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TV review: Darren McGarvey: The state we’re in, Discovering the Music of Antiquity, and Lost Temples of Cambodia

15 March 2024

BBC/Tern Television Productions Limited/Jack Cocker

In Darren McGarvey: The state we’re in (BBC2, Thursday of last week), the hip-hop rapper considered educational inequalities in the UK

In Darren McGarvey: The state we’re in (BBC2, Thursday of last week), the hip-hop rapper considered educational inequalities in the UK

FOR fierce engagement with aspects of our national condition, try Darren McGarvey: The state we’re in (BBC2, Thursday of last week). Last week, the social commentator and hip-hop rapper — some readers might know him as Loki — focused on education. McGarvey’s theme is the UK’s glaring social inequalities: the huge gap between the wealthy and privileged and the poor and powerless. His own Glaswegian background of poverty and underprivilege, and engaging immediacy, mean that, as an investigator, he approaches people and issues not, as it were, from above, but alongside — or even, disarmingly, from below.

He visited Gordonstoun, where, despite their elite status, the pupils and staff were, to his surprise, normal and aware of their privilege and advantages. The contrast with Nantwyn, a state school in Rhondda, lay not in the quality of teaching or educational aspiration, but their relative poverty of resources. To see how and why our neighbours score so much higher in overall pupil achievement, he visited Finland, where the explicit principle of equality affects every aspect of school life.

A North Yorkshire Early Years unit demonstrates the conviction that the success of children’s education is laid down long before they enter school: it depends crucially on the quality of relationship and stimulation built up (or not) by parents from birth. The findings were hardly earth-shattering, and did not begin to address the endemic political and social set-up that governs our national policies; but the energy of his presentation may open some minds and hearts to the scale of the issues.

Discovering the Music of Antiquity (BBC4, Monday of last week) came after the realisation that the symbols above each line of a Greek text on a scrap of papyrus in the Louvre were, in fact, its musical score — far more complex and nuanced than our familiar staves and notes — and they were eventually transcribed.

Archaeologists who do not merely seek to understand what survives from human history, but to get closer to our ancestors’ lives and beliefs, have resurrected also the ancient instruments from fragments and depictions. This music was essentially religious, communicating with, or inspired by, the gods: in Egypt, they were exclusively reserved to the rites of the priestly caste, hidden in the temples. But we are learning that these structures had large openings that, thanks to remarkable acoustical knowledge, enabled the crowds gathered outside to hear the sacred sounds.

Lost Temples of Cambodia (Channel 4, three programmes from 17 February) was hopeless in execution, but fascinating in subject matter. Cambodian archaeologists are revealing the astonishing scale and sophistication of the medieval Khmer empire, and its monuments and social organisation. Intriguingly, we saw how people still leave offerings in the ruins of the temples. Ritual survives long after religious structure collapses (Church of England, please note).

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