The best way for a tourist to see Great Britain would be to have Queen Elizabeth and her family show him around. They know quit a bit about the history, they tell it rather well (in the queen's English), and they have many beautiful things to show.
Unlike some of her peers, so to speak, the queen has not yet attempted to balance the budget by offering herself generally as a guide. But she and her family do so in a television series, "Royal Heritage," made by the British Broadcasting Company and to be shown here for nine weeks beginning tonight at 8 on WETA (Channel 26) with a repeat on Thursday at 1 p.m.
It opens with Queen Elizabeth showing you her crown, making sure that you notice the better stones. She also tells you what she uses it for.
Then you go on to look around the house, the houses, the palaces, the castles, the abbeys. All are chock full of the loot of the centuries: paintings, carriages, furniture, china, jewelry, sculpture. The family holds objects up, the cameras race through vast hallways, and you know you are only skimming the marble surface.
Sir Huw Wheldon, the former managing director of BBC television, fills in between the royals as narrator for the series, which he wrote with historian J. H. Plumb. Bits of historical gossip twinkle here and there like the treasures.
But what it adds up to is neither history nor art history. In the first show, "The Medieval Kings," you jump around among Edwards and Henrys with little attempt at historical sequence; King John, for instance, never happens to come up at all because Magna Carta is not on this tour.
There is no time to linger on any particular works of art. This is a family that owns almost 1,000 Leonardo da Vinci drawings and most of the Holbein and Van Dyke market, after all.
But it is marvelous tourism. You not only get talked to by Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Princess Anne and the Queen Mother, but you watch them go about their ceremonial business, and you see such delicious details as their dinner table set for guests.
Sir Huw is not an undistinguished companion, either, and he delights-and-amazes with such things as surmising that you thought George III was simply a gross madman who lost America, and then trotting out for you that king's exquisite architectural drawings and thorough collection of clocks.
And it's the souvenir tidbits, of gossip and glimpses, that make any trip memorable.