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TV and radio listings will be updated every Friday
It’s 40 years since pounds, shillings and pence gave way to a decimal system in the UK. Peter Day delves into the archives to see how the country reacted to the change, and economists Peter Jay and Will Hutton discuss whether it contributed to double-digit inflation in the 1970s.
In a four-part series, writer Sebastian Faulks traces the development of the novel in Britain. His first subject is ‘The Hero’ and the characters he considers range from Robinson Crusoe to Martin Amis’s anti-hero in Money, John Self. Contributors include Simon Armitage, John Carey and Robert Harris.
Marking the centenary of Ronald Reagan’s birth, a profile of a man dubbed the ‘Great Communicator’ for his ability to engage the American public. It’s all here: the b-movie career, Reaganomics, the Iran-Contra scandal and the late president’s role in ending the Cold War.
Over ten weekday episodes, Martin Ellis traces the history of the bicycle in Britain. He begins with velocipedes, 19th-century proto-bikes. In other shows, we learn about the importance of Victorian engineering ingenuity to bike development and how cycling was adopted by the upper middle classes.
A series that looks at books as artistic objects begins with two Bibles: the Codex Sinaiticus, which dates from the fourth century, and the illuminated Winchester Bible, created 800 years later. Followed by Birth Of The British Novel (9.00pm, BBC Four), which finds author Henry Hitchings exploring the evolution of the novel in the 18th century.
Over three episodes, Edward Stourton explores the history of the channel and busy shipping route that separates Europe and Asia. Down the centuries, we learn, the Bosphrous has all too often been a flashpoint between different cultures, but it’s also been an inspiration to artists and writers.
Neil Oliver tells the story of Britain and its people in the millennia before the Romans arrived. It’s an epic undertaking that begins with Oliver viewing traces of hunter-gatherers, such as the 8,000-year-old footprints that he sees beneath Welsh tidal mudbanks. Excellent.
Alastair Sooke looks at three ‘golden ages’ of British sculpture, starting with the Norman era and the glories of the invaders’ ecclesiastical buildings. Look out too for Fig Leaf: The Biggest Cover-Up In History (BBC Four, Thursday 10 February, 9pm), which considers the interaction between greenery, human nether-regions and western art.
Historian Adrian Goldsworthy explores Julius Caesar’s rise to power and his conquest of Gaul. Over on Channel 4, Rome Wasn’t Built in A Day (9.00pm), which eavesdrops on a project to build a Roman villa using only Roman construction methods, continues. This week: the roof – and a huge phallus to bring fertility and luck.
In 1969, Desmond Dekker hit the top of the charts with Israelites, the first ska number one in the UK. From here, as a superb documentary that traces the history of reggae in the UK explores, there was no going back. BBC Four’s reggae season continues with Rocksteady: The Roots Of Reggae (Sunday 13 February, 9.00pm).