BBC1 has ‘Africa’. ITV is screening ‘The National Television Awards’. C4 has gone for ‘One Born Every Minute’. And over on BBC4 is a programme every bit as emblematic of its channel’s mission statement as the above three shows are of theirs. But ‘The Model Railway’ Story’ is niche programming to a fault. Even one of the contributors concedes that building model railways is ‘essentially a pointless activity’, and this amounts to an hour-long argument to the contrary. It’s a celebration of the British traditions of superb engineering and scientific advancement. It encourages self-improvement through building things. It’s, er, harmless… In the end, though, whipping up viewers’ enthusiasm for the hobby is a doomed effort, despite the engines of steam’s golden age being objects of beauty even to a casual observer. Of greater interest are the lives of the pioneers – Fabian Society member, pacifist and aesthete Wenman Bassett-Lowke and inveterate inventor Frank Hornby – but this is a fringe affair even by BBC4’s standards.
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