Dome sweet dome


There are many different ways to create a decent travel show and Kevin McCloud’s Grand Tour (TV3, Saturdays, 7.30pm) merely provides more evidence of that.

The man who brought us Grand Designs and Grand Designs Revisited, last year branched out from his role as the Trinny and Susannah of residential homes to star in a Channel 4 show that was part travelogue, part history lesson, and part architectural journey.

Now playing in New Zealand, the gist of McCloud’s assignment was to recreate the journey of the 18th century aristocratic upstarts who used to embark on their “OE” in western Europe, in what was a rite of passage known as the “grand tour”.

As a premise for a travel programme, Grand Tour works wonderfully well. Last week’s episode saw McCloud picking his way through Florence and Rome, following the path used by early English architects as they sought inspiration from the works of the Renaissance.

The history lesson involved the career of English architect Sir Christopher Wren, who relied on the experience of friends and his own grand tour when charged with rebuilding 50 churches and St Paul’s Cathedral after London’s Great Fire of 1666.

Apparently, if you wanted domes in the 1700s, you went to places such as Florence to study buildings such as Filippo Brunelleschi’s Santa Maria del Fiore, or Rome for a peek at the magnificence of St Peter’s Basilica.

And, as is the norm in these shows, there is signature transport provided for the host. Michael Palin had a hot air balloon, Billy Connolly a three-wheel motorbike and Stephen Fry a black London Cab.

McCloud gets around the roads of Italy in a red, vintage Fiat 500.

Grand Tour’s most compelling feature? It would have to be the sense of realism that a viewer receives from the splendid camera work. It’s almost like being there – not always a comfortable sensation when you have McCloud climbing 400 feet inside the Santa Maria del Fiore dome.

For someone not happy about heights, and The Remote includes himself in this category, the effect of the camerawork as viewed from McCloud’s precarious position wasn’t just vertigo-inducing, it was the sort of thing likely to cause a constriction in the chest.

There was also time to explore what McCloud described as the first great dome of the western world, the Pantheon, built in Rome in AD126 and, remarkably, still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.

This week’s episode continues McCloud’s experiences in Rome, where he retraces the steps of influential 18th century neo-classical architect Robert Adam. Look out for Hadrian’s Villa, the Colosseum, the Forum, a journey to the top of Vesuvius, and a visit to the sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

I know, it’s hardly the first show to play off the back of the grand tour theme, following the art history initiatives, Sister Wendy’s Grand Tour on Channel 4 in 1998, and Brian Sewell’s Grand Tour on Channel Five in 2005.

But to give Kevin McCloud his dues, this version is well worth watching.