Hidden Britain by Drone

Hidden Britain by Drone sounded daring to the point of illegal. Armed with a couple of flying cameras, Tony Robinson promised we would ‘snoop and swoop’ our way around Britain, spying on billionaire’s private estates, secret military manoeuvres and anything else ‘they’ don’t want us to see.

Except, everywhere we went, they were rolling out the red carpet. At the London Gateway container port, a crane driver showed us round his cab, presumably while someone from the media relations team waited below. And that billionaire’s private estate? The Russian owner was only too happy to give us the guided tour. At a sorting depot in London, meanwhile, we went below ground to discover ‘one of the Royal Mail’s best kept secrets’. Oh God, it’s not Postman Pat, is it? Has he gone feral, and now has to be kept chained up in a dungeon? Actually no, it was just an underground rail line so ‘secret’ they’re about to open it as a museum and offer free train rides. So less a stealth investigation than a PR opp.

The ‘by drone’ bit proved equally mis-sold, as the film was full of people being interviewed in their cars and dining rooms, none of which seemed very Black Hawk Down. Where was all the snooping and swooping, Tony? From what I could see, the only advantage of using a drone at the billionaire’s mansion was to show us what the roof looked like (it looked like a roof). Unless they also dropped off an Amazon delivery while they were there.

Still, there were plenty of fascinating diversions along the way, including a poke around an abandoned RAF base built to house ‘balls of radioactive material’ in rabbit hutches. (The rabbits round there don’t need carrots to see in the dark, let me tell you.) The highlight, though, was watching Army tanks roll into a fake Bavarian village in the middle of Salisbury Plain – where even the graves are empty – which made you feel like you were breaking the Official Secrets Act, even though you knew everyone involved had completed a thorough health and safety assessment beforehand.

TV extra:


Workers or Shirkers? Ian Hislop’s Victorian Benefits

Benefits are a very tabloid subject, but add a top hat and some mutton-chop whiskers and it’s much more Ian Hislop, BBC2 territory. The Private Eye editor brought his usual twinkle to this entertaining study of welfare then and now, from the workhouse to White Dee. It will chiefly be remembered, though, for the extraordinary – and, given subsequent events, highly significant – moment when a pre-resignation Iain Duncan Smith burst into tears at the sheer injustice of it all. Either that, or he had an onion in his pocket.



With Stephen King, JJ Abrams and James Franco on board, 11.22.63 ought to be prestige TV. Instead, the first episode was the hokiest tosh imaginable, as Franco’s schoolteacher went through a magic closet and emerged into the 1960s on a mission to prevent the Kennedy assassination.

King, on whose novel it’s based, is clearly yearning for a time before the American dream went sour, and who can blame him? But as cliché followed clunking cliché, I found myself wondering if I could go back 90 minutes and stop myself from watching it.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, April 14, 2016

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