Saturday 29 October 2016

Alexander's good company in the Rome he loves

Published 07/06/2015 | 02:30

Alexander Armstrong
Alexander Armstrong

Posh but affable, Alexander Armstrong has featured as host of BBC1's Have I Got News For You? more than anyone since the heyday of the dismissed, and now almost forgotten, Angus Deayton.

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He's also been the genial host of the teatime BBC1 quiz show, Pointless, since its inception in 2009, and if I've nothing better to do at that time of the day. I often switch it on, both for its ingenious format and for the easy banter between Armstrong and answer-boffin Richard Osman, who've been friends since their college days at Cambridge.

And this week, he brought a boyish sense of wonder to Rome's Invisible City (BBC1), in which he began by declaring: "I love Rome. Of all the places in the world, this is my favourite."

Over the last decade or so, it's becoming mine too (even threatening to supplant Paris in my affections), and like Armstrong, I feel "newly bewitched" each time I visit it, though he was able to make an extra claim for it: "I even had my honeymoon here."

Yet the film was somewhat frustrating, given that its aim was to reveal the "secret underground powerhouse" that has made living in this great city possible for its inhabitants over two millennia.

Much of this was fascinating, with oodles of information about catacombs, lift shafts and subterranean acqueducts provided by Armstrong's chosen expert Michael Scott, and with very helpful 3D graphics too, but after a while I hankered to hear Armstrong enthusing about the Rome I do know - the enchanting one that's over ground.

Still, I'd infinitely prefer to spend time in Armstrong's company rather than that of historian Dan Snow, who's a little too much of the gung-ho and superior Brit for my liking. And thus, while for much of the three-part Armada (BBC2) Britannia hasn't been ruling the waves, there are constant shots of the condescending Snow at the helm of his yacht as he relates how the perfidious Catholics of Philip II's Spain attempted to defeat the noble Protestants of Elizabeth's England.

And, of course, in next week's final episode, the Brits win out. Yeah, whatever.

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