on 6 September 2005
The BBC has established a considerable reputation for its ability to make dramatic, themed documentaries, using the landscape, travel, culture, ideas or history as its canvas, and painting vivid pictures which combine scholarly authority with excellent television and a package of DVD's, books, etc. David Dimbleby's excursions into the artistic inspiration of the British landscape seem to combine all aspects of the formula.
Dimbleby, of course, has great gravitas as a television presenter, and he makes a first class job of dragging the landscape and its changing weather patterns into your living room and consciousness. It was a thoroughly engaging television series - as a Scot, as a Celt, I have to say that Dimbleby can be a bit too English at times, but, overall, he does a compelling job of relating the natural canvas to the artistic one.
So how does the television series translate to book form? Well, not at all badly. The narrative is thoroughly accessible, well paced, and highly informative. The illustrations and print quality are first rate. All in all, it is a book which you may well treasure and which will, hopefully, provide inspiration to get you out to look at your surrounding landscape, to pick up pastel or brush, pen and paper, camera or clay, and find that emotional connection with place and environment which enriches us all.
However, while I can be disparaging of 'coffee table' books which simply offer loads of glossy photographs with little substance, "A Picture of Britain" loses something in its lack of pictures! Oh, it is beautifully illustrated, beautifully packaged, but much of the fascination of the television series lay in the ability of the camera to move you around, to get in close or pull back, to capture the essence of changing light and atmosphere. A book simply can't do that.
As an accompaniment to the series, this is a very fine book. As a stand alone, it is more of an hors d'oeuvres than a main course. But, whether you buy the one or both, the message really is, get out there, open your eyes, enjoy the extraordinary range of landscapes in the British Isles, appreciate the fickle British weather - sun, storm, night, day, land or sea - and be aware of the extraordinary quality of light which we experience on these islands, light of such subtlety and quality no scene is ever the same minute by minute, never mind day by day.