TV COLUMN: Arena: Produced by George Martin, The Story of British Pathé, World Track Cycling, Happy Valley

James Waller-Davies
James Waller-Davies

Columnist James Waller-Davies gives his view of some of the recent events on television.

It’s seems not a week goes by without yet another passing of someone who has defined our cultural memory.

To the 2016 ‘dear departed’ list which already includes David Bowie, Lemmie, Alan Rickman, Harper Lee, Umberto Eco, Tony Warren, George Kennedy, Maurice White, Abe Vigoda, Glenn Frey, Ed Steward – and many more – is now added music producer, George Martin.

As Arena: Produced by George Martin (BBC4) made clear, despite Martin’s most famous association with the Beatles, the epithet of ‘the fifth Beatle’ does a disservice to the monumental scale of Martin’s achievements.

This poignant and thoughtful documentary, enlisting family and an entourage of the music greats, presented Martin as a quiet, shy even, man who had an acute understanding of how to develop the work of others.

Indeed, what came over was not Martin as musical production genius, which he clearly was, but as a supreme manager and developer of people. A man without ego, he worked with some of the biggest egos on the planet, respected, valued and loved. It’s a unique talent to be able to perfect the talents of others.

As for his back catalogue, its range and diversity are unparalleled in British music production. If you’re over 50 and into your music, the chances are half your record collection was probably produced by George Martin.

This unscheduled Arena special was first broadcast in 2011. It will be available on BBC iPlayer for a month. It can’t be more highly recommended.

The Story of British Pathé (BBC4) told the fascinating story of the beginnings and early years of British newsreel which stormed into the theatres a hundred years ago.

The sheer inventiveness of the Pathé cameramen makes today’s go-getting journalists seem positively tame. As one commentator put their efforts to get a story: “Bribery, espionage, outright larceny: they would do things that worst of tabloid journalists today would not dare do.”

The past – our past – looked so modern. Black and white usually projects a visual time-shift, but looking beyond the on-screen monochrome, what the Pathé archive presents is a news world little different from today.

The media motifs of politics, celebrity, the royals, sport, human interest, lifestyle and foreign travel were all there in the bleak depression days of the late ‘20s and 1930s.

All that’s changed in our voracious appetite for news media is the technology.

Back then it was sixpence ticket to a movie theatre. Today is TV rolling news, social media feeds and the internet. But it was Pathé that defined our earliest relationship with the moving image news medium.

This was the first programme in a series of three and is a must-see for anyone with an interest in the media, news production, or just plain nostalgia.

The World Track Cycling Championships (BBC Sport Online) provided one of the more thrilling finishes of the sporting year so far with Sir Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish winning gold in the madison.

One of the more unusual cycling disciplines, the madison. I’m not going to even begin to try to explain the rules, but it includes the riding team pair being able to tag and give a slingshot boost to their partner.

The on-track speed is incredible. The riders making laps in a flash, like cars on a Scalextric oval.

With some forty riders on the track, all zipping around at different speeds, it seems tailor-made for a crash – and, indeed, with just a few laps to go Cavendish did just that, only to get back on, bloodied and bruised, just in time for the win.

The Mumblevision production of Happy Valley (ITV) continues to bemuse its audience. Somewhere in amongst the audio fog, there’s possibly a good drama going on, but as one reader put it on Twitter: “It’s awful. I can’t decide if they have a mouthful of porridge or if their jaws are wired shut!”

In a perfect world, George Martin would reach out from the afterlife and do something with the sound production.