Children of 9/11: Our Story – Monday, Channel 4, 9pm
In this tender 90-minute documentary, we meet six young people whose fathers were killed during the 9/11 attacks. It’s a film about them coming to terms with losing someone they never knew, and how that experience has shaped the people they are today. These bright young millennials have gradually learned more about their fathers over the last 20 years, which has also meant finding out about the tragic circumstances surrounding their deaths. There is no narration; the director allows these stories to unfold in the eloquent words of the subjects themselves. The overall effect is intimate and immersive. Despite its underlying themes of loss and grief, Children of 9/11: Our Story is laced with hope.
Long Lost Family – Monday, STV, 9pm
Siblings Steve and Moira found each other as adults. They’re very close. When their birth mother passed away a few years ago, Steve and Moira were shocked to discover that they have an older sister. They’ve been trying to track her down ever since. The Long Lost Family team waste no time in solving the mystery of her whereabouts. As always, emotional scenes ensue. The other story this week revolves around Lisa, who is desperate to find the family she was separated from at birth. Like so many of those who participate in this sensitive series, Lisa struggles with a difficult question: why was I given up for adoption? It’s not a straightforward case, but she eventually achieves some closure.
Wild China with Ray Mears – Tuesday, STV, 7.30pm
This week, TV’s favourite bushcraft warlock – bedecked as always in regulation khaki fatigues – is on a bear hunt (NB: no bears were harmed during the making of this programme). The brown bear is China’s largest carnivore, but they usually avoid humans; who can blame them? Nevertheless, Mears hopes to catch a glimpse of one or two during his visit to a remote monastery located on the vast Tibetan Plateau – one of the emptiest places on Earth. Every day, the monks put out leftovers for the bears to feast upon. “I’ve known these bears for quite some time,” says one holy man. “I’m not afraid of them.” They still keep their distance, though, as does Mears.
Our Lives: Aberdeen Harbour – Wednesday, BBC One, 7pm
One of Britain’s oldest and busiest ports, Aberdeen Harbour services some of Scotland’s key industries. It’s also in the midst of a £50 million expansion project – the largest of its kind ever in the UK. This non-stop hive of activity is set to become a major cruise ship destination, thus ensuring an even busier and brighter future. In this agreeably gentle yet eventful documentary, we follow some of the people who work there, including members of a 20-strong team of pilots who work in tandem with The Vessel Traffic Service Tower to ensure the safe daily passage of vessels sailing in and out of the harbour. They seem to take it all in their professional stride.
Right Here: Isabel’s Independence – Wednesday, BBC Scotland, 8pm
This excellent series of short documentaries exploring the diversity of life in Scotland today concludes with a bittersweet profile of Isabel, a Spanish woman in her fifties who migrated to Edinburgh in the hope of finding new opportunities. Isabel was once a successful businesswoman and semi-pro racing driver, but all of that collapsed during the 2008 financial crisis. So here she is in Edinburgh, learning to speak English while working around the clock as a cleaner and a delivery driver. Isabel’s husband, who still lives in Spain, supports her quest for independence and renewed self-worth. Isabel is great: a colourful, creative, inspiring person. At one point she jokes, “Can you imagine feeling invisible with my personality?”
Changing Rooms – Wednesday, Channel 4, 8pm
Yes, it’s back. Between 1996 and 2004, Changing Rooms bestrode the TV landscape like a camp colossus; a revolutionary pioneer of the home makeover genre. It was eventually usurped by identikit pretenders to the crown, but those of us who were there at the time (man) will never forget the originator. Despite the lengthy break and change of broadcaster, the format hasn’t changed at all; you can’t improve upon a design classic. Two pairs of friends decorate each other’s houses. There’s a big reveal at the end. Job done. Also, dandy highwayman Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen is now comfortably settled within the autumnal Brian Blessed phase of his career: a self-parody of a self-parody. But whither Handy Andy?
A Year in the Beacons – Thursday, STV, 8.30pm
In the final episode of this harmless piece of summer drought filler, we catch up with some of the people who live and work in The Brecon Beacons National Park. If you’ve seen the show before, you’ll be familiar with Harry Legge-Bourke, the seventh generation custodian of the vast Glanusk Estate. If you haven’t seen him before, then just imagine Mel Smith playing a ridiculously cheerful posh bloke in a 1980s comedy sketch. Harry’s latest plan to solve his financial problems: renting out his ten bedroom family home. We also reconvene with the Brecon Mountain Rescue team, as they deal with a hillwalker who has suffered a heart attack. Some people doing work of actual value there.
FILM of THE WEEK
Viva Las Vegas – Thursday, BBC Four, 10:30pm
Most of Elvis Presley’s post-army films were utterly pedestrian, but this glossy MGM musical is one of the few exceptions. The paper-thin plot – Elvis plays a racing driver who dreams of winning the Las Vegas grand prix – is merely an excuse for a stream of entertaining musical numbers and some kinetic interplay between The King and his vivacious co-star Ann-Margret (they were apparently having an affair at the time). Elvis was usually saddled with journeymen directors, but George Sidney was a talented pro responsible for classic movie musicals such as Kiss Me Kate. Everyone involved is clearly having fun, and the effect is contagious. It’s beautiful to look at too, and not just because of the stars.
LAST WEEK’S TV
Viva La Diva: The Queens of Pop – Saturday August 7, BBC Two
A diva was once something to be celebrated: the original definition referred to outstanding female opera singers. Goddesses on Earth. But it’s now regarded as shorthand for powerful female celebrities supposedly prone to egocentric tantrums. Or to put it another way: iconoclastic women who have dared to imprint themselves upon a pop culture landscape where male bad behaviour tends to be celebrated. In this enjoyable documentary, the suitably arch and camp Ana Matronic from Scissor Sisters successfully reclaimed the term via tributes to five great divas: Cher, Grace Jones, Madonna, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. Made with evident enthusiasm for its subject matter, the programme benefited from an insightful array of talking heads and some splendid archive footage.
The Secret Life of the Zoo – Tuesday August 10, Channel 4
The latest series of this hardy perennial proved once again that, whatever you think about zoos, there is just no denying that the animals at Chester Zoo are beloved by the humans who work there. These people are emotionally invested in their job, a large part of which involves the conservation of endangered species. This episode revolved around their efforts to ensure that the animals remain healthy and happy. James Bond, Chester’s only Hyacinth macaw, was with his mate, Miss Moneypenny, for 27 years. Sadly, she passed away just a few weeks before the episode was filmed. So the staff had to make sure that JB wasn’t carrying the virus that killed her. SPOILER: he lived to die another day.