The BBC's latest lavish natural history series, The British Isles: A Natural History stirred a minor controversy when first aired because its presenter, the ever-affable Alan Titchmarsh, is better known as a gardener (and writer of saucy novels), not an expert on mineralogy, plate tectonics, or prehistoric flora and fauna. Until this programme the presumption had been that a multi-part flagship BBC documentary would be written and presented by an authoritative figure, David Attenborough or Simon Schama for example. For better or worse Titchmarsh has broken the mould.
In fact, once past the glossily superficial opening chapter "3 Billion Years in the Making" (essentially a highlights programme of what is to come), Titchmarsh turns out to be an excellent host, addressing the audience in his familiar chatty way and cleverly exploiting his horticultural roots, noting for example how evidence of major geological changes can be found in the most humble plant, wildflower or weed. And unlike his more academic predecessors, he also uses his TV charisma to the full, finding lighthearted ways of imparting otherwise dry information: sampling malt whiskies to explain how water permeates through different types of rock; scoffing platefuls of clotted cream with jam and scones to show how desert conditions millions of years ago gave Devon its fertile soil; or even getting made up as a Neanderthal and strolling down Oxford Street. It's all far more cosy than Attenborough.
The director of this eight-part series has clearly been watching Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings, as he never misses an opportunity for sweeping helicopter shots of snowy mountain peaks, rugged coastlines or glacial valleys. Combined with some neat computer graphics, the result makes ideal consumption for Sunday evening TV: easy on the eye and none too taxing on the brain, but informative enough to banish any fears of dumbing-down. --Mark Walker
Groundbreaking BBC natural history programme presented by popular TV gardener Alan Titchmarsh. Using state-of-the-art integrated time-lapse techniques, the film peels back the years to reveal the swamps, rainforests, ice ages and volcanoes - as well as the civilisations and revolutions - that have shaped the familiar face of the British Isles we know today.
Starring: Alan Titchmarsh (Pres/Narr) The landscape and wildlife of Britain today is a product of millions of years of change. With the Natural History Unit's all new integrated time - lapse techniques we peel back the years and take you on a presenter-led journey through the tropical swamps, the ice ages, the civilisations and revolutions that shaped the familiar face of the British Isles. DVD Extras: Making-of documentary, Fact files, Photo gallery and a Web Link