David Bowie: Finding Fame

9pm, BBC Two

I’d stack my blind, trainspotterly love of David Bowie against anyone’s, and, as he zooms off toward joining Jedi as a whole new religion, it’s in this spirit that I suggest we bear in mind that not everything the man did was always great. Going by the available evidence, he shared that opinion, and, again, I say this as someone who genuinely reckons Tin Machine remains pretty underrated. Bowie was unerring across the 1970s, but there followed that long, often depressing swathe from 1984 to 1999, when the magic flicker guttered and, while there were always moments, the ropey outweighed the gemlike twenty-to-one. Accepting that he was only human only makes Bowie’s dazzling, oblique and ferocious best work, and his eventual recapturing of the flame, seem all the more unearthly.

Even when he wasn’t being mind-bendingly brilliant, however, Bowie was always fascinating. This becomes abundantly clear while watching Finding Fame, a feature-length documentary by Francis Whately covering Bowie’s earliest years in music, another period during which there was a generous amount of amazingly bad songs, and, what’s worse, mime.

Ending at the beginning, the film forms the final panel in a brilliant Bowie triptych by Whatley, who previously directed Five Years, exploring the circumstances around Bowie’s key albums, and the self-explanatory The Last Five Years, on Bowie’s extraordinary final burst.

To keep the branding consistent, the new film originally went under the working title The First Five Years, but it has proved harder to pin down. The documentary roughly covers 1966-73, but its edges are ragged, in a good way. For one thing, it could have started even earlier: Bowie, then still the young mod called Davie Jones, released his first single in 1964. For another, the film sometimes flips forward as far as the 2000s. And, towards the end, it all begins to bleed and blur back into the territory of Whatley’s original Five Years documentary.

Told in patchwork, the story is that of a boy who grew up in the dozing, droning, dreary dreamlike post-war suburbia of Bromley, determined to break out. Bowie’s abiding themes of isolation and alienation get traced back to the quiet house in which he spent his childhood, conscious that his parent’s marriage seemed strangely lacking in love, aware of his beloved half-brother’s fragile mental health, and nagged by a feeling that everyone in his life was transitory.

The quest for escape becomes the quest for fame, as, armed with insatiable curiosity, Bowie spends the 1960s going through a cycle of false starts, trying new pop guises on for size. The sharp mod ditches the blues for whimsical music hall novelty narratives delivered in imitation of his idol Anthony Newley; then becomes multi-media mime artiste; then hippy experimentalist; then heavy rocker.

Floating over the staggeringly good archive (there are clips here even hard-core fans might not recognise), Bowie himself provides the phantom narration, edited from countless interviews. Interspersed come new contributions by a valuable cast of friends and colleagues, including Bowie’s mythical first love Hermione Farthingale, and his mime teacher, the late Lindsay Kemp, on terrific form in one of his last interviews as he sums up Bowie’s talent at that ancient art: “Dreadful.”

Through it all, as doors keep getting slammed in his Pierrot-painted face, the Laughing Gnome runs giggling to oblivion, and nothing ever quite succeeds, the theme becomes Bowie’s sheer, superhuman determination to keep going, his otherworldly conviction that it is leading somewhere. This is a fully fascinating thing, as engrossing as Whatley’s other Bowie films, and it left me hoping he might yet return to explore those difficult 1980s-90s: David Bowie – The Uncool Years. It could be the weirdest of them all.



Africa With Ade Adepitan

9pm, BBC Two

This four-part series follows the presenter and athlete as he travels through the continent to consider how modern Africa is changing. Some forecasts suggest that, over the next 50 years, economic growth may transform some African nations into Asian-style superpowers. Yet for other countries, challenges around conflict and poverty look set to remain. Adepitan’s journey begins in Cape Verde, an area whose windswept beauty masks dangers: on the island of Fogo, a community lives in the shadow of an active volcano whose last eruption left half the village buried in lava. Tonight’s trip then moves east, through Senegal, to Ivory Coast, where he meets footballers hoping to play in Europe’s biggest leagues, and finally, Nigeria, the country Adeptian was born in. There he meets some old friends, who, like him, are polio survivors, playing para soccer on the streets of Lagos.


