The arresting sight of Sister Wendy Beckett - all teeth and glasses - burst on to our screens in the 1990’s. An instant star, she glided around the world in her habit telling us the story of painting. But she revealed nothing of her own, extraordinary story. Was she in fact a real nun? How did she know so much about art? And how could this consecrated virgin and hermit justify appearing on television and keep her rule of silence?
Arena goes in search of the ‘real’ Wendy, who, at 82, talks frankly and humourously about her life – and death (“not too long now, I hope!”) for the first time. The film's director, Randall Wright, met Wendy over 20 years ago, living in a caravan in the middle of a wood, abiding by a strict timetable of nightly prayer. That meeting led to her hugely popular TV programmes, but while they told us a great deal about art they told us little about her. Now Wright revisits Sister Wendy to offer her the chance to make a film on her own terms.
Her Carmelite monastery gave Arena unprecedented access to their grounds in Quidenham, Norfolk, where Sister Wendy still follows her strict and eccentric regime: praying every night for six hours from midnight, then joining the other Sisters for mass via electric scooter. Sister Rachael is the former prioress at the monastery: “I would say if you expressed it in the old jargon, she could read souls.”
Typically, Sister Wendy set her own unusual ground rules for the programme: she would – albeit reluctantly - talk about her own life, but also wanted to share with us a carefully chosen selection of paintings by the greatest old masters – mostly in the National Gallery and Louvre – in an attempt to connect us to the big emotional insights in the Gospel stories they depict. These are the stories that are at the core of her faith and have formed her unique rebellious spirit. Yet these same stories - that were once universally familiar - and formed the moral template of Western civilisation – are now largely forgotten.
“I have noticed it in museums,” she says: “People looking at the kind of Christian stories that they would have been told in Sunday school in the past. Now they just don’t know.”
As we rediscover both the stories and the paintings, we also discover how Wendy found God, aged four, sitting under a table. How she left her parents aged 16 – without a backward glance - to become a nun. She tells us she has never experienced sexual feelings, and so felt being a nun was no real sacrifice. She reveals how her first job, as a teaching nun, led to a physical and nervous breakdown. And how living as a hermit ironically gave her the strength to face the outside world again, and encourage people towards the beauty of art.
Carols From Kings
This traditional celebration of the birth of Christ is the television programme that for many marks the true start of Christmas. The sight and sound of a lone choirboy singing Once in Royal David's City amid the candlelit, fan-vaulted splendour of the Chapel of King's College, Cambridge is the beginning of a feast of Christmas words and music.
The Christmas story is told in the words of the King James' Bible and in poems by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), William Austin (1587-1634) and Laurie Lee (1914-1997).
The world-famous Chapel Choir, under the direction of Stephen Cleobury, sing carols old and new, including: Once in Royal David’s City, Good Christian Men, Rejoice, The Angel Gabriel, Joys Seven, I Sing Of A Maiden, Ding Dong Merrily On High, It Came Upon The Midnight Clear, Cherry Tree Carol, Away In A Manger, Three Angels, The Holly And The Ivy, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, We Three Kings, In The Bleak Midwinter, Silent Night, Nowell, Nowell (Sir Christemas), Love Came Down At Christmas, All Bells in Paradise (a new carol by John Rutter) and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Director of Music: Stephen Cleobury; Dean: The Rev. Dr Jeremy Morris
Climbed Every Mountain
In Climbed Every Mountain, Sue Perkins tells the astonishing true story behind the real Von Trapp family, portrayed almost 50 years ago in one of the most popular films ever made, The Sound Of Music.
The 1965 blockbuster starring Julie Andrews has been seen by over a billion people and continues to captivate generation after generation with its unique message of love and innocence. However, Salzburg, where the story began, has only now hosted its first ever performance of the musical.
The documentary follows Sue Perkins to Austria to discover why the city seems to resent the film that put it on the map. She meets locals with memories of Maria Von Trapp and discovers her astonishing drive and determination that drove the family to become a travelling singing troop living on a tour bus for 22 weeks of the year.
She meets Nicholas Hammond who played Friedrich whose life has continued to be defined by the movie, and she travels to New York and to Stowe in Vermont where the family settled to recreate a little bit of Austria of their own at the Trapp Family Lodge and is privileged to meet 98 year old Maria von Trapp who is the last surviving member of the original seven children.
The film includes rare and unseen footage from the 1950s, as well as beautiful home movies shot during the filming of the movie itself.
Christmas is big business. In December 2011 our retail spend was 40 billion pounds, an increase of 10 billion pounds since 2000. So it’s no surprise that Christmas drives thousands of entrepreneurs to create new ideas and innovative businesses, aiming to cash in on the large profits up for grabs at this time of year. And if there’s money to be made, the Dragons are always nearby.
