Thomas Telford: The Man who Built Britain (3 stars)


BBC2, Mon 6 Aug, 9pm

Jeremy Clarkson will no doubt be livid if he ever watches this. The man who backed Isambard Kingdom Brunel to second place behind Churchill during the 100 Greatest Britons series in 2002 will be aghast to hear that some experts believe Scotsman Thomas Telford to have been a more influential figure in the history of engineering. While a twentysomething Brunel once beat the septuagenarian Telford to a key building contract, the consensus here is that, while Brunel perfected the technology and working methods at his disposal, it was the visionary Telford who made those structures possible.

Narrated by Bill Paterson and driven on by some pleasingly eccentric academics, the story of Telford is pretty straightforward. A child who lost his father early on and plunged into poverty still rose to be an educational star and went on to construct revolutionary roads, waterways and bridges across Britain in the early 19th century. Just don’t tell Jeremy.

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