Don McCullin: Looking For England

9pm, BBC Four

One of the greatest photographers Britain has produced, McCullin, whose career began in 1959, is perhaps known best for his war work, covering conflicts and crises from Vietnam to Palestine. But he has devoted as much time over the past 60 years to documenting life in the UK, especially as experienced by the impoverished and downtrodden. In this evocative film, the 83-year-old sets out on a journey from inner city to damp seaside town, revisiting old haunts including the East End of London, Bradford, Consett, Eastbourne and Scarborough, trying to get some handle on where the country is today, how it has changed, and how it has not. Along the way he encounters the homeless and the addicted, as well as characters at the Glyndebourne Festival, and the members of a hunt and the saboteur group out to disrupt them.


Martin Clunes: Islands Of America

9pm, STV

I can’t think of a single good reason why you wouldn’t want to make a four-part travel documentary in which Martin Clunes gets sent off on a 10,000-mile tour of the islands off the coast of America. Sure, I can’t think of any particularly pressing single good reason why you would want to do it, either. But, listen, the big guy’s got to eat, and it gets him out of the house when he’s not starring in true crime dramas or doing Doc Martin. Clunes, not looking at all shameless, begins his journey in Hawaii, where he meets a live volcano in the process of erupting dangerously, and looks amazed by it. From here, it’s off to Alaska – where else would Martin Clunes go? – where he meets some snow, and, from a distance, some big bears and their cubs.


Das Boot

9pm, Sky Atlantic

This handsomely mounted new drama isn’t a remake of Das Boot – the excellent German movie and TV series about a Second World War U-boat, which became a phenomenon in the early 1980s – because that would be a bad idea. Instead, it’s a sequel, once again based on the novels by Lothar-Günther Buchheim, but following a different submarine’s crew through further travails. The story begins in 1942, as a new boat prepares to leave the German base at La Rochelle in France. This time out, the narrative covers not only the tense, claustrophobic submarine stuff, but also opens up to include the activities on land around the naval base, including black-market drug deals, and the operations of the French resistance. Among the cast, Rick Okon has the challenge of stepping into Jürgen Prochnow’s old boots as the sub’s new Kapitänleutnant.


Our Classical Century: In War And Peace

9pm, BBC Four

The BBC’s intermittent music documentary returns with a film that sees presenters Suzy Klein and John Simpson considering the period 1936-1953, with a particular focus on classical music’s role in the bolstering British resolve during the Second World War. Simpson explores rare archive footage of morale-boosting wartime National Gallery concerts by pianist Myra Hess, as well as the dramatic arrival of Shostakovich’s stirring and defiant Leningrad Symphony, with its first performance at the BBC Proms in 1942. Following the war, classical music continued to be employed propagandistically, to help soothe the way through rationing and revival, with Benjamin Britten creating The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Klein also considers how a showcase of music was a vital part of the pomp and circumstance around the coronation of Queen Elizbeth II in 1953.


The Defiant Ones

10pm, BBC Four

Made for HBO, this lively six-part documentary explores the once unlikely-seeming friendship and business bond that bloomed between two men from very different parts of the music universe: rap innovator Dr Dre, and old-school rock producer Jimmy Iovine. When they eventually gravitated toward each other in the 1990s, their partnership would go on to result in one of the biggest deals in music history: the 2015 sale of Beats Electronics to Apple for $3 billion. But the series begins by charting their individual careers. Brooklyn boy Iovine worked his way up by getting a job answering phones in New York recording studios, before connecting with musicians like Lennon, Springsteen and Patti Smith in the 1970s. Dre’s began over on the west coast, in 1980s LA, when he hooked up with Eazy-E, Ice Cube and the other members of Compton’s genre-defining gangsta-rap outfit NWA.