All this week in the Daily Mail, as tens of millions of people across the country stay indoors, the Mail’s TV critic Christopher Stevens and TV Editor Mike Mulvihill are helping you to navigate the vast back catalogue of catch-up TV — available through the BBC’s iPlayer and ITV Hub, as well as streaming video services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Today it’s documentaries — war, chat, crime, science and everything in between…
Clive James’s Postcards iPLAYER
The Australian wit, critic and memoirist who died last year will always be remembered for the sadistic Japanese gameshow Endurance, which he championed in Clive James On TV. But his best work is this occasional series of travelogues.
Reporting from his favourite European capitals, he then ventures off to Cairo, Miami, Rio and Bombay. Everywhere is described with his trademark sardonic quips, whether he’s learning to pick up Italian girls in cafes or paraglide behind a speedboat.
Stacey Dooley Investigates iPLAYER
Pictured: Stacey Dooley during filming for BBC programme Beaten by my Boyfriend
If you know this Essex redhead only from her appearance on Strictly, it’s a shock to see her in action as a war reporter. She’s unafraid to tackle the toughest interviews, quizzing Isis brides in Syria, confronting whale hunters and meeting sex workers in the Philippines.
Face To Face iPLAYER
Before chat shows, TV did interrogations. In these confrontations from the early 1960s, interviewer John Freeman puts his subjects through some merciless analysis. Some, such as Martin Luther King, handle look, as though he’s disappointed beyond words — and the interviewees start jabbering, condemning themselves.
It’s a magnificent technique, one he tests in more than 50 documentaries, talking to swingers, neo-Nazis, big-game hunters and religious obsessives.
Michael Palin iPLAYER/ BRITBOX
With his movie career booming thanks to films such as A Fish Called Wanda, the former Python unintentionally launched a new TV genre when he agreed to copy Jules Verne’s heroes by travelling Around The World In Eighty Days without using planes. Join him in North Korea, Brazil, the U.S. and the Pacific Rim.
North Korea free on My5 New Lives In The Wild MY5/BRITBOX
Ben Fogle has matured into a connoisseur of eccentrics, able to win the confidence of the most prickly hermits such as the Aussie recluse who shares his island with his two wives — both shop mannequins.
He delves deep into the psychology of civilisation’s dropouts and, to find out what drives people to live outside society, he lives with them too.
Nazi Victory: The Post-War Plan UKTV PLAY
The archives of UKTV Play are stuffed with box sets about war, especially World War II, with titles like Hitler’s Propaganda Machine and Secret Nazi Bases.
One of the most imaginative is historian and Mail writer Guy Walters’ six-part alternative history, analysing what could have happened if the Blitz had led to German invasion.
It’s a great series to watch alongside the Amazon drama that imagines the same nightmare, The Man In The High Castle.
A 2004 photograph taken during filming shows Michael Palin during his travels from the Himalaya’s to Bengal
Extreme Railways UKTV PLAY/BRITBOX
One of the great things about watching Chris Tarrant flog his way across the Andes or Siberia by train is how little effort he makes to disguise his misery.
Unlike Michael Portillo, a fellow lover of rail travel whose rainbow suits are never creased, Tarrant looks like he’s slept in a bush before the journey even starts.
He makes these trips for the sheer love of trains, and that enthusiasm is infectious. The journeys are fascinating too, more so because he goes to places you’d never want to see. Ticket for Guantanamo Bay, anyone?
Here’s one for conspiracy theorists. Last November Netflix added a documentary to its Explained series, asking experts including Bill Gates to predict what would happen in the next flu pandemic. It could be under way even now, booms the voiceover. As it turned out, they weren’t wrong. The show even identifies China’s notorious ‘wet markets’, where animals are butchered in front of shoppers, as a probable launch pad for a new virus. That’s a powerful recommendation for this show’s research. Other episodes discuss whether humans will be able to keep eating meat, and how cryptocurrencies work.
