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Stirring Times

BBCZ, Thu 27 Nov, 8pm.

Stirring Times is a history programme with scant respect for history. The BBC seems anxious that people will dislike its less-than worshipful approach to some Scottish heroes.

It seems more likely they will wonder what on earth is going on when Robert the Bruce is portrayed as a mafia godfather, while Mary Queen of Scots is a mini-skirted Mary Quant lookalike, plotting on the telephone to France.

Written and presented by 30-year- old researcher and historian Dr Louise Yeoman, the BBC Scotland series aim to ’inform and entertain’, as does so much trivia in this dumbed-down age of ours.


Channel 4, Mon 24 Nov, 8pm.

Yep, it’s that time of year again folks. And just to get us warmed up and raring to go, those kind souls at Channel 4 take us behind the scenes of the loadsa money industry that is Pantoland. Focusing on entrepreneur Paul Elliott’s 30-year- old company E & B, which churns out twenty of the blighters each year across England, episode one looks at the run-up to getting the show on the road, tears, tantrums and all.

The arduous casting process begins in June with champagne lunches and a hefty dose of flattery to help secure big names. While Lionel Blair and John lnman mince around during rehearsals for Snow White in Southampton, over 300 dancers

The gimmick is to show what famous figures would have been

like if they were around today. Subsequent episodes cover the Marquess of Montrose and Red Clydesider John McLean.

Stirring Times: history getsa whole new look battle it out for one of 50 places. 'It’s cattle-market time,’ whinges one young hopeful.

A Blackpool illusionist is recruited

next to provide that extra touch of

The producers hope the series will be a success with schools. ’Accessibility' is Yeoman’s buzz-word. ’History at school turned me off, it was all turnips, linen and

Sadly, none ever encountered a TV camera. Instead actors are combined with archive footage wrenched from the more recent past. It is lively, but at what expense? The stories are factually accurate, but play fast

and loose with the period detail.

What happens if future series cover Sir Walter Raleigh’s discovery of tobacco in the late 16th century? We've already seen Bruce puffing on fat Havanas in the 14th.

In fairness, history books, teachers and programmes do get pilloried for being too dull. Dr Yeoman argues people will be more interested in something they can

relate to.

’I thought, "what would these people be like today?“ she says. ‘We ended up with Mary the soap opera, and

Robert the Bruce the gangster film.’

totties - and no stories,’ she says. ’People have been doing Shakespeare in modern dress for years. Why not use this really brilliant technique to show history?’

A historian in trilby and Doc Martens, Yeoman does

have a disarming line in sound-bites. Purists will hate

bubbling tar.’

Stirring Times, she concedes, quipping: ’Next time I go to a gathering of historians, I'll watch out for barrels of

However, one of these sound-bites finally undermines her position. An admirer of Wallace, she suggests: ’We all hope that like him, we’d be with the resistance, not the collaborators.’

As regards knowledge, accuracy or informing people on any meaningful level, I'm not sure it's a hope she can

afford to cherish. (Stephen Naysmith)

Princer sums: Robson Green, Tara Fitzgerald and Rupert Penry-Jones in The Student Prince

The Student Prince 880, Sat 29 Nov, 8.55 pm.

A fair-haired young prince who’s hesitant in his love affairs, has a penchant for amateur dramatics, and is a personal friend of Andrew Lloyd Webber?

Naturally there are no similarities intended between the eponymous hero of BBCl's romantic comedy-drama The Student Prince and any real-life royal Well so its makers would have us believe, though up-and-coming actor Rupert Penry-Jones, who plays the bashful heir to the throne in the 90- minute Screen One film, admits that he

did study hours of royal videos to get a taste of the way members of the country's most famous famin behaved.

’ObViously, there are shades of certain real-life princes in the story,’ he says 'But it's not based on anyOne in partiCLilar, and I tried hard to make my character someone new, a man in his own .ignt '

Penry-lones is Joined by two of the starriest and busiest names in the busmess, Robson Green and Tara Fitzgerald, in aVi/ald-Vv'l'llllllg writer Lee Hall's Winnineg sentimental slice of escapism, that's less of a ro/al skit and more a 1990s take on Cyrano De Bergerac.

Green plays the working-class bodyguard who is appomted to shadow Penry-lones's yOung British

prince when he jOlnS the ranks of

students at Cambridge 8th Green

soon finds his duties extending

beyond personal safety when the prince becomes hopelessly infatuated ‘v'.lill a beautiful Fulbright scholar tFitzgeraldl

Lee Hall admits that the initial inspiration for his first TV screenplay ste'nmed "cm a rur“ that Pence Edward's bodyguard attended so many lectures during the rOyal student's stint at Cambridge, that he’d effectively completed a degree

‘l've no idea if any of that is remotely true, but it seemed an amusing premise and I've woven that scenario into the scnpt,’ says Hall

After recent tragic events, of course, it was thought that the film's autumn transmission would be Jeopardised, and that several script changes would have to be made

'ln the end, One reference to the Princess Of Wales was throne. Out, and the tztle ‘.'.as changed, from Prince Of Hearts to The Student Pnnce,’ says producer Michael Daibon ‘The effect circumstances had on the production was very small ' tRob Driscolll

pzazz, while Elliott’s minions crack on with the business of designing costumes and constructing sets. But with so many frocks, props and people - not to mention egos - flying around, it ain’t gonna be plain sailing and the celebs’ demands are getting bigger and more ludicrous.

Meanwhile, Elliott comes on like a big kid masterminding other bairns’ dreams. Only it’s a fantasyland where bucks are the bottom line - last year E & B raked in the princely : sum of £8 million.

Definitely more entertaining than two hours of Stanley Baxter in a frock, but the crew aren’t out to shatter the edifice of our great British institution. 'lt’s not a serious expose, partly because it is such a tight, rigorously run ship,’ says Pantoland producer Chris Hunt.

Come on though guys, surely cat- fighting and dressing room hopping were rife in the land of panto. ’The stories are legion but sadly they were too sensible to get up to anything when we were around,’ complains Hunt. one, two, three, aaahhh. (Claire Prentice)

Frosty looks: Britt Ekland as the Wicked Queen in Snow White for Channel 4's Pantoland

21 Nov—«1 Dec 1997 THELIST107