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TV review: The Billionaires Who Made Our World: Bill Gates, Better, and The Piano

24 February 2023

BBC Studios

The Billionaires Who Made Our World: Bill Gates (Channel 4, Wednesday of last week) charted how he became the world’s richest man

The Billionaires Who Made Our World: Bill Gates (Channel 4, Wednesday of last week) charted how he became the world’s richest man

CAN the leopard change his spots? Not according to The Billionaires Who Made Our World: Bill Gates (Channel 4, Wednesday of last week). This was a pretty thoroughgoing hatchet job, upsetting all our pious hopes for moral transformation. Mr Gates became the world’s richest man, enjoying — thanks to the meteoric rise of Microsoft as the dominant computer software — huge international influence at every top table.

He owed this progress, it was said, not just to his software-writing genius, but also to ruthless determination to succeed and dominate, at whatever cost to those trampled on in the race. Treatment of colleagues was apparently belittling and aggressive — and his business practice was eventually judged as breaking US law. But then he changed, becoming the world’s leading philanthropist, pledging to give away half his wealth, and fighting, admirably, against climate change, hunger, and disease among the world’s poorest.

But former colleagues and investigators lined up to insist that there had been no alteration at all: his methods remain as ruthless. He has, they insist, no genuine commitment to diversity or empowerment of others; and the projects into which his foundation pours billions almost entirely benefit Western research corporations while actually impoverishing African subsistence farmers.

If this is accurate, the moral is clear: absolute power, chameleon-like in its ability to change appearance, never gives up its determination to dominate.

Better (BBC1, Monday of last week and iPlayer) depicts another attempt at life-changing reform. It is part of the campaign to blacken the reputation of each of our great cities in turn, lifting the lid to prove that they are all actually cesspits of villainy and corruption, and providing regular work for regional accent coaches. Now it’s the turn of Leeds.

DI Lou Slack is (of course!) the most brilliant detective in the force, but in long-term cahoots with the local criminal boss, whose charm covers ruthless violence. Her son’s sudden life-threatening illness forces upon her a crisis in self-awareness: she must extricate herself — without endangering all that she holds dear. The plot seems hopelessly far-fetched, but, as a brilliantly acted working-out of what happens if you choose to sup with the devil, it offers sobering reflection.

To celebrate genuine transformations, watch Channel 4’s new series The Piano (Channel 4, Wednesdays). In one of few positive social developments in recent years, pianos have appeared in railway stations and shopping centres, free for anyone to play. Claudia Winkleman is seeking the most impressive executants, to push them on stage at the Festival Hall. The diverse contestants at London St Pancras had moving back stories, and many had no previous musical background and were self-taught: astonishing examples of hidden talent flowering and flourishing. Let us hope that it ignites an explosion of piano-playing: but next, please, the pipe organ in London Bridge Station, and some Bach.

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