BBC Britannia Documentary Series

BBC Four have made some brilliant television documentary programmes over the years, and as a channel it does a great job in providing interesting and insightful content in what is an otherwise mostly “soft” media environment. Their “Britannia” documentary series which explores mostly the evolution of a music genre, or other aspects of music culture in the UK has probably been their most ambitious project yet, and has so far included twenty-three programmes of around roughly ninety minutes. The series began in 2005 with “Jazz Britannia” looking into the history of British jazz music, while the latest series aired in the UK last month focusing on British music during the 1950s. The series has covered a whole range of music styles including folk, classical, dance, blues, synth pop, heavy metal, and prog rock to name a few and has also rather obscurely ventured outside of the series predominantly music based theme in showing episodes about British comics, British gaming, and even British birds.

The episodes in this series do a very good job in offering insightful looks into the wide range of topic areas, with the programmes also including new interviews with the people involved and experts in the area. Careful attention is paid in giving the viewer a thorough background into the subject matter, its history, and its significance today, while the programmes also include wonderfully preserved archival footage. Of the programmes I have seen, I would recommend “Festival Britannia” that looks into the history of British music festivals, “Folk Britannia” that covers British folk music, and although I am not a huge fan of this style of music “Prog Britannia” which is a very interesting look into British progressive rock. 

I hope BBC Four continue to produce programmes in this series, although whether that is the case or not will depend on if proposed cuts in funding at the channel go ahead or not. Television needs more carefully and expertly produced documentary content like the programmes in this series, not only for their cultural value but also their educational significance. I know a lot of the episodes in this series are floating around on YouTube and I would strongly recommend you take a look.

– Sam


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