There was one moment of television that stood head and shoulders over all others last year. It came in the final episode of Educating Yorkshire (Channel 4) when English teacher Matthew Burton helped a student, Musharaf Asghar, to overcome his stammer by getting him to recite a Margaret Atwood poem by wearing a pair of headphones. It was a stunning moment of television, one that was far more dramatic and moving than anything in The King's Speech by virtue of it being entirely real and uncontrived. For this scene alone, Educating Yorkshire deserves to walk away with this year's Bafta for best factual series.
It may have been gold-dust but it wasn't pure luck. The producers recorded more than 2,000 hours of film for less than nine hours of screen-time. While this may have opened them up to accusations of tailoring the series to fit the biggest characters and the most exciting story-lines, there was never a hint of a rose-tinted whitewash of the Thornhill Community Academy in Dewsbury. Death, detentions and mega-strops all got air time along the more heart warming scenes of students being unexpectedly nice to each other and achieving better grades than expected.
Best of all, the film made no effort to frame the teachers as either heroes or villains, which is how they are so often portrayed by politicians and the media. Rather, they were allowed to be come across as normal human beings with their on- and off-days. There were bits of their job they liked and bits they didn't. They weren't people who had entered the teaching profession because they were latterday saints, but because they quite enjoyed helping kids achieve their potential.
The pick of the other nominations is Keeping Britain Alive: The NHS in a Day which was a bold and imaginative attempt to convey the sheer size and range of the health service by filming in multiple locations over a 24-hour period. It's only downside was that it all felt a bit familiar. There have been so many hospital documentaries in recent year recording both the brilliance of doctors and nurses and their limitations that there was a sense this series was preaching to the converted. The trick now for documentary-makers is to find new and more interesting ways of telling these stories.
Nominations: Bedlam (Channel 4); Educating Yorkshire (Channel 4); Keeping Britain Alive: The NHS in a Day (BBC2); The Route Masters: Running London's Roads (BBC2)
Many documentaries try to get you to radically rethink the history you thought you knew; most of them hopelessly overstate their claims and fail. One that didn't was Martin Luther King and the March on Washington (BBC2). All too often in the past, the civil rights march has been seen through the prism of the white protesters, such as Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, who supported it, but this film gave sound to many black voices who have hitherto been silent. Not least those who felt that Martin Luther King was not being as radical as required. The biggest surprise was the "I have a dream speech", which still sent shivers down the spine when delivered in King's quavering voice. It turned out that the most quoted part of the speech was something of an afterthought. King had been talking for some time when Mahalia Jackson whispered in his ear: "Tell them about your dream." He did and history was made.
Nominations: David Attenborough's Natural History Museum Alive 3D (Sky); Martin Luther King and the March on Washington (BBC 2); Richard III: The King in the Car Park (Channel 4); The story of the Jews (BBC 2)
Groundbreaking is a word much misused, especially in the media. The Murder Trial (Channel 4) actually lived up to that billing, as for the first time cameras were allowed in court to record a murder trial as it happened. No dramatic reconstructions here: looking into the eyes of Nat Fraser, who was convicted of murdering his wife, really meant looking into the eyes of a killer. Utterly compelling and surprisingly chilling.
Nominations: 28 Up in South Africa (ITV); The Day Kennedy Died (ITV); The Murder Trial (Channel 4): The Unspeakable Crime: Rape (BBC 1)