Some TV, book & talk recommendations

In February I wrote a post highlighting some of the interesting TV programmes I’d seen over the last few months. I’m going to do the same again but expand it to some of the books I’ve read and talks I’ve watched online (largely on TED talks) as a wider set of recommendations:

TV – Drama

Line of Duty (BBC) – There’s been a lot of praise heaped on to Line of Duty – a series centred on investigating police corruption – and without doubt for me its last series was one of the best police dramas I’ve seen on TV in a long time. So, could the new series live up to the hype? In my view, yes absolutely, and it continues to surprise and shock as it goes on.

Follow the Money (BBC) – This is the latest foreign language drama in the BBC4 Saturday night 9pm slot. It’s a Danish crime series around business and corruption. At times you aren’t entirely sure who is a goodie and who’s a baddie, but that’s what makes it so compelling.

Blue Eyes (Channel 4) – Part of the Walter Presents… strand of foreign language dramas that’s available from Channel 4, this focuses on the rise of the far right in Swedish politics and takes as its start the murder of a supporter of the fascist party. This is something that hasn’t been covered at any length in any other political series so it’ll be interesting to see how it pans out.

Trapped (BBC) – It’s a few weeks since this was on, but I missed it from my last post and so I’m including it here as it was a great series and the first Icelandic crime series shown on BBC4. Set in a remote town in Iceland when a body is found, the town is then snowed in and the local police set to investigate the murder and other associated criminality in the town. Not many dramas show it snowing for most of the series, and it was a great programme.

TV – Documentaries / Factual

Inside Obama’s White House (BBC) – this has been a fascinating behind-the-scenes four part series covering four of the major elements of his time as president including interviews with key players and Obama himself. It gives a good sense of what drives him and certainly gives you the impression of a bright, capable man whose time as president has been hindered by resentful opponents and events outside of his control. Whilst putting a positive spin on much of what he has done it’s an interesting counterbalance to some of the criticism that he’s achieved little.

Amy (Channel 4) – I was pleased to see this Amy Winehouse biopic being shown on TV as I missed it when it was available at the cinema. Whilst I’m a fan of Winehouse’s music this documentary will be of interest to many other people who aren’t. Whilst many will acknowledge that she was a flawed talent, this programme shows her to be a much more complicated individual.

Secret History: Shakespeare’s Tomb (Channel 4) – An interesting programme about the mystery of Shakespeare’s tomb (it doesn’t bear his name nor does it appear to be the right size) which includes the first archaeological investigation of his grave.

The Prosecutors: Real Crime and Punishment (BBC) – This behind the scenes documentary series shows the work of the Crown Prosecution Series and was interesting to see a crucial part of the criminal process that most of us don’t really think about or are aware of how it works. Having done jury service in the last year, it helped fill in some gaps in my understanding of how it all came together in court.

Being the Brontes (BBC) – This one-off programme takes three writers to Haworth where they explore more about the lives of the three sisters and tries to get to grips with who they really were and how their lives there impacted on their writing.

Art of Scandinavia (BBC) – Barring a few notable exceptions, the art of Scandinavia is often overlooked when considering art across Europe. This series takes each country in turn looking at key figures in that country’s art and how the landscape and culture of the country has impacted on it. Despite my Swedish heritage, it’s certainly filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge and moved me on from the slightly twee yet comforting paintings of Carl Larsson.


I’m an avid user of the GoodReads website and keep track of the books I’ve read and write regular reviews on there, so you can see more of my reading there. Here are a few of the eclectic selection of books I’ve read recently however that are of particular note with an excerpt from my full review.

Walk the Lines: the London Underground, Overground by Mark Mason – Every so often you read a book that feels as though it was written especially for you. That’s just how I feel about Walk the Lines. Over the last few days I have been exploring London by vicariously walking the route of every London Underground line through the efforts and writing of Mark Mason, and it’s been fascinating.

Renishaw Hall: The Story of the Sitwells by Desmond Seward – Unusually for a history of such a prominent family this book takes their home as its title and focus. It’s fitting however for a house that, whilst far less well known that the literary siblings who made the Sitwell name famous, has a big impact on every generation of the family.