This year for the first time the Den opens its doors purely for commerce at Christmas. Nine entrepreneurs representing six businesses will descend the stairs and pitch their festive businesses in the hope of securing a much needed cash injection from the five multimillionaires.
Alongside normal Den proceedings, there will be business insight into this interesting and unique trading period and how this changes an entrepreneur’s and investor’s approach, as well as revealing the pitfalls that can also come with seasonal success.
Following on from the Den we’ll catch up with a few of the entrepreneurs, some who succeeded in gaining the Dragons’ support and some who did not. Will they be this year’s festive hit? Or will this most competitive of trading times have swallowed them up and had them for Christmas dinner?
Goodbye To Canterbury
On the eve of his retirement as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams gives BBC Two an exclusive insight into his thoughts after 10 years in one of the toughest jobs in Britain.
Goodbye To Canterbury reveals how the art and architecture of Canterbury Cathedral have been a spiritual touchstone throughout his ministry; how ancient stones and relics are signposts in the modern world; and what this extraordinary building has to teach his successors.
The Archbishop reveals how the struggle between the established Catholic church and the new forces of the Reformation shaped the cathedral and, even today, mean it is a divided building. He also reveals how the brave deeds of the ordinary people of Canterbury saved their church from the carpet bombing of the Luftwaffe in 1942 – and most recently, how the ancient stones have taught him how to respond to the pressures of being a modern Archbishop.
This is a journey through 2000 years of English art and architecture: most spectacularly, the exotic tombs of his predecessors, the Archbishops’ throne itself, the oldest illustrated book in England, a casket that once held remains of the most famous saint in the medieval world, and the Miracle Windows showing pilgrims restored to health.
Most importantly, the Archbishop reveals how the tensions between Church and State (which led to the murder of an archbishop in 1170, inside the cathedral) continue today as both the cathedral building and the individual holding the office of Archbishop must struggle to resolve twin loyalties to country and to God.
As Archbishop Williams asserts: “This is the mother church of England… throughout history, any battle about how this space was going to be used was in part a battle for the very soul of England… even today, it is the point of intersection between the kingdom of God, the values of God, and all the skill, the art, the problems, the politics of human beings.”
James May's Toy Stories: Flight Club
In this epic Toy Stories Christmas Special, James May gets to the heart of the nation’s childhood love-affair with the model plane, and sets out to achieve what seems an impossible dream: the first cross channel flight ever achieved by an engineless, homemade supersized toy. If it survives the perilous 22-mile journey, James’s classic toy glider lovingly built from over 1,000 pieces of balsa will smash the British distance record.
Underpinned throughout by James’s own infectious passion for flight, his mission is dedicated to making the dream of flight come true for the generations of children who, like James himself, slaved for hours over balsa and glue only to see their fragile and much-loved planes smash tragically onto the unyielding concrete of reality.
During his quest, James turns Indiana Jones to unearth surprising new evidence that identifies children as the true pioneers of flight, and wrestles with an underperforming glider that threatens to barely leave the ground. From a visit to a mysterious and barely inhabited island to helicopters lost in the fog and missing speedboats, Flight Club is an epic journey into the unexpected, culminating in a thrilling and visually stunning last throw of the dice.
Queen Victoria’s Children
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert shared a passionate marriage and historians claim that behind closed doors their domestic life was a battlefield.
Spanning 60 years, this three-part family saga explores the reign of Victoria through her personal relationships with her husband and her nine children. It is a story of manipulation, conflict, intimidation, emotional blackmail and fevered attempts by her children to escape the clutches of their domineering and needy mother.
The series uses a wealth of written material and photos left by Victoria, Albert and her children – including letters, diaries, memoirs, and journals – to bring the subject and characters to life.
This first episode focuses on Victoria’s tempestuous relationship with Prince Albert and their attempts to engineer the upbringing of their children and to save the monarchy by projecting a modern image of the royal family.
This second episode concentrates on Victoria’s relationship with her daughters. It looks at how, after Albert’s death, Victoria clung to and bullied them and arranged their marriages. In response, the princesses fought back, becoming unlikely champions of female independence.
This final episode focuses on Victoria’s relationship with her sons, and how after Albert’s death, they struggled to assert themselves from beneath their father’s shadow. It explores Victoria’s difficult relationship with her eldest son Bertie, who she blamed for Albert’s death, believing his sexual indiscretions to have fatally weakened her husband. It also examines her relationship with her son Leopold, the physically weak but spirited haemophiliac, who put up the most determined effort to break free from his mother’s control.
