<i>Barry Humphries' Flashbacks</i> takes a wry look at Australian history.

Barry Humphries' Flashbacks takes a wry look at Australian history. Photo: Mick Tsikas

Saturday, January 26

Barry Humphries' Flashbacks, 7Two, 2pm

GIVEN it's Australia Day, it would be unpatriotic to ignore this selection of Humphries's nostalgic series - four episodes in a row, in fact. First shown on the ABC in 2007, this series takes us - in Humphries' inimitable style - back through some of our nation's pivotal moments to show how they might have happened. On call to interpret the past are Dame Edna Everage, Sir Les Patterson and Sandy Stone, with the former offering critiques on all things fashion (of course), the latter looking at the events that affected our home life (the first lamington, for example), and Sir Les his usual bellicose self, dissecting the foibles of our politicians. Despite the fact some of the information here is questionable, or at least we hope it is, particularly Patterson's rantings, there's actually a lot to learn about Australia in each episode. Filled with archival footage, and with a soundtrack to match, these are good, fun history lessons with a healthy splash of irreverence thrown in. Entirely appropriate for the occasion.

The True Story: Master and Commander, ABC2, 7.30pm

MASTER and Commander: The Far Side of the World was a rollicking 2003 film starring Russell Crowe, directed by acclaimed Australian director Peter Weir. Tonight's episode of The True Story explores the series of books by Patrick O'Brian on which the film was based, and the real-life events that inspired the writer. In the early 19th century the high seas were where it was at, militarily speaking, and the bigger the boat, the more chance of victory in battle. However, battles were still fought between mismatched navies, and many a head or leg was lost to shrapnel from an incoming cannonball. With no anaesthetic, the injured sailor was taken below to have his shattered limb sawn off with not much more than a butcher's knife. Most did not survive. An animal carcass is used to demonstrate how operations were carried out, but for viewers who are the least bit squeamish, the program still makes for confronting viewing. There is a somewhat pompous narrator, but it does provide an interesting history lesson nevertheless.

SCOTT ELLIS

 

Sunday, January 27

Restoration Home, ABC1, 7.30pm

SOLICITOR Polly Grieff has a jolly large dining table, and she wants a new house that will be big enough to accommodate it. So, naturally, she chooses a crumbling 16th-century Norfolk manor made from timber and mud and infested with deathwatch beetle and woodworm. Quite plainly, she is bonkers - which is what makes this episode such compelling viewing. For anyone who has renovated a home, it is hard to resist the waves of schadenfreude as we watch the builders uncover more and more problems with a building that, on closer examination, makes the handiwork of Little Pig No.1 look like a substantial residence. But there's no holding Polly and her French husband Erich, who have fallen in love with their manor. ''She's like a little old lady waiting for a facelift,'' says the woman who would be to the manor born. From that moment, we know both she and her bank account are doomed. How can Restoration Home fail? It combines the best of Grand Designs with Escape to the Country and adds in a hint of Time Team, all held together by the no-nonsense presence of Caroline Quentin, herself well on her way to being listed as a national treasure.

History Cold Case - Stirling Man, SBS One, 7.30pm

A BOX of bones, including a skull with a very nasty indentation that would surely have given its owner one hell of a headache, is the starting point for this historical detective story. The remains belong to a man buried in Stirling Castle in Scotland some time in the 15th century. The self-imposed task of the team of experts is to find out who the mystery man was and how he died. Led by forensic anthropologist Xanthe Mallett, and using research techniques ranging from carbon-dating to computer reconstructions, the team gradually builds a picture of the man's life and death. This is history for the CSI generation, complete with excitable voice over, dramatic music and dizzying aerial camera footage. The science is skated over quickly in favour of the ''narrative'', raising the question of whether such a fascinating topic really needs tricking up. Still, if that's what it takes to get viewers - particularly younger ones - interested in history and science, it can't be a bad thing.

Upstairs Downstairs, ABC1, 8.30pm

THE new UpDown was always going to suffer comparisons, both with the wildly successful Downton Abbey and also, for those of us of a certain vintage, with the original series. It matches up to neither (although, I freely admit I may well be looking back on the original with a fondness born of nostalgia). It's not that it's all that bad, with plenty of stiff-upper-lippery upstairs and baser intrigue in the servants' hall, but somehow the script and story fail to convince.

NICK GALVIN