Georgian London: Into the Streets by Lucy Inglis – This fascinating book brings to life Georgian London. Based on Lucy Inglis’ blog each chapter covers a different part of London its history, way of life and the characters who were crucial to that part of the city at that time. Although a credible and authoritative history what makes this book stand out is the way its author loves an interesting story that gives you a real sense of life at the time, rather than just a dry stating of the facts.

Genealogy: Essential Research Methods by Helen Osborn – This book has become one of the core texts if you are undertaking your family history. Whilst a potentially dry subject, this book explains in an interesting and clear way the crucial techniques you need to understand if you are to undertake genealogy in a methodical and thorough way. Using real examples from the author’s own research, this book will help you think afresh on how you do your own research and make you cover all of the bases in ensuring you have a clear and traceable family history.

TED Talks

Just the two to kick this off, as I’ve not watched as many of these of late but I remain a huge fan of the inspiring and fascinating things you explore through the TED talks website.

Hans & Ola Rosling: How Not to be Ignorant About the World (view here) – Father and son team Hans & Ola Rosling present real statistics and information about the world that shows that whilst there are undoubtedly problems around the world, things are actually a lot better than we think. It’s a call to question what you’re told by the media and at school, but also gives a few tips on how to use your instinct to better understand the world.

Rory Sutherland: Life Lessons from an Ad Man (view here) – A leading figure in the world of advertising, this seven year old talk is still one of the funniest. It also though helps you understand why intangible benefits may be good and how advertising could change the world for the better despite what people may think.

Some TV recommendations

There was a time when I regularly watched all the soaps and lots of regular dramas. These days I just don’t have time to watch them and my tastes have changed and so I tend to stick to good drama series and documentaries, along with a few guilty pleasures. I rarely watch them live and usually rely on iPlayer or All 4 and my trusty Chromecast, which is why I’m not keen on the suggestion that the BBC should charge extra for iPlayer unless they stop charging for a TV Licence as I will otherwise be paying twice for the same programmes.

In the last two-three months there’s been a lot of good programmes which I’ve struggled to keep up with but just about managed. Here are my recommendations. Some are still available on catch-up but others aren’t but no doubt will be repeated which is why I’m mentioning them anyway:


Cuffs (BBC) – this was a great new police series that felt like The Bill for the 21st century and set in Brighton. Sadly, they’ve decided to not commission a second series which astonishes me so watch this while you can as it’s great. A serious drama but with light-hearted moments.

The Bridge (BBC) – Widely praised I also loved this series simply to keep in touch with my Swedish roots. I don’t think this latest series was as good as the first two but it’s still great and it’s good to see the more sensitive side of Saga Noren.

Luther (BBC) – far fetched and with a sinister undercurrent but I have a soft spot for this dark and dangerous police series with the brilliant Idris Elba in the eponymous role.

Silent Witness (BBC) – I don’t think this series is as good as it used to be, but then it has been going for 20 years now and so perhaps many of the plots have been used up. Still good entertainment though and it’s nice to see that the role of my favourite character these days played by Liz Carr feels as though it’s been beefed up a little in this series.

Hinterland (BBC/S4C) – this Welsh series that is shown initially in Welsh on S4C is then later shown largely in English (with some Welsh with English subtitles) on the BBC. The latest series isn’t quite as bleak as the first and it feels as though everyone is up to something or got a hidden secret. I love it mainly because it reminds me of my time in Aberystwyth but it’s got some pretty good plots.

Deutschland 83 (Channel 4) – a series that makes me feel old given it is set in my lifetime but now looks so much like history, this is a brilliant drama in German (with subtitles) that shows life in the Cold War and how the East spied on the West. At times I do wonder if they could have really got away with the things they did, but perhaps it was how it was.

Shetland (BBC) – if you loved Vera then you’ll love this as it’s written by the same person. Whilst set in a bleak environment the stories aren’t bleak and you warm to the main characters. This latest series feels as though it’s been spun out in to too many episodes but that’s not putting me off.

Happy Valley (BBC) – this second series of the brilliant police crime drama set in Calderdale recently started. The first couple of episodes of this series makes it look as though it’ll be as good as the first. For me it’s especially poignant as I recognise so many places that I loved when I worked in the area


Conquest, Blood & Gold: The Making of Spain (BBC) – a great four part series telling the fascinating history of Spain with Simon Sebag Montefiore.