Racing Legends follows three high-profile car enthusiasts as they retrace the steps of Great British racing legends.
Through a combination of revealing interviews and fascinating archive footage, each celebrity fan will pay tribute to the racing legend by spending time with them and the people who knew them best. They’ll learn about the vehicles they drove and the engineering they employed, and they’ll try to understand what put them in pole position. Their ultimate mission: to emulate the legend by re-enacting one of their greatest-ever races, in a rare classic car. With the original team of mechanics re-assembled, and the racetracks re-opened, this is the enthusiasts’ opportunity to remind the world just how special the racing legend really was.
Former Captain of the USS Enterprise and renowned Shakespearian actor, Sir Patrick Stewart tells the enthralling story of Sir Stirling Moss’s glittering race career. The pair travel to Florence in a classic Mercedes to retrace the route of Italy’s most famous road race – the Mille Miglia – and discuss how Stirling’s near-fatal crash may have been the best thing that ever happened to him.
But how will Sir Patrick cope when he drives a 1957 Formula 1 car at the scene of Stirling’s historic British Grand Prix victory?
Olympic hero Sir Chris Hoy tells the story of Britain’s first-ever World Rally Champion, Colin McRae.
Along with Colin’s father, Jimmy – himself a five-time British Rally Champion – Sir Chris visits the scenes of Colin’s greatest triumphs. From exploring Colin’s roots as a Scottish trials bikes champ to driving the route of the Dakar rally over the dunes of the Sahara desert, Sir Chris retraces Colin’s wide-ranging career.
His father Jimmy speaks movingly about the tragic accident that claimed his son’s life, and the pride he has in his many successes.
Finally, Sir Chris faces driving the iconic Subaru Impreza over a stage of the RAC Rally, home of Colin’s famous 1995 victory.
Chef and host of BBC One’s Saturday Kitchen, James Martin tells the story of one of Britain’s greatest ever motor racing drivers, Sir Jackie Stewart.
The pair take a road-trip through the Alps in a classic supercar to re-trace the life of Seventies icon, before self-confessed motor-racing fanatic James discovers how Sir Jackie’s relentless safety crusade lives on in the Formula 1 cars of today.
But will James prove himself capable of driving one of Sir Jackie’s Grand Prix-winning cars around the Formula 1 circuit in Monza?
Alfred Hitchcock was at the height of his fame and creativity when, in 1962, he chose an unknown fashion model to star in his most ambitious film - The Birds.
But as he sculpted Tippi Hedren into the perfect Hitchcock blonde of his imagination, he became obsessed with the impossible dream of winning the real woman’s love.
His failure pitched them both into an emotional nightmare and damaged both of their careers. Screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes has interviewed Tippi Hedren and surviving members of Hitchcock’s crew.
This film tells their full tragic story for the first time.
Alfred Hitchcock is played by Toby Jones, Tippi Hedren by Sienna Miller, Alma Hitchcock by Imelda Staunton and Peggy Robertson by Penelope Wilton.
The Sarah Millican Television Programme
Sarah Millican returns to BBC Two for a Christmas Special of her hit comedy series, The Sarah Millican Television Programme.
The award-winning comedian combines brilliant stand-up, inspired by what she has seen on screen, and her unique interviews with some of her favourite TV stars.
To celebrate the festive season Sarah is joined by Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville and EastEnder Shane Richie.
The Choir - Military Wives Revisited
In February 2011 Gareth Malone went to the Military Base at Chivenor to set up a choir for the wives who are left at home alone, while their men are on duty for months at a time. In this film Gareth goes back to the small chapel where he first started the choir that was to change their lives and those of military wives all over the world.
We hear from Gareth and key members of the choir as they reflect on their extraordinary journey culminating in their performance at The Royal Albert Hall, of a song specially written by Royal composer Paul Mealor. This seemed like the pinnacle of their achievements, but the film shows how this the beginning of something much bigger. We see the women as they embark upon launching what was to become a No.1 Christmas single, as they visit 10 Downing Street, perform at the Golden Jubilee and then win a Classical Brit.
We also hear of the legacy of the Choir with the setting up of a charitable foundation that provides the support for a growing network of over 60 military wives choirs in bases across the UK, Europe and the Falkland Islands.
As soloist Sam says at the end: “This was Gareth’s dream and it came true and not many people can say their dreams have come true in life. I don’t even think I could express to Gareth how grateful we all are for it, it’s just, he’s really changed our lives.”
Producer/Directors: Steve Jones and Anna Sadowy; Executive Producers: Alannah Richardson and Lucy Hillman