New Elizabethans (3 stars)

New Elizabethans

Entertaining but flawed history of Britain between Elizabeth II's coronation and now

An incisive chronicler of modern and historical Britain in books and on small screens, Andrew Marr is the obvious choice to front a three-part look at contemporary UK. In the proud tradition of Scots like Robert Burns or Adam Smith, he means different things to different people: he's both the scourge of those who hate experts and intellectuals, hearing liberal, elitist epithets whenever he opens his mouth, and the target of anyone who feels that the BBC is a weapon of pro-establishment, anti-progressive tendencies.

The problem with New Elizabethans is not Andrew Marr, with his enthusiastic delivery of a message and an impressive gathering of facts and events, it's more an issue of relevance and selection. Cramming nearly 70 years of British culture, industry and creativity into three hours is a near-impossible task, so choices needed to be made over who to highlight. There's little argument to be had with focussing on the likes of David Attenborough, Anita Roddick, James Dyson, Zaha Hadid and even Mary Whitehouse, while he does pluck out some lesser-known individuals for acclaim such as workers' rights campaigner Jayaben Desai and anti-war protester Helen John. However, it might seem odd to omit people who also had a major impact in their fields whether for good or ill: so, there's no mention of Richard Branson, Arthur Scargill, Mary Quant, Bowie or Phil Redmond, and just passing references to Tim Berners-Lee and Billy Connolly.

Still, this whistle-stop tour of more than half a century of British innovation and influence is extremely entertaining, though some of the music choices are curious for a show about Britishness: Buddy Holly, Blue Oyster Cult and The Eagles for three. At least we can be grateful that our host doesn't do a Lucy Worsley and don some outfits of those he's discussing. Andrew Marr dressed as Dusty Springfield or impersonating Alan McGee would have been a whole other programme altogether.

BBC Two, Thursday 3 December, 9pm. Watch on BBC iPlayer.

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