Written and presented by David Dimbleby, this is a sister series to his "A Picture of Britain" with many of the same production team on-board. The concept is broadly the same too, in that the different episodes focus on a different part of the country, but this time there is a distinct chronological element as well. For example, the first episode focuses on East Anglia but also deals with its medieval architectural exuberance
So the second episode looks at the sixteenth-century transformations in architecture that took place in the heart of England, from Wiltshire up to Cheshire; the third episode is the odd one out since it is wholly concerned with Scotland and not with any particular period; the fourth reviews eighteenth-century classicism in a westcountry context; the fifth is in the north looking at Victorian buildings; whilst the sixth and final view is of twentieth-century building in the south of England (including London). This brings us right up-to-date with the Jubilee Line extension.
This is not a programme about the technical aspects of architecture - alas - but about the context in which buildings arose. As Dimbleby relates in the short fifteen-minute interview that serves as an `extra', those in power expressed it by the buildings they built. In the Middle Ages it was the church; in the present-day it is the multinational corporation. He often strays from his path too, so that his is more often than not a social rather than an art-historical essay. Not that what he has to say is without insight or interest, for example that, "The Victorians believed that for every new problem, there was a building to solve it"; or, with regard to modernism, "We may not have liked what we saw, but we were prepared to take risks." And he is not without some academic background in the subject, pointing out in the interview that he once did a course in Gothic architecture at the Sorbonne.
The series is awash with the almost continuous and marvellous soundtrack provided by composer Andrew Blaney. There are also the usual breathtaking aerial shots and atmospheric photography. One can argue that this is chocolate-box Britain: it is, but sometimes I like to scoff a whole boxful. Dimbleby is his usual engaging self. He is not scared to show his fears: he is clearly uncomfortable with the Blackpool rides and felt more at home with the tea-dancing. Dressed in pink shirt with pink and blue socks, and driving again his Land Rover about the British countryside, this does, however, bode badly for his green credentials; and his talking to the camera whilst driving is a bad habit that might lead him into trouble one day.
There is very little on detail. The brush with which Dimbleby paints his canvas is very broad indeed. For instance, Robert Adam is just a name mentioned in passing. There is much jumping too: in the second episode we switch speedily from the knot garden in Cheshire's Little Moreton Hall to the dry stone walls of the Cotswolds. And in a sense, the title is a misnomer, for this programme is not about HOW we built Britain, but rather WHY.