By Jasper Rees
Arthur Williams is an unusual sort of tour guide. A former Royal Marine, he was paralysed in a car crash while on leave and now gets about by wheelchair and, in this globetrotting series, by small prop plane. Flying to the Ends of the Earth (Channel 4) has now had two series of three films, and it’s becoming quicker to list the continents on which he has not yet visited inaccessible communities: Antarctica and, er, that’s about it.
The show must have been originally conceived as an inspirational can-do adventure series in which a war veteran didn’t let his life-changing injury get in the way of daredevil risk-taking. By now, though, the wheelchair is, if not invisible, then barely mentioned.
Mostly Williams just gets on with things, hence footage of him making no fuss in the most rubbly terrain. In this episode he was in Peru, where he blithely slithered down to the bottom of a stonewalled hole in the desert to admire an irrigation system created thousands of years ago.
The idea is that instead of legs he has wings. For anyone who always chooses the window seat on planes (guilty) the series is a direct mailshot. Here were ravishing views of the vast ancient line drawings in the Nazcar desert, the magnificent Andes, the Amazon river and rainforest, and the largest city in the world inaccessible by road.
With that lot to gawp at, it doesn’t really matter that Williams’s reportorial style is 80 per cent grinning and only 20 per cent grilling. In every Peruvian wildernesses he dropped in on, finishing in a remote indigenous tribe who have only lately taken to wearing jeans and T-shirts, he mainly asked the inhabitants if they could imagine living in the city. Overwhelming answer: no.
If there were social problems in the Andean frontier town where gold is mined – alcohol, say, or domestic abuse – they were not mentioned in dispatches. The worst issue in Iquitos, the floating city on stilts, was rubbish, which bobs about in the fast-flowing Amazon in which disease miraculously stays away.
So the National Geographic need hardly look over its shoulder. But even the armchair traveller requires good company, and Williams supplies it. Chocks away for more please.