Attenborough’s Early Years iPLAYER Our Planet NETFLIX
Pictured: David Attenborough in an undated photograph. His earliest and most recent series are less well known but equally wonderful
Everyone is familiar with Sir David’s greatest shows, such as Life On Earth and Blue Planet II (both available on iPlayer). His earliest and most recent series are less well known but equally wonderful. In Attenborough’s Early Years, Zoo Quest takes him to Indonesia in the 1950s in search of the Komodo dragon, and to Madagascar long before the destruction of the rainforests.
Adventure: Zambezi follows him across Africa from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, when elephants roamed in huge herds. Sixty years later he makes an impassioned plea for the protection of the world’s remaining wild habitats in last year’s Our Planet.
Hip-Hop Evolution NETFLIX
This series offers a new way to look at the history of black America. When the first DJs in Harlem started picking out snippets of dance music from their vinyl to create a hypnotic rhythm, segregation in the Deep South was just ending. By the time rappers such as Kanye West and Dr Dre were multimillionaires, America had its first black president. This documentary, featuring interviews with just about every major living rapper, reveals how those two things happened in parallel.
The Vietnam War NETFLIX
This documentary is film-maker Ken Burns’s best yet. A rock soundtrack accompanies hours of newsreel footage, but what is unique about this ten-parter are the interviews with former U.S. Marines and Viet Cong soldiers, telling of the hell they endured.
Classic Albums NOWTV/SKY TV
But if you want detail, Classic Albums analyses the great rock LPs — from Steely Dan to Pink Floyd — track by track, separating the vocals from the guitars, and picking apart the rhythm section
Music specials abound in the streaming archives. Netflix offers all that you will need to get started. — Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Thunder Revue, a woozy account of Bob Dylan’s mid-1970s world tour, and Bruce Springsteen’s autobiographical Broadway stage show. But if you want detail, Classic Albums analyses the great rock LPs — from Steely Dan to Pink Floyd — track by track, separating the vocals from the guitars, and picking apart the rhythm section.
How to get all the On-Demand and subscription services and what you will need to get started
On demand services can be watched through internet-connected devices such as smart TVs, computers, tablets, phones and smart TV boxes.
The majority of TVs bought after 2010 will be smart TVs, which means that they can connect to the internet. You can also make older TVs smart with a set-top box or by plugging in a device known as a TV stick, such as a Google Chromecast or Amazon Fire Stick.
Before you get started, you must ensure that your house is wi-fi connected, and this means signing up with a broadband provider.
Companies, such as Sky, Virgin, BT and Talk Talk offer a range of options.
Free-to-air services: The free services, BBC iPlayer (bbc.co.uk/iplayer), ITV Hub (itv.com/hub/itv), All 4 (all4.com), My5 (my5.tv) and UKTV Play (uktvplay.uktv.co.uk), allow you to watch shows and films that have already aired on the various channels from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and UKTV at no extra charge.
They also feature a selection of other box sets from their archives.
Subscription services: There are also a number of streaming services for which you will have to register and pay a monthly fee.
The U.S. giant Netflix (netflix.co.uk), which includes hundreds of hours of films and TV shows, including royal family saga The Crown, starts at £5.99 a month and doesn’t offer a free trial.
The video offering from Amazon (amazon.co.uk/piv) comes as part of the Amazon Prime subscription, which costs £7.99 a month after a 30-day free trial. NowTV (nowtv.com), is Sky’s on demand catalogue available through a set top box rather than a satellite dish. It costs £8.99 a month for an ‘Entertainment Pass’, which gives you access to channels such as Sky One and Sky Atlantic.
A seven-day free trial is available and other passes — to Sky Sports and Sky Cinema — can be added on at an extra cost. Apple TV+ (apple.com/uk/apple-tv-plus) costs £4.99 a month after a sevenday free trial, for access to Apple-produced series.
BritBox (britbox.co.uk) is your best bet for British TV box sets as it boasts a wide range of classic shows from the BBC and ITV archives. It costs £5.99 a month after a 30-day free trial. You can watch True Royalty at trueroyalty.tv, via Apple and Android apps, and smart TV boxes. It is £4.99 a month after a seven-day free trial.
