

Each World War One Remembered - Glasgow Cathedral in the morning (BBC1); St Symphorien military cemetery, near Mons, Belgium, in the late afternoon; and the evening vigil from Westminster Abbey (both BBC2) - was invested with enormous emotional and historical significance.

The service in Glasgow highlighted the involvement of the Commonwealth nations in the Great War, and was colourful, human, and positive. The Belgian event was set in a cemetery where soldiers from both sides of this conflict lay side by side. The music was beautiful, and the words were often inspiring - none more so, to my surprise, than those of David Cameron, calling us to be stewards of the world that the next generation will inherit.

Westminster Abbey spoke for itself, of course - much more the Establishment at prayer, but a suitably solemn end to the day as the lights were extinguished in the abbey and in homes across the land. Whatever we mean by "British values" was laid out before us in an unforgettable day of commemoration.

Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC1, Thursday) returned last week, and its provocative question was addressed this time to Julie Walters. The answer seemed simple: one of the greatest British comedy actors of our generation, legend of stage, screen, and television.

Unfortunately, the format of this series requires someone in the family history whose story can be revealed as the ghostly star of the show. They can be sinners or saints, rogues or reformers; what matters is the impact that their story will have on the (apparently unsuspecting) celebrity. Shock, surprise, and some obligatory tears are the essential by-products.

Ms Walters's great-grandfather could not quite provide the necessary spark. His unsuccessful campaign in Co. Mayo to reform the Land Laws lacked glamour. It might have helped if he had punched a landowner, and been locked up for his troubles.

It is a terrible thing to say about anything with Ms Walters in it, but it was a bit boring. Nothing much happened, and, although she employed all the appropriate emotions, it did not entirely ring true.

There will be joy up and down the land that the Great British Bake Off now has a partner programme, An Extra Slice (BBC2, Fridays), in which Jo Brand pokes gentle fun at the whole business of cookery competitions. It was good to see clips of the cup-cake brigade doing what the rest of us do all the time: drop food, try to rectify culinary disasters, and make a mess.

The television audience has an apparently insatiable appetite for cookery. We are not, of course, cooking or eating ourselves, just watching someone else cook; and then a "judge" stuffs forkfuls of food into his or her open mouth. It is pornography for gourmands.

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