IN THE Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival
debate about religion on TV, which I discussed last week, the
Channel 4 representative championed his continuing commitment to
religious broadcasting by referring to The Real Noah's Ark:
Secret History (Sunday of last week).
This must, alas, count as an own goal, reinforcing the opinions
of all secularists. A multi-national production, it told the story
of one man's dream - a genuine English eccentric, Dr Irving Finkel,
the British Museum's expert on cuneiform. The recent discovery of a
1750 BC clay tablet in a London attic provided the earliest account
yet of the construction of a giant vessel built to save
representative samples of living creatures from a devastating
Dr Finkel is convinced that this was not a myth but a historical
account, and persuaded experts from the United States to build a
replica to prove his theory. Unlike the boat in Genesis, this was
circular: a giant coracle, 68 metres in diameter. Expeditions were
made to Iraq, where the clay tablet originated, to find that there
was, until very recently, an immemorial tradition of making such
coracles - except that they were about a 30th of the size. Could
such a giant actually be made?
Well, we still do not know. The largest version anyone could be
persuaded to try was 13 metres in diameter. The film followed the
required trajectory of all such projects: setbacks, ending in
eventual triumph. It did float - as long, that is, as powerful
pumps worked like mad.
No one said a word about daring to put a single creature on
board. The greater dishonesty lay in the film's implication that it
was Dr Finkel's idea that the story reached the pages of scripture
through Jewish contact with ancient Babylonian myth during the
Exile: it is, actually, one of the most widespread tenets of Old
The experiment's significance, we were assured, lay in the
centrality of the Ark story to the world's three great religions of
the book; but this programme will only have infuriated literalists
from all faiths, and added nothing to the understanding of anyone
with a more critical attitude to scripture.
Educating the East End (Channel 4, Thursdays) continues
the franchise of showing what life is like in supposedly ordinary
inner-city schools. Last week, at Frederick Bremer School,
Walthamstow, we followed the annual election of the head boy and
head girl. We were informed that this process was all about
self-belief, and that the canvassing would raise engagement with
Self-confident, loud-mouthed show-offs - the type that all
teachers seem to prefer nowadays over those who actually read books
and get their work done - would surely prevail; but no, the boy
they elected was a rank outsider, quiet, churchgoing, funny, and
passionate. It was all rather encouraging.
For a more cynical view of contemporary secondary education, I
recommend the scabrous Big School (BBC1, Fridays).
Here, the pupils are trying their best - it is the teachers who are
venal, half-witted failures. I imagine that it is a favourite in
staff rooms up and down the country.