A collection of short (10-20 minute) programs from the hugely popular ITV series "Out of Town" hosted by Eric Robson (and his "dog on a string" Raq), "Secret Places" offers a fascinating potpourri of tours and historical glimpses into the byways and forgotten stories of northern England, mainly Yorkshire and Durham. Among the "secret" places: a waterfall in the back yard of a pub ("D. Mark Thompson, Innkeeper and Waterfall Provider," announces the sign); Hardraw Force, at 100 feet the highest single drop waterfall in Britain; Greta Bridge, whose notorious Victorian-era boys school was visited by Charles Dickens and transformed into Dotheboys school in "Nicholas Nickelby" (the real-life headmaster William Shaw served as the model for the tyrannical Wackford Squeers); and the vast limestone formations of the Ingleborough Cave outside Clapham in North Yorkshire.
From a highway overpass in Durham, Robson gives us a blow-by-blow description of The Battle of Neville's Cross in 1346, a failed Scottish invasion of Northern England, an episode in the 100 Years War between England and France. We also meet some colorful characters from the long-forgotten history of this area, including the hapless James Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater, executed for treason in 1716 for his role in the failed Jacobite Rebellion, and Reginald Farrer, considered "the "father of the English rock garden," a botanist who travelled widely in Asia, bringing back plants to his estate in Yorkshire.
Viewers turned into this TV series as much for the genial company of Robson and Raq, as for the local attractions presented. Whenever the man gets too serious for his own good, the dog cuts him down to size. Commenting on the social distinctions (reflected in archival photos) between the iron miners who provided the "industrial might" of Skinningrove and the "Victorian frippery" of the well-to-do beachgoers in Saltburn-by-the-Sea, Robson declares that he prefers "the blood and guts" of the one to the "candy floss" of the other. Observes Raq: "And there'll be further reading of Karl Marx by the seaside at the same time next week."
In the Weardale sequence, Robson offers his commentary as a series of "modules," on which viewers will later be quizzed. At one point, unable to maintain a straight face as he advises viewers on when not to dry your underpants on the hotel radiator, he cracks up into a fit of helpless laughter before composing himself for a re-take. He offers meta-commentary on tricks of the trade, such as how TV professionals like him provide visual continuity--as in, "My, how the weather has changed!" And of course, it wouldn't be Robson without the occasional cantankerousness: an abandoned Diet Coke can provokes some thoughts on "walkers I don't like." Besides litterers, they include Wainwright baggers, "Corbett baggers, Munro baggers, led to the top of the hill like trainspotters with altitude, putting silly ticks in their little books, not drinking in the landscape around them, as they should."
Larry B | Ventura, California | October 2018