Melvyn Bragg’s Travels In Written Britain

Sunday 27 April 2008 10:45pm – 11:45pm

Melvyn Bragg follows in the footsteps of early tourists in Scotland, including Samuel Johnson, that great 18th Century man of letters. It’s a journey that takes him from the majestic capital Edinburgh (the world’s first Unesco City of Literature), to locations within striking distance of the city: the Trossachs, North Berwick and Stirling. All of it terrain saturated with writing, as it is with blood – after centuries of turmoil due to war, famine, class division, religious conflict and above all, the Scots turbulent relationship with the English.

Perhaps the most famous Scottish poem of all is A Man’s a Man For Aw That, by Robert Burns, the 18th century so called Peasant poet. The poem is a contender to be the national anthem, for a potentially Independent Scotland:

Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an’ aw that;
The coward slave – we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a’ that!

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Our toils obscure, an a’ that,
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The Man’s the gowd for a’ that.

For a’ that and a’ that
His riband, star an’ a’ that
The man o’ independent mind
He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.

A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke an’ aw that;
But an honest man’s abon his might
Gude faith, he maunna fa’ that!

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that)
That Sense and Worth, oe’r a the earth
Shall bear the gree an’ a’ that .

For a’ that and a’ that,
It’s coming yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.
Robert Burns – A Man’s a Man For Aw That, 1795.

Contributors include: Irvine Welsh, Sir Menzies Campbell, Ian Rankin, Jack Vettriano, Fran Healy (Travis), John Sessions, Gail Porter, Nigel Havers, Evelyn Glennie.

Melvyn Bragg’s Scottish journey: Edinburgh – The Grassmarket, the Lawnmarket, Haymarket, Greyfriars’ Kirkyard, Holyrood, the New Scottish Parliament, Calton Hill, Arthur’s Seat, Leith Walk and the Port O’ Leith – then further afield – the Lake of Menteith, Loch Katrine, the Wallace Monument and the Carse O’ Stirling in the Trossachs.

Episode 4 produced and directed by Susan Shaw.

Sunday 20 April 2008 10:45pm – 11:45pm on ITV1.

From John Clare’s Northamptonshire countryside to George Eliot’s Middlemarch and the gap between rich and poor, the railway whisks Melvyn Bragg on to Birmingham – the epicentre of the industrial world. Past the medieval town of Coventry gutted by the Blitz and on to the modern multicultural city with Meera Syal, Benjamin Zephanaiah, and Jonathan Coe. Then travel on to the heart of England to Shakespeare’s Stratford – by way of Ambridge.

We find a landscape park, at Hagley Hall in Worcestershire, that became a vision of heaven, and a village, Bourneville, that failed to be a worker’s paradise. We hear the words of working men and women who lived in the Midlands and actually built the towns and villages, laboured to shape the landscape, and left their own largely neglected chronicles.

“The earth seems to have been turned inside out. The grass had been parched and killed by the vapours of sulphurous acid thrown out by the chimneys; and every herbaceous object was of a ghastly grey. As I watched the decaying trees I thought of the price we had to pay for our vaunted supremacy in the manufacture of iron. We may fill our purses, but we pay a heavy price for it in the loss of picturesque ness and beauty.”
James Nasmyth, Engineer -The Black Country, 1830.

“And it must be known
That all scientific studies have shown that
Brummies are at home with new horizons
And a multi-layered concept of place.”
Benjamin Zephaniah – The Big Bang, written in 2000, first published in 2003.

Contributors include: Simon Russell Beale, Cat Deeley, Sam West, Emma Watson, Josie Lawrence, Richard Griffiths, Jasper Carrott, Keith Barron, Benjamin Zephaniah, Jonathan Coe, Meera Syal, Christopher Lee.

Melvyn Bragg’s Midlands journey: A1, South Of Stilton – Helpston Village, Northamptonshire – Stamford Town, Northamptonshire – Astley Church, Arbury Estate – Arbury Hall, Arbury Estate – Birmingham City Centre –
Birmingham Canal Basin – Handsworth, Birmingham – Coventry – Hagley Hall, Worcestershire – Rosedene, Dodford – Bournville – Sarehole Mill, Hall Green – Stratford Upon Avon – Forest Of Arden.

Sunday 13 April 2008 10:45pm – 11:45pm

From Westminster Bridge, the location for Wordsworth’s celebration of dawn, Melvyn Bragg travels downriver by boat, and up to the West End on a double-decker bus, by way of St. James, before delving into the dark world of London’s 19th century child sweatshops.

He then arrives on the South Bank, and the home of foul-mouthed Thames boatmen and the street slang of Shakespeare’s day.

Crossing a city of fog, fire and filth, we hear why the Victorians feared to tread the streets of the East End. The river played a dark role in this part of London. Outside the old city limits, the Thames passes through Wapping which was for centuries a lawless outpost for low-lifes (now home to journalists) before heading on to Joseph Conrad’s Gravesend and the ghosts of Britain’s seafaring tradition.

“It was impossible to tell where the monster city began or ended, for the buildings stretched not only to the horizon on either side, but far away into the distance, where, owing to [the coming shades of evening and] the smoke, there was no distinguishing earth from heaven. The multitude of roofs was like a dingy red sea, heaving in bricken billows, and the seeming waves rising up one after the other till the eye grew wearied with following them. ………”
Henry Mayhew took a hot air balloon – Illustrated London News, 1852

“This Thames was a dark tide of horror; that sodden algae-matted gate, leading to the fastness of the Tower, the thud of the axe, the tide lapping Wapping Old Stairs where pirates were taken and tied to the piles at low tide until three tides had flowed over them; the stinking hulks lying off Gravesend with their fettered human cargo.”
P.D.James – Original Sin, 1994

Contributors include: Stephen Fry, Boris Johnson, Tracey Emin, Martin Amis, PD James, Peter Ackroyd, Ian Hislop, Peter Bazalgette (reads his great grandfather’s Leader in the Builder 1875), Monica Ali, Ken Livingstone.

Melvyn Bragg’s London journey: Westminster – Charing Cross – St James – Piccadilly Circus – The Strand – Waterloo Bridge – South Bank – London Bridge – The City – Tower Bridge – The City – The East End – Brick Lane – Wapping – Canary Wharf – Thames Barrier – Gravesend.

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