Great British Railway Journeys (BBC) – I prefer Portillo’s continental railway journeys but this series is still good and great at showing a glimpse of bits of the country I’ve not seen before. I find it remarkable that the Portillo I used to hate when he was an MP is now one of my favourite TV presenters.

Empire of the Tsars: Romanov Russia (BBC) –  a fascinating series about the Romanovs by Lucy Worsley, a person who’s persona and jolliness I thought would put me off but she tells a great story and it’s absolutely fascinating. An interesting story well presented.

Bitter Lake (BBC) – a film that’s documentary, art and drama. It’s all about the Middle East and how the decisions made by ‘the powers that be’ have impacted on the world today. It’s two hours but worth putting the time aside to watch. Intriguing stuff.

Manchester’s Serial Killer (Channel 4) – anyone who lives or works in Manchester has heard about the infamous ‘Pusher’ who is supposed to be murdering people by pushing them in to the city’s canals and rivers. Sensationalised and melodramatic and with too much of the annoying trait in modern documentaries of constantly repeating before and after every break what you’ve already watched and what you’re about to watch, but worth watching to see the truth behind the stories.

The Docklands Bomb: Executing Peace (BBC) – an interesting documentary showing how the bombing of how London’s Docklands Bomb was a pivotal moment in the Northern Irish peace process. With Northern Ireland having moved on so much it almost feels like ancient history, but for me it feels like a significant historical moment that I grew up with.

The London Markets (BBC) – three programmes with each one looking at what happens inside each of the city’s wholesale markets – Billingsgate, Smithfield and New Spitalfields. Showing how these places are, or aren’t, changing and showing why I’d not want to work there, they do give a sense of what these famous markets are like.

The Story of China (BBC) – the history of China in just six episodes, this is an interesting series telling the story of the country of the moment. Lots I didn’t know but I feel as though I should have done.


Mary Portas Secret Shopper (Channel 4) – I love all of these trouble shooter or small business type programmes, but I also think Mary Portas has got a great way with people even when she’s being tough. The latest series was short but excellent and shows how even simple straightforward changes can improve fortunes. People trying to make their own future, which small business people do, I always find interesting and inspiring.

Dragons’ Den (BBC) – OK, so you can usually tell whether they’ll get an investment or not, but I like the imagination of some of the people on the programme even if they’ve not thought through their business properly. I’m a big fan of the latest dragons and hope they stay with it for a future series alongside Deborah and Peter.

Round up – 19 July 2015

Until the end of March I’d been writing an almost weekly post called ‘This Week’ which included a round up of some of the things I’d found interesting that week – blog posts, TED talks, photographs, paintings, YouTube videos, music, all sorts of things. I’d begun it as a way of trying to get in to a routine of blogging without needing to think too hard and be too creative and also as a way of sharing with others things that I think are really good. I say share with others, but I think there’s probably only about 2-3 people who regularly read this blog anyway.

I do still love in principle the idea of blogging and I have loads of ideas of things I want to write about that aren’t time limited, but unfortunately it always gets relegated to the pile of things I should do when work, commute, reading, visiting friends and relatives, household chores and anything else that’s urgent are completed, with the inevitable result that by the time I’ve done all of them it doesn’t happen as I’m not feeling in the mood.  My This Week post had kept going semi-regularly for a while, and I’m pleased that I now very occasionally do a full blog post, although it is usually when I feel I must respond to something political, when there’s actually many more apolitical things I want to be blogging.  However, my This Week post died a death at the end of March and I then got out of the habit and it wasn’t resurrected.

Partly as a consequence of that, I’ve started to tweet more about things I like or find interesting, although I don’t quite do it enough. I really am mystified by those people who clearly just tweet all day. How do they find time to do anything else?  And at least with a tweet the character limit means I don’t have to think of lots to write, I just do the tweet and that’s it.  But I still feel I need to somehow round up the best things I think I’ve seen or done or read or watched and put them on this blog, partly for the record, partly for the benefit of those who don’t read my tweets, and partly for the benefit of me being able to expand slightly on something if I wish to.  As a consequence, this (following this initial very lengthy introduction) will be my first round up of stuff I’ve liked over the last week or two (or more, I won’t set a specific timescale) which will be largely based on tweets but with a bit of extra introduction. I hope it works and my 2-3 readers find it interesting…

There’s been three tweets that have garnered quite a few retweets and responses over the last few weeks and they’ve all been very different:

Ghost signs has become a bit of a thing for amateur (and some professional) historians to tweet or write about, such as this extensive collection on Caroline’s Miscellany, so having walked past these particular ones every day and conscious of Hobson’s imminent demise (and since the tweet it has now been demolished) it felt worthy of a tweet for those ghost sign lovers.

