TV COLUMN: British History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley, Brexit Bill Debate, This Week

James Waller-Davies
James Waller-Davies

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

This column is the most read television column in the entire English speaking world. It’s true. Friendly Russian hackers have leaked the news from a Moldovan website and it’s important this information is shared with you.

Yes, it’s ‘fake news’ season. The whole world is gazing, like Alice, into a topsy-turvy looking glass of the make believe. Orwell’s ‘doublespeak’ is topping the book charts again and nothing, it seems, is believable.

It is nothing new according to British History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley (BBC4). Worsley’s entertaining and informative revision of some the biggest myths of British history is a timely reminder that there’s nothing new about ‘fake news’ – the state, our state, has been up to it for centuries.

This week’s topic was the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when Britons cheered the arrival of a new king and queen, William and Mary, from over the channel in what is now the Netherlands. But as Worsley reminds us, that’s a great big lie – it was, in fact, an armed invasion incited by a band of English traitors and an example of ‘fake new’, seventeenth century style.

Worsley is a refreshing change to history programming, which in recent years has been overly dumbed down and ruined by soft focus re-enactments and mockumentary dramatisations.

That’s not to say Worsley isn’t beyond a bit self-parody and fancy-dress herself, but she is a reminder that an expert, talking engagingly and enthusiastically can be entertaining enough.

History was televised live through the week as the Brexit Bill Debate (BBC News) got into full swing. Usually, parliamentary proceedings are reduced to highlights and soundbites on the evening news, but the Brexit debate got top billing and a full schedule.

Whilst the outcome of the vote on the second reading might have been a foregone conclusion, the speeches through the day were a reminder of a more measured politics away from the surreal headlines that emerged daily from across the Atlantic.

Diane Abbott might be feeling rather glad This Week (BBC1) is hidden away in the relative obscurity of late night television. Abbott, once a regular on the midnight couch with Michael Portillo, was mercilessly mocked by presenter, Andrew Neil, over her sickness absence from the Brexit vote.

Abbott, Neil told us, was ‘on the way to full recovery’ having ‘been struck down by a dose of Brexit flu’. He sympathetically exhorted the hashtag ‘pray for Diane’. It was the political equivalent of being stabbed with a silk stiletto.