LAST week’s TV portrayed a series of transformations from old to new. Regret at the passing of former things, and eagerness to embrace that which lies ahead were there in equal measure — sometimes within the same breast. The most acute fracture was chronicled in The Last Miners (BBC1, Monday of last week), concluding a two-part documentary about the final months at Kellingley Colliery, Britain’s last deep-shaft coal mine.
It played on the contrast between the men’s tough and dangerous work, and the raw emotion they seemed unashamed to express. Perhaps because they were working at the edge — every day they passed the memorial to miners who had been killed in the pit — they had to meld together in a deeper way than other workmates. The familiar horseplay in the communal showers, the timeworn jokes and bantering all perhaps stemmed from the knowledge that they owed their lives to one another. They had a keen sense of how much they were set apart from the rest of us, half-a-mile down in the pitch black.
The film marked the last chapter in a long story that is central to our national consciousness: at its peak, our one million miners produced 50 per cent of the world’s coal. The final closing down of the mine’s air-supply really did feel like the switching off of the life support system. We will still need coal for a long time to come, but we have decided to pay someone else to get it for us.
Heavy industry — in this case steel foundries — had been the magnet originally to draw the subjects of The Sikhs of Smethwick (BBC4, 1 December). This was an an exploration by a third-generation Sikh of how his culture had changed over 50 years. He based it around the eternal concerns of love and marriage, showing the familiar trajectory of women refusing arranged marriages and insisting on choosing their partner. A traditional wedding is still popular; but, nowadays, elders have to explain the religious significance of the ceremonial.
There is much head-shaking over the predominance of “Sunday Sikhs”: those who come to the temple to share in community life with no real engagement with their faith. Sonia has gone a step further, crossing the boundary to marry a Christian of Indian origin. They had two ceremonies; first in a Church of England cathedral, then in the Sikh temple, both congregations apparently happily intermingled.
A battle against the devastation caused by unregulated industrialisation was carried out most movingly by groups of young girls from the other side of the world. In China: Between clouds and dreams (Channel 4, Saturday), we saw a group of schoolgirls win a national award for their beautiful cartoon showing the plight of the spoonbill.
Xu, a reporter, wept at moments of defeat in his endless struggle to clean up the filthy waters and restore a decent living to its fishermen; Tibetan monks were at the forefront of protecting rare species and pleading for ancient grasslands to be respected.
This spectacular series has a sense of its material being tightly managed: a few good results drowning in a morass of environmental degradation.