The Americas With Simon Reeve iPLAYER
The boyish adventurer is far more interested in people and their cultures around the world.
Kenneth Clark changed the nature of documentaries for ever with this erudite but down-to-earth history of Western art from the Ancient Greeks to Picasso. He didn’t lecture, he explained. Like a man able to assemble a jigsaw blindfolded, he showed exactly how each masterpiece and new idea connected to everything else — its influences and its legacy.
When David Attenborough watched it, he was inspired to do the same by charting the history of evolution in Life On Earth.
Louis Theroux iPLAYER/NETFLIX
The prince of the awkward question, Theroux never lets his subjects wriggle off the hook. Glib answers are met with a sad look, as though he’s disappointed beyond words — and the interviewees start jabbering, condemning themselves. It’s a magnificent technique, one he tests in more than 50 documentaries, talking to swingers, neo-Nazis, big-game hunters and religious obsessives.
The Royal Box
Thomas Markle: My Story MY5
The Duchess of Sussex’s estranged father pulled no punches when he told his side of the story last year. There’s bitterness, but how much truth? You decide.
Inside The Crown ITV HUB
The Mail’s Robert Hardman is one of the historians analysing royal rumours through the National Archive — and it’s often more dramatic than you’ll find in Peter Morgan’s epic Netflix series.
Diana: In Her Own Words Netflix
The Princess of Wales revealed her deep unhappiness in recordings she made with Andrew Morton for her unauthorised biography.
The Queen’s Diamond Decades TRUE ROYALTY
If you want royal documentaries, this dedicated streaming video service has hundreds of them (see panel on right). It’s a sort of Netflix for royalists. Harry and Meghan feature in dozens (including one called Meghan For President?) — but this tribute to the Queen’s long reign is a good place to start.
Highgrove: Prince Charles At Home TRUE ROYALTY
The Prince of Wales provides us with a guided tour of his home in Gloucestershire, speaking earnestly about the gardens he has nurtured since the 1980s, and sharing some heartwarming stories about William and Harry growing up there as boys. than the scenery. He meets biker gangs and money launderers, and uncovers pollution and feuds. Reeve’s innocent manner leads him to ask questions that sometimes seem downright dangerous.
Thomas Markle stands with his daughter Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, in a family photograph
Nadiya’s Time To Eat iPLAYER
Bake Off queen Nadiya Hussain shares easy recipes for busy parents, using every short cut and cheat she can — such as pouring a can of spaghetti hoops into her fish-and-vegetable pie. She’s clearly bubbling with ideas in the kitchen.
Bake Off queen Nadiya Hussain (pictured) shares easy recipes for busy parents, using every short cut and cheat she can — such as pouring a can of spaghetti hoops into her fish-and-vegetable pie. She’s clearly bubbling with ideas in the kitchen
Delia Smith’s Cookery Course iPLAYER
This is cooking from basics. If you can’t boil an egg, national treasure Delia will show you how, and give you the confidence to try many more difficult recipes. It’s all good, basic fare: there’s no cordon bleu nonsense here.
Floyd On France iPLAYER
Beloved as much for his boozy aplomb as for his recipes, Keith Floyd was one of the first celebrity chefs. He might not be the most accomplished, but who better would you like to share a bottle of plonk with over lunch?
Living On The Veg ITV HUB
If you think vegan means dull and tasteless, these two likely lads will make you think again. Henry Firth and Ian Theasby serve up plant-based alternatives to everything from steak-and-kidney pie to macaroni cheese. Ingenious.
The Chef Show NETFLIX
America’s best celebrity cooks are challenged to show off their signature styles, while actor Jon Favreau and chef Roy Choi watch — and then try some culinary experiments of their own. It’s based on Favreau’s 2014 movie Chef, about a travelling food truck.
