Sometimes I am bewildered by the BBC’s incessant repeats, their arguably dumbed-down factual programming and their fixation with dance-related shows. Top Dogs on BBC2, however, is a reminder of how good BBC programming can be when they get it right.
Not a preview of Crufts, but a three-part documentary series teaming together three British icons of adventure and endeavour; namely John Simpson, the BBC’s foreign correspondent who is never far from flying bullets, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first man to sail solo around the world, and the inimitable Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the tough-as-nails arctic explorer.
Each episode sees one member of the team taking the lead and demonstrating to their sixty-something chums what it’s like to operate under the conditions they are renowned for. The first episode takes place in Afghanistan, as John Simpson escorts them deep into Taliban territory in search of news to report. If that wasn’t hair raising enough, the second episode puts them into Knox-Johnston’s realm as they sail around Cape Horn in South America, the most dangerous coastline in the world. And to round off this entertaining series, the last episode to be broadcast on Friday 17th April, will throw the team into the terrain of Ran Feinnes as they attempt to cross the Canadian arctic on foot.
Whoever dreamt up this series deserves a pat on the back. A documentary about any one of these men would be interesting, but to lump them all together is inspired programming. They are remarkable chaps with fascinating lives and it’s a joy to see them facing new challenges and learning a little about an area they are unfamiliar with. What’s notable is how humbled they are of each other’s endeavours. Fiennes, despite having served eight years in the army with a spell in the SAS, is still in awe of Simpson’s bravery as he continues to venture into war torn territories in the name of good journalism. Likewise, Simpson is deeply respectful of the hardened life that Knox-Johnston has led and admires the fact that at the age of 67, he is still fitter and tougher than many of his younger yachting counterparts. And he’ll need to be fit, as one can only imagine how they will deal with a trek through the arctic with our greatest living explorer, the man who suffered a heart attack only to run seven marathons in seven days just four months after his triple bypass operation. No wonder Fiennes is a living legend. Together, they make an inspirational team, and if you thought that a life of excitement ends with retirement at 65, you only need to take one look at these men to know that’s not true.
A captivating derring-do series and we’re looking forward to the last episode. The previous episodes can be viewed on the BBC iPlayer.
Top Dogs: Adventures in War, Sea and Ice. Last episode airs at 9pm, Friday 17th April on BBC2.