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CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night's TV: Oil rig giant that rose

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Oil rig giant that rose from the sea like the Eiffel Tower on steroids

Rigs of Nigg

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The Gilded Age 

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Every now and then, flicking through channels, you find your attention grabbed by some documentary you would never dream of sitting down to watch on purpose. And it turns out to be the most interesting thing you’ve seen in yonks.

Rigs Of Nigg (BBC4) traced the construction of a colossal North Sea oil drilling platform, from the first decision to build at a remote beach, Nigg Bay, 35 miles from Inverness, to the moment the Queen pressed a ceremonial button and the liquid wealth started to flow ashore.

No, that summary wouldn’t have me reaching to set the recorder either. But from the opening snatches of home cine film, showing the coastline before the Texans arrived, I was gripped.

Rigs Of Nigg (BBC4) traced the construction of a colossal North Sea oil drilling platform, from the first decision to build at a remote beach, Nigg Bay, 35 miles from Inverness

With the discovery of oil below the seabed in the 1960s, the race was on to put together the biggest Meccano kit ever conceived — 34,000 tons of criss-crossing steel girders called Highland One.

Like the Eiffel Tower on steroids, it was designed to stand on the sea floor with its tip poking up above the waves, as an offshore workstation for hundreds of oil-riggers.

The very idea was sheer madness. One good ol’ boy from America’s Deep South, senior engineer Jamie Dunlap, called it, ‘the greatest engineering project of all time, equivalent to a moonshot’.

And it was chiefly done by lads and lasses who, until then, had been scraping a living as farm labourers and fishermen.

Pictured, contributor Craig Mackay, , who is now a photographer but started as a welder apprentice at Nigg

With archive news footage to bring the memories to life, some of the 3,000 construction workers relived their glory years.

‘We were treated like lords. The Americans were a million times better than British foremen,’ said one white-haired fellow, before he added worriedly: ‘Can I say that?’

Teenager Heather Mackay and a friend turned up for interviews wearing miniskirts as a laugh.

They got taken on as welders. Heather discovered she was good at it, though she did once set her hair on fire. ‘Women were better welders than the men,’ she insisted. ‘They were neater — maybe their hands were steadier.’

That wouldn’t be surprising. The pub at Nigg, known as The Piggery, sold 400 bottles of whisky and 5,000 pints a week at its height.

Like the Eiffel Tower on steroids, it was designed to stand on the sea floor with its tip poking up above the waves, as an offshore workstation for hundreds of oil-riggers

‘It could get a bit boisterous,’ remarked one veteran. Workers lived in shanty towns of caravans, on a pair of decommissioned cruise ships; even in World War II pillboxes.

And at the end of the job, they floated that oil rig, built from more metal than the Forth Bridge, out to sea on a barge.

They blasted it into position with dynamite. It’s still there now. Incredible.

The costumes in The Gilded Age (Sky Atlantic) are so cumbersome and ponderous, the actors might need to be blasted into position with dynamite, too.

With the characters immobilised by the weight of their clothes, every scene is as wordy and stagey as a bloated 1940s costume melodrama — The Magnificent Ambersons, for instance.

The costumes in The Gilded Age (Sky Atlantic) are so cumbersome and ponderous, the actors might need to be blasted into position with dynamite, too

Any fun in the story is crushed flat. When orphaned Marian (Louisa Jacobson) was kissed by upstart lawyer Mr Raikes (Thomas Cocquerel), their embrace had all the erotic charge of a welded joint.

Julian Fellowes’s script contains flashes of liveliness — such as the description by one enemy of Bertha Russell (Carrie Coon) as ‘a potato-digger’s daughter’.

Musicals stage star Nathan Lane swaggered to the rescue, with a white moustache and goatee, looking for all the world like Colonel Sanders about to pass round a bucket of fried chicken.

‘Ah doan want the facts, onie the gahhsip!’ he declared.

But he didn’t stick around long. This show needs more Nathan.

Unseen world of the week: ‘This is the reality of life for people who are carers,’ Kate Garraway said, at the start of Caring For Derek (ITV). This account of her family’s long ordeal was not only moving, but a truthful reflection of wider problems that affect millions in Britain.

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