TWO seasonal themes dominated the schedules last week:
Remembrance, and Children in Need.
In Teenage Tommies (BBC2, Tuesday of last week), Fergal
Keane uncovering an often forgotten aspect of the First World War.
For most of us, the phrase "child soldiers" probably conjures up
images of the Lord's Resistance Army, or something similar. But, as
Keane showed us, as many as 250,000 British boys under the age of
18 fought in the First World War.
The programme focused on the stories of a few. Thanks to
detailed records and satnav, Keane could take the descendants of
these soldiers to the very places where they fought. The
16-year-old great-grand-nephew of one was visibly moved by the
One of the boy soldiers was St John Battersby, a vicar's son
from Manchester, who volunteered aged just 14. He ran away from
home. His father, horrified that he had enlisted as an ordinary
soldier, intervened, with the result that he was promoted to
officer, and, by 16, was commanding a unit of 30 men in their
Battersby returned home from the war, and was ordained. Others
were not so fortunate. One of those featured faced a firing squad
for desertion, and the other boys died horribly in the trenches.
This was a powerful and sobering film, part of the BBC's extensive
First World War coverage.
Even if a night of Terry Wogan and his merry band of celebrities
outdoing each other to have fun in the name of charity is not your
cup of tea, the stories behind the Children in Need appeal are
Looking after Mum (BBC1, Wednesday of last week), a
Children in Need special, followed the lives of four of the 700,000
young carers in the UK. We met Tom, aged ten, and his 14-year-old
brother, Joe, who care for their mother, ill with liver disease.
Antonia-Rae, 11, looks after her mother, Lesley, who has suffered a
stroke. Antonia-Rae has flashbacks to her mother's suicide attempt,
and is frequently anxious. She was frighteningly mature: "You've
got to be responsible all the time. It's like having a baby, but
it's your mum."
There is no doubt that Gareth Malone has done a huge amount to
get the nation singing. Gareth's All Star Choir (BBC1,
Mondays) provided a variation on his usual format, where he
assembles a group of non-singers and creates a choir out of
unpromising beginnings. In this case, he recruited a handful of
celebrities from the worlds of TV, sport, and theatre, alongside a
group of children who are users of a project supported by Children
in Need, to produce this year's fund-raising single.
There was the usual trajectory of hope, despair, and eventual
triumph. Malone had no choice over the celebrities he was given to
work with - and it would be fair to say that none of them were
experienced singers. As always, there were moments when it all
seemed impossible, as the members of the choir struggled to get to
grips with their notes, their counting, and their tuning. But this
is Gareth-world, where we know that if anyone can transform and
inspire the singers, he will.
All utterly predictable, but no less heart-warming for that,
especially in such a good cause.