Thatcher: A Very British Revolution iPlayer
A TV news report from the 1970s shows Margaret Thatcher heading to the Commons, while the voiceover explains that having got the children to school and seen that husband Denis was fed, she could go to work. At the time, she was a Cabinet minister. This life story shows how much sexism she had to overcome to be Britain’s first female PM, and is studded with anecdotes from friends (and enemies).
Talking Pictures iPlayer
One of the best occasional series on the Beeb, Talking Pictures raids the chat show archives to show us film stars off duty. In the era before actors appeared only to plug their latest movie, here the likes of David Niven, Lauren Bacall and Orson Welles subject themselves to probing questions from interviewers such as Barry Norman. The only ones available currently feature Alfred Hitchcock and John Mills, but more pop up all the time.
Omnibus and Imagine iPLAYER
Two of the BBC’s most longrunning and respected titles, both specialise in trenchant biographies of complex figures. Episodes here include a look at the life of Oscar Wilde, and Peter Ustinov’s account of Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev. Crime writer Patricia Cornwell explains her fascination for Jack the Ripper, and there’s a portrait of sculptor Anish Kapoor.
BBC Classic Biographies iPlayer
Dig around in iPlayer and you’ll find some bizarre treasures. There’s A House In Bayswater, a 1960 film by Ken Russell about the tenants of a building in west London, and The Colony, about West Indian immigrants in Birmingham in 1964.
The Big Gamble shows British families heading to the seaside for their Bank Holiday picnic praying for sunshine, and A Poet In London interviews John Betjeman as he ambles round his favourite haunts.
Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans iPLAYER
Pictured: Steve McQueen in a 1971 photograph. In 1970, every red-blooded male in the Western world wanted to be Steve McQueen
In 1970, every red-blooded male in the Western world wanted to be Steve McQueen — except the man himself. He wanted to be a racing driver, king of the 24-hour competition regarded by many as the greatest of all.
This film shows how his obsession with Le Mans would cost him his marriage, and has some of the most exciting motor-race footage ever shot.
Trump: An American Dream NETFLIX
Long before he was a reality TV star, let alone President of the U.S., Donald Trump was infamous for his marriage break-ups and his casinos. This series charts his rise from being the son of a property developer who shared a lawyer with some of New York’s most corrupt gangsters. The Donald has scattered explosive interviews throughout his career, and this is a documentary to watch with your jaw hanging open.
Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates NETFLIX
Gates was famous as the founder of Microsoft. Now he’s better known as a philanthropist on a grand scale. This series examines three of his foundation’s multi-billion-dollar goals: clean water, nuclear power and eradicating polio. He’s a highly intelligent man but he also has a famously erratic thought process, leaping from one topic to another faster than most people can keep up.
Sinatra: All Or Nothing At All NETFLIX/iPLAYER FROM MAR 28
Pictured: Frank Sinatra and his wife Ava Gardner in an undated photograph. The undisputed superstar of singers was also one of the most unpleasant characters in Hollywood
The undisputed superstar of singers was also one of the most unpleasant characters in Hollywood. He courted mafia dons and honed his reputation as a man never to be crossed, but also dedicated his life to music and still exerts a huge influence on singers such as Robbie Williams.
In the 1960s Jane Goodall was the first scientist to suggest that chimps had emotions. She based her theory on years of watching troupes of apes in the wild after answering an advert in her teens to work for an African primatologist. This film captures her passion.
In the 1960s Jane Goodall, pictured with a chimpanzee in 1965, was the first scientist to suggest that chimps had emotions
Bobby Kennedy For President NETFLIX
The assassination of JFK in 1963 is regarded as a turning point in history. But it was the killing of his younger brother Robert, by a mentally ill gunman, that really changed the world. Kennedy seemed destined to enter the White House, but his death ushered in Richard Nixon instead. This documentary charts his political life.
Martin Luther King by Trevor McDonald BRITBOX
In the same year Bobby Kennedy was killed, 1968, civil rights campaigner MLK was assassinated in Memphis. A hero to millions for his opposition to segregation, he led a complicated private life. Trevor McDonald sketches a respectful biography that does not skate over the flaws in the great man’s character.