Another popular tweet was a rare political tweet. Despite my fascination with politics, I’ve usually held back from political tweeting as I can’t be doing with the abuse you get. Instead this one got lots of praise and little criticism, and the hypocrisy of Labour over welfare cuts sums up why I’ve got fed up with much of the political argument over the last five years (as summed up by Labour’s response to this criticism which is summed up as “well yes we’re being horrible, but you were REALLY horrible”.

The other popular tweet was a random fact (and I do love my random facts and my political history):  

So what else took my interest…

I picked last Sunday’s Listening Club album for the first time in a while and went with my favourite band of all:

I went for my first walk up through Clay Wood Bank since the new footpath was opened – a lovely spot right in the middle of Sheffield:  

I’ve praised a little known Sheffield legend who I’ve blogged about before and really should be a famous Sheffield hero:

But I’ve been rude about one of this country’s greatest writers:

I’ve indulged in my love of new interesting architecture on Grand Designs:

I’ve watched a really good 30 minutes of BBC’s Artsnight (a programme I’ve never seen before) where Samira Ahmed indulges in her love of photography and in the process sums up why I love it so much (I’m a particular Martin Parr fan and also quite like Richard Billingham, but the other two were unknown to me):  

and finally, another excellent talk by Ash Beckham on TED:

This week

My review of the week.  Here’s some of the things I’ve been in to (and this time it seems to be a bumper edition):

A TV series:  Storyville on BBC4 is a series of one-off documentaries from around the world.  The latest series has been running for some time but I caught up with it with the latest one about the British spy – now living in Russia – George Blake.  Well put together and researched and often about people or places you know little about they’re worth watching as an insight in to what else is happening out there.

A pub:  Last Sunday I went for a walk from my flat up through the Ponderosa and Weston Park and then back home again via the Red Deer pub on Pitt Street, a back street near to West Street.  Rather than a real ale pub, it has more of a feel of a traditional back street boozer with a varied clientele, although it does do a number of ever changing real ales alongside more mainstream offerings, as well as some nice looking pub food.

A song:  I’ve actually included this in a This Week before, but for some reason it came to mind again this week and it really is a excellent song.  It’s Anthem from the musical Chess and I am still convinced that the original version by Tommy Körberg is the best.  I think as the person who sang it originally rather than just being an singer doing a performance he perhaps gets the meaning and emotions behind the song more than others do.

A snack:  This is another thought that’s come from my walk last Sunday, and it’s a bit of praise for Yorkshire Crisps.  Crisps are perhaps one of the more unlikely foods to be given a bit of gentrifcation over recent years with all sorts of posh brands of crisps coming out.  Yorkshire Crisps are my favourites of these.  Not just because they’re made just outside Sheffield and so are quite common in pubs and shops round here (and although less generally available, you can get them in London) but they have some amazing flavours.  My personal favourites are Henderson’s Relish flavour and Sweet Chilli & Lime flavour.

A TV series: A slightly odd pick this one as it’s a ten year old series and I accept a very odd thing to be watching as a repeat, but it’s the first series of The Apprentice.  I stumbled on an episode on YouTube a while ago and occasionally watched them since when wanting some comfort viewing, but this tenth episode from the first series really shows to me how the series has changed with Nick and Margaret taking a more background role, more detail of the skills of the apprentices and planning of the task and more discussion in the boardroom (although on this one I thought the one who was fired was unfair).  It’s probably more about the editing rather than the actual way it’s done and the participants didn’t know in the first series that they’d become TV stars whilst it’s broadcast.  I also love the moment in this when Saira and Paul are cracking up over the design of the jacket.

An article (and a test):  When I found a test on the BBC website that was supposed to decide where you should live based on your personality, it got everyone I work with intrigued.  Although based on a study by Cambridge University I have serious doubts as to the validity of the test but it’s quite fun nonetheless.  For the record, I got Craven as the place I should live, Corby as the place I shouldn’t, and Derbyshire Dales as the place near me that I should live in, but I got below 50% on all of them anyway and so I suppose the message from that is that I’m difficult to please.

