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The discovery involved what one U.K. reviewer described as ‘a small group of variously peculiar and in some cases amateurish historians.’ (University of Leicester/AP)
The discovery involved what one U.K. reviewer described as ‘a small group of variously peculiar and in some cases amateurish historians.’ (University of Leicester/AP)

The madcap story of the king under the lot Add to ...

This weekend, it’s all about matters English. The Royals and stuff. But not that Windsor crowd, with their spouses and popsies who hog the headlines. Nope, not them.

There is a worldwide interest in the history of the kings and queens of England. There are historians and then there is the sort of eccentric fanatic you would dread sitting beside as they drone on about the doings of some chap who has been maligned in history texts. It’s an industry and it’s an obsession.

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Of particular interest to amateur historians are the House of York and the Plantagenet dynasty, much maligned, some would say, by that theatre fellow, one William Shakespeare. We’re talking the 15th century here and the most elusive figure of them all, Richard III, who was England’s king for only two years.

Richard III: King in the Car Park (Sunday, 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBC News Network’s Passionate Eye) is a fascinating, madcap excursion through the story of how the remains of Richard III were finally located by digging under a mundane car park in the unglamorous city of Leicester. (Now promoted to the English Premier League, Leicester’s soccer club might add some glamour to the locality.) The story of how the discovery was made involved what one British reviewer described as “a small group of variously peculiar and in some cases amateurish historians.” Indeed. And that’s what makes it all charming.

The program is presented, in an oddly jocular manner, by Simon Farnaby, a British comedian and actor not known to us over here. He wisecracks, not always with aplomb, through the entire adventure. But that’s okay because the entire story is odd. Mainly it’s about Philippa Langley, described as “a Ricardian” and it turns out that means not so much a scholar as someone obsessed. She invested a very great deal of emotion in the search. We watch as she hears the bad news – to her, anyway – that King Richard’s spine had indeed been curved and that he met a rather horrible death. At times rather manic, the program has the merit of being about a wild goose chase that did, in the end, lead to an important discovery.

And there is a Canadian connection in the end. Help was needed to prove that the Richard found under the car park is, in fact, the Richard of legend and royalty. There’s a touch of CSI, of course, with all the forensic material, and a gallop through the interpretations of Richard as he was imagined by Shakespeare.

A lengthy piece about the program, which ran in The Telegraph in Britain, ended with this intriguing note to readers: “Telegraph Travel offers the Richard III and the War of the Roses tour, operated by Travel Editions, from £299 per person for three days. Offer includes return two nights accommodation with various meals, visits to sites, guided tours with [historian] Julian Humphrys and coach transfers.” This struck me as beguiling – is a Leicester car park on the itinerary now?

 

Also airing this weekend

 

London – The Modern Babylon (Sunday, Documentary channel, 9 p.m.) is astonishing. The visual collage, propelled by pop music, is the work of Julien Temple (Absolute Beginners, The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle) who brings his punk sensibility to the project – a journey through visual imagery of London from the birth of the cinema to recent times. Deliberately rough-hewn and impressionistic, it races from images of Victorian London, through two wars, riots, coronations, protests and celebrations. At times, it’s breathtaking while seeming to make no sense at all.

The 2014 Billboard Music Awards (Sunday, ABC, 8 p.m.) comes from Vegas and gets into the Vegas groove. Lorde, Katy Perry and Justin Timberlake get most of the nominations. Presenting are Grammy-winning rapper and actor Ludacris, Chrissy Teigen, Danica McKeller, Jack Antonoff, Josh Groban, Lucy Hale and Omar Epps. And if you’re not sure who some of them are, ask someone under 30 for help. Or just wait until Shania Twain steps into the shindig, which she has promised to do. Everybody knows her.

All times ET. Check local listings.

Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

 

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