The Scandalous Adventures Of Lord Byron BRITBOX
George Gordon, the sixth Baron Byron of Rochdale, was a debauchee, drug abuser, predator and alcoholic after being sexually abused and beaten until he couldn’t move by his nursemaid at the age of nine. Actor Rupert Everett, a devotee of Byron’s romantic poetry, retraces the bad baron’s route across Europe after he fled England to avoid (true) allegations of incest with his sister. Scandal indeed.
7Up Collection BRITBOX
Beginning in 1964, film-maker Michael Apted took a group of cheeky seven-year-olds and asked them about their lives and dreams. Every seven years since, he has gone back and talked to the survivors. As well as one-off reports on the gang at 14, 21, 35 and 42, four longer series are available — with interviews at 28, 49, 56 and, most recently, this year aged 63. To watch them grow old in front of you is moving and unsettling.
Buried treasures: Gems from Youtube
National Geographic Countless short clips about every sort of wildlife. If you have only a couple of minutes to spare, why not spend it watching a bison getting its hoof trimmed, or learning why koalas don’t fall out of trees when they sleep.
A southern elephant female seal is pictured yelping at Brown Skuas standing in front of her newborn pup. Countless short clips about every sort of wildlife are available on National Geographic’s Youtube channel
Silent Hall Of Fame Hollywood’s first 15 years have all but evaporated. About 70 per cent of silent films are thought to be lost, so even scraps of these glimpses of history are worth saving. Silent Hall Of Fame preserves them in the best quality. More than 400 videos are here.
TED Talks TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design and more than 3,000 talks, mostly 15 minutes long, cover every aspect of science and society from the nature of happiness to the future of robotics. One talk features Arthur Benjamin, who calls himself a ‘mathemagician’ and does complex sums in his head faster than a calculator. It’s like watching Einstein in Vegas.
The Great War Week-by-week updates on the progress of World War I, from the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 to the end of the fighting in 1918 — and the pandemic that followed. More than 200 tenminute episodes put the cataclysmic events into chronological context. There are also videos discussing the weapons, artists and politics.
A British soldier in a flooded dug-out in a front line trench near Ploegsteert Wood, Flander, Belgium on January 1917
The Dick Cavett Show Utterly addictive. Cavett is less wellknown here than other U.S. chat hosts like Johnny Carson, but he’s easily the best interviewer. He subjects guests to probing questions more like psychological therapy than celebrity chat. The A-listers kept coming back — Marlon Brando, John Lennon, Robin Williams in overdrive and Joan Collins explaining how to act sober while drunk.
British Movietone/AP Archive Cleaning ladies on strike in 1949! The first air raid warning of World War II! Fans go wild for Elvis in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1956! Cilla Black marries at a register office! Amelia Earhart is cheered in London after flying the Atlantic solo! Each of these newsreel clips is a gem, and there are so many.
David Hoffman The filmmaker has been making documentaries since he was 21 — and next year he will be 80. Celebrities interest him far less than ordinary people — in the 1970s he would stop people in the street to ask questions. The anecdotes of the old have always been a speciality, whether it’s a retired farming couple looking back on 40 years of back-breaking work or a former hippie reflecting on his anti-war activism in the 1960s.
Newsnight Thousands of classic interviews and reports from the BBC2 news magazine — some three-minute clips, others 20-minute reports and, of course, that Emily Maitlis interview with Prince Andrew. You can search by report, by subject or by date. If you want to see everything the show has broadcast about football, Brexit or the Proms, it’s easy to find.
Timeline Historical documentaries covering every era from the BBC and Channel 4, as well as America’s PBS and Discovery channels. The shows are grouped into categories: British history, archaeology, maritime, military, science, royal and more. This is the place if you want obscure topics such as the excavations at Glastonbury Abbey 100 years ago by spiritualist Frederick Bligh Bond, who believed he was guided by messages from dead monks.
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