After five series, you might think that the Coast team could have run out of topics to cover. But clever expansion of the theme to include other countries, combined with intelligent research into the coastal counties of the UK, have produced another eight, hour-long episodes which are thoroughly enjoyable while being informative and educational. At its high points Coast is charming, heart-warming and jaw-dropping. Inevitably there are moments which are less gripping, or which feel a little repetitive, but overall this format continues to provide high quality entertainment. Much of the photography of the natural marine world is just plain gorgeous.
The formula is the same as earlier series: historian Neil Oliver has become the anchorman who introduces each episode, explains its themes and introduces the other presenters. Oliver also scampers off to investigate his own segments in each show, like visiting the Anglo-Saxon site at Sutton Hoo or the birthplace of Lord Nelson. Other regular presenters include Dr Alice Roberts (who usually does sciencey stuff); Nicholas Crane (geography, history, landscape and so on); Miranda Krestovnikoff (wildlife); Mark Horton (naval history); Dick Strawbridge (agriculture, naval bits, eco things).
Our favourites are without doubt Dr Alice and Nick Crane, who bring such knowledgeable enthusiasm to their subjects that it's tricky not to become intrigued in the oddest things - like the first radar experiments, isolating the smell of the sea, capturing a cloud in a jar or finding a lost land which has sunk beneath the sea. Mark Horton is a little harder to like; he's a bit squeaky for our tastes, but even so we were amazed at the discovery of chunks of Brunel's Great Eastern being pulled from the mud of the Mersey.
Coast also includes little snippets from local folk in each area, where people whose lives are intertwined with the ocean explain about their hobbies or livelihoods. One artist made for a fabulous five minutes, where he built sculptures on the seashore made by balancing odd-shaped stones on top of each other. They appeared to defy gravity as he scampered around the rocks, holding the stones in place and then carefully stepping away. A magic moment.
Perhaps our favourite episode of this series was one of the foreign trips; Denmark was interesting, but Brittany was a particular treasure. The topics reflected the similarities between that French stretch of coast and its Celtic cousin in the UK, from sharing places called Land's End (Finistere) and Cornwall to the standing stones of Carnac. Nick Crane's investigation into the Onion Johnnies was priceless, and explained exactly why we think of Frenchmen as wearing stripey jumpers, riding bicycles covered in onion strings! The story of the WW2 fighter of the Isle de Sein was particularly poignant. And the footage of the wild Atlantic ocean, smashing into the rocky shores and lighthouses of the Brittany coast, was purely magnificent.
Not every segment manages to enthral. For instance, Miranda often seems to come a cropper looking for wildlife (no dolphins today!), and crustaceans aren't that gripping. Similarly, Dr Alice's experiment involving musical sand was, er, a bit unconvincing.
However, in the main Coast still provides excellent entertainment which combines social history with a solid scientific background. Watching the programmes again is like settling down for a natter with a group of old friends. Coast also provides really useful inspiration for anyone considering touring in the UK, and looking for interesting sites to visit.
Documentary TV at its best. Recommended.