For the past three weeks now, Great British Railway Journeys has been showing on BBC2 in the early evening, presented by Michael Portillo. The format is unchanged from that shown last year, which proved something of a shock hit for The Beeb.
Basing much of the commentary on the Bradshaw's Guides of the mid-to-late Nineteenth Century, Portillo is once again retracing the steps of the Father of the Rail Guide & Timetable to see how the towns, cities and villages mentioned in his c1860 Bradshaw's Guide have changed. The piano-based theme to the show (and the variations thereof) adds to the feel of the programme, with a definite train resonance; and this second series is also available in HD, which offers some superb clarity with the overhead helicopter shots.
Portillo has proved himself once more with his depth of knowledge and genuine interest in the railway, not to mention his eagerness to learn just how important the railway was to British industry in Bradshaw's day. For someone who would naturally be more interested in the trains themselves, the 30-minute episodes are most interesting, despite their lack of railway-related facts.
In fact, the only group of people I remember (politely) criticising the first series were fellow rail enthusiasts, who were appalled to see quite horrendous continuity errors when switching from Portillo's on-train narrative to that when he alights at the next station. This has not been improved upon and so expect to see letters in next week's railway magazines. It is a little cringeworthy, for example, to see Portillo leave one of Grand Central's Class 180 Adelantes after all previous aerial shots of the specific leg being of a Class 91 (operated by NXEC, no less). A bank of old overhead shots is being drawn upon, in addition to the new stuff being filmed.
To be honest though, this doesn't bother me as much as other rail enthusiasts. Fundamentally, the programme is not about the specific traction types on which Portillo travels, nor is reference ever made to them. It is about the railway's effect on the country's prosperity from 1840 until Bradshaw's last guide before his death and a comparison (where possible) with today.
Another fortnight's worth of episodes remain and I for one will be tuning in.