We started off with the last of the Jonathan Dimbleby programmes about Africa - covering the Congo, Zambia & South Africa. One of the things he was pointing out a lot in this episode was how much business China is doing with various African countries - partly because there are fewer strings attached to any investment by China than by Western nations, no need to commit to an ideology to get the money, it's purely a business deal. Which you can see why that's appealing from the perspective of the African nations. And he did a nice little sum up at the end, saying how there's more to Africa than poverty, famine & fighting - there are good things happening too, and a lot of growth of the various countries, that maybe the Western perception of Africa needs to be updated.
Next we actually watched a programme right as it was being shown :o That pretty much never happens, but J was twitchy about it possibly not recording and he'd be sad if we missed it (and to be fair the magic box does sometimes screw up, but not often). Ancient Worlds is a history series covering from the rise of cities through to the fall of the Roman Empire, presented by Richard Miles. At first I thought I wasn't going to warm to the presenter, the intro bit was possibly a little arty/pretentious but then it settled down and I thought he was really quite good with a funny sense of humour. This first episode covered from the rise of cities in Mesopotamia through to the great collapse of the Bronze Age (he didn't explicitly say, but it was the eruption of Thera he'd got up to). He's mostly looking at the broad sweep of the history (and I think it's fairly Western and/or Mediterranean focused, not sure yet), with occasional dips down to the personal and specific, to make it clear that the people are still people despite living so long ago in such different cultures (like the letter from a wife to her husband, complaining about how the neighbours have built a new house, how come he's not got the money together yet for them to do the same?). I've really liked the visuals for this, so far - the maps have been clear & have enough labels to orient oneself by, and lots of neat scenery to look at too.
And we finished off the evening with an episode of a series about The Victorians (I think the subtitle was "A History in Pictures") presented by Jeremy Paxman, which we've had on the magic box for ages. This was episode 2/4, and I think we never managed to catch episode 1, so we started here. It was covering domestic life in Victorian times - both the idealised family image that they wanted to project and the often somewhat unpleasant realities. Including a rather gruesome section about syphilis which was apparently quite common at the time - and many a housewife would have contracted it from her straying husband. The narrative arc of the programme was that at first the art only reflected the idealised world, but gradually during the era the realities were depicted in paintings and that this is part of what drove the change in attitudes, rubbing people's noses in reality.