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Dreaming the Impossible: Unbuilt Britain

Mon Aug 26, 9-10pm, BBC4

Series one, episode three
As ‘Bullseye’s’ Jim Bowen used to say, ‘let’s have a look at what you would have won.’ This absorbing series concludes by investigating two British cities, both of which have, for differing reasons, needed serious re-imagining at various points in their histories.

One of them is, of course, our beloved London which was burned to the ground in 1666. Three competing plans were submitted, the most convincing by Christopher Wren. Eventually, expediency trumped all of them; while the architects were bickering, ordinary Londoners were living in sheds and the city’s economy was atrophying. Still, Wren’s design looks beautiful and remains a tantalising glimpse of what might have been – in the end he had to content himself with building some church or other.

Then there’s post-war, slum-riddled Glasgow which had to choose between modernist starkness and simple expansion into new towns. The trick to Olivia Horsfall Turner’s series has been to render these pipe dreams meaningful in spite of their failure to reach fruition. What we build is what we are, but what we consider building is what we aspire to be. And the future is unwritten…