A song:  I’ve been listening to Rather Be by Clean Bandit featuring Jess Glynne quite a bit this week after being reminded of it thanks to the instrumental version being used in those Marks & Spencer adverts that make me want to rush out and buy lots of gorgeous looking (but expensive) luxury food from them.  Upbeat, dancey and the strings make it stand out from your run of the mill dance record.  There’s also another good live version from Dutch radio apart from the full one below in which Clean Bandit perform it without Jess Glynne which I think is as strong (or perhaps stronger?)

This week

My review of the week.  Here’s some of the things I’ve been in to:

A TV programme (and a book):  Last night BBC2 had a one-off programme Murder on the Victorian Railway about the first railway murder when a Thomas Briggs was killed in a train carriage near Hackney.  The programme comes shortly after I’ve read Kate Colquhoun’s book Mr Brigg’s Hat about the same murder, and the programme was based on that book.  After reading the book the programme felt very short, but it’s an interesting bit of social history at a time of massive change in terms of transport, increasing industrialisation, the growth of newspapers and attitudes towards different groups.

An article:  There was an interesting article on the BBC website this week about a study in to DNA of people living in Britain, which amongst other things showed interesting stuff such as how different the Celtic parts of Britain are and how the North and South Welsh have less in common with each other than they do with the English.  Fascinating stuff and intriguing how even today there are such marked differences.

A TV series:  India’s Frontier Railways is a short but interesting series of programmes on BBC4.  The name is fairly self-explanatory but as well as the logistics of running these railways and the people involved, it shows an interesting contrast between the modernity of India’s big cities and the very different way of life in the more rural areas.

A book:  I’ve been a fan of Gretchen Rubin’s books on happiness since I first read The Happiness Project a few years ago. A book I still return to every so often when I need a bit of inspiration. Some people are pretty sceptical about the surge in books dedicated to life improvement but what I particularly like about Gretchen Rubin’s books is how she takes the view that generally we are pretty happy but we might want some small incremental changes to our lives. She’s now brought out Better Than Before, about how to form good habits day to day.  My pre-ordered copy arrived yesterday and so I’m looking forward to reading it when I’ve finished my current pile of library books.

A TV series:  Caribbean with Simon Reeve starts tonight on BBC2 and as I’ve always loved his programmes I’ll recommend it now before I’ve seen a programme.  Simon Reeve always manages to show places and sides to those places that you’ve not seen before, and he as an informed curiosity that I think makes him head and shoulders above many other travel presenters who often appear to know very little about the place they’ve gone to.  He also does it without patronising and belittling the locals.

A TED talk:  This has been one of those weeks when there hasn’t been much that is worth picking out for my review, so I’m going to add in this TED talk from Thomas Heatherwick as it’s one of my favourites from the TED website. Thomas Heatherwick has designed some amazing structures but yet seems a surprisingly nervous character when on a big stage although he clearly relaxes as he gets in to his stride.  Even if Thomas Heatherwick isn’t someone you’ve come across before you will recognise some of his work and it reminds you of how clever designers and architects can be and how when they do something well it can bring a lot of pleasure to daily life.

This week

My review of the week.  Here’s some of the things I’ve been in to:

A TV series:  It feels surprising that this is the first time they’ve done a series showing daily life in the House of Commons as it sounds like such an uncontroversial idea, but Inside the Commons is a fascinating series even for those like me who have some idea already on how it works.  Whilst it shows the way our democracy operates in all its ridiculousness, what I feel it also shows is that MPs are on the whole decent normal people.  For some reason the series is only available on iPlayer for seven days and so I missed the first programme, but they seem to be planning to repeat it fairly quickly.

A YouTube video and an article:  It’s maps, transport and London, all things that I have a nerdy interest in.  This film is about how the tube map will cope later this year when Transport for London take over of a number of railway lines and the first changes are made in preparation for Crossrail.  Geoff Marshall’s films about transport in London are always good, but you can either watch the film about it or if you have less time read the article on the Londonist website.

