“Over here – good Lord! – is the late medieval portcullis mechanism!” Can you imagine that line coming from anyone but Dan Cruickshank? Cruickshank is a glorious one-off: with his ruddy face and shock of white hair he has the air of a well-weathered folly in the TV landscape. But who better to lead an improving amble through royal architecture?
“No buildings in history have more dramatic stories to tell,” he announces at the start, but actually telling dramatic stories is not Cruickshank’s forte. He is better at winkling out the revealing detail – a “murder hole” next to that portcullis mechanism (at the Tower of London), for pouring things on attackers; or the angel-shaped “hammer beams” in the roof of Westminster Hall.
The most fascinating buildings here are the ones that no longer exist. Henry VIII’s huge Whitehall Palace (Horse Guards Parade is the remains of its tilt yard for jousting) and the extraordinary Nonsuch Palace in Surrey. In contemporary images it looks like an amazing, fairy-tale creation – but with clever plumbing, apparently.
In the final shot of last week’s episode, something momentous happened: that grey plastic strip representingPucks! in the network schedule was tossed in the bin. So the limping British/US sitcom around which this British/US sitcom is built is for the chop: “Even though nobody is willing to put a tag on the toe, this thing is dead,” crows Matt LeBlanc to writers Beverly and Sean, even as he scrambles to get a part on another show.
But humiliating Matt has become Episodes’ favourite blood sport and there’s worse to come, as a young fan forces him to relive his Friends heyday in circumstances only this show would dare dream up.
We eavesdrop on a conversation at a call centre that deals in insurance claims made by mobility scooter riders. One lady is upset that she’s had an accident in a church. She swerved to avoid the bishop and she and her scooter ended up in the baptismal pool. The bishop had to help her out: “He got all his gown wet and everything,” says the claimant.
It’s funny of course, and the tone of this documentary is jaunty, but there’s serious business here. Mobility scooters are a menace if you’ve been hit by one – training and insurance aren’t compulsory for riders. Or they are a lifeline if, like Hazel, you have a life-limiting illness and can take very few steps unaided.
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