A radio series:  This week was the start of a new series of Radio 4’s The Long View.  It’s one of those programmes that those of us who work full time don’t usually get to listen to as it’s on during working hours but it’s definitely worth seeking out as all previous episodes can be listened to on iPlayer.  The idea is simple.  It takes a current issue that’s being debated and then looks at what is said about it now but also finds parallels from history when the same sort of issue was being debated, usually talking to historians, journalists and politicians.  This week it looked at contemporary discussion about immigration alongside debates about the Aliens Act 1905.

A piece of art:  Magnesium Bird by Sutapa Biswas is a piece of contemporary audio visual art that is on display in the Graves Gallery in Sheffield, and I’ve always found it magical, mysterious, a little bit eerie but also strangely relaxing.  It’s difficult to give a real sense of it just from words and stills but this website post explains what it is.  But instead to get a real feel for it you’ll just have to visit the gallery to see it in person.  It’s always been one of my favourite pieces of art on display in the Graves Gallery.

A TED talk:  There’s a few talks on TED about how workplaces and business can be run better, but this one from Ricardo Semler called ‘How to Run a Company with (almost) no Rules’ is a little bit different.  Although he’s not well known in the UK he runs one of the most successful businesses in Brazil and has a quirky and very unconventional way of running the business.  Perhaps not all of it can be duplicated but it presents some interesting ideas.

A website: One of my earliest transport interests was ferries. An unconventional one admittedly, but I think it stems from travelling between Sweden and UK as a child. This week I discovered the Ferry Crossings website which whilst largely intended to be a guide for people wanting to know more about the best routes to use for taking a ferry across the English Channel, North Sea or Irish Sea and how to find the best deals, it also contains a little bit of history about ferry companies.  This article about The Rise and Fall of the Sealink Ferry Service is quite interesting if you’re in to your transport history.

This week

Some things I’ve been in to this week:

An exhibition:  I managed to find a little bit of time this week to visit the brilliant exhibition at Sheffield’s Graves Gallery: The Great Outdoors – Paintings by Stanley Royle.  Stanley Royle is one of Sheffield’s greatest painters and this exhibition brings together paintings from the city’s own collection with loans from various private collections.  What I love about his paintings is how much they conjure up not only how Sheffield looks, but most of all how it feels to be in that particular spot.  Many of his paintings are views of the city, (although this exhibition is wider than that), but those paintings that aren’t even literal truths as to how that scene looks really work well at creating a sense of the place.

A writer and a documentary:  Ian Nairn has been in the spotlight quite a bit lately following the reprinting at the end of last year of his book Nairn’s London which has led to a few good posts on this iconic book, such as this from Diamond Geezer and this on the London Historians blog.  He was someone I was aware of, but having now seen so much about him I’m astonished I’ve not been more familiar with his writing and his TV programmes.  Ian Nairn was an architecture critic from the late 50s to the 70s, but that doesn’t give a proper sense of his passion for communities and general sense of place.  Whilst some of his opinions feel a little contradictory at times, his passionate and fascinating writing and ability to discover lesser known places is something that hugely appeals.  This weekend I watched this excellent BBC4 documentary from early 2014 called The Man Who Fought the Planners: The Story of Ian Nairn and is well worth watching.

A set of TV series:  Channel 4’s three new series Cucumber, Banana and Tofu have been billed as the Queer as Folk of the 2010s, and apart from their obvious similarities given they’re all written by Russell T Davies and all set in Manchester it’s a pretty fair comparison.  When I first watched Queer as Folk in the late 90s the gay world was still new to me and the ‘scene’ itself was still only finding its feet as something confident and not to be ashamed of.  Now, 15 or so year later it’s a very different place and these three series really show that and they’ve been excellent.  Although the shock value of Queer as Folk isn’t there, it’s still quite loud, brash and proud, but also with more heartwarming scenes.  Cucumber on Channel 4 is centered largely around middle-aged gay men although it features many younger characters too and is a series with a storyline running all through it.  Banana on E4 centres largely on younger characters which crosses with the stories in Cucumber but instead each is a self-contained story.  Tofu on 4OD however is very different as it’s two documentaries that talk about sex with opinions from the actors from the series as well as the public.

A song:  I heard this blast from the past in a bar this week and it’s a song I’ve always loved.  Ride on Time from Black Box is very much of its time (1989) and reminds me so much of my childhood and a time when I was only just starting to get in to music.  I remember having it on one of those compilation double cassettes that were so popular at the time and would listen to it a lot.