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Channel 5 head into the sewers of Britain

Channel 5

Channel 5 head into the sewers of Britain

With the disgraceful recent news of Thames Water – just one of many privatised utility services that put profit before service, Channel 5 timely look down some drains…

Tonight take a deep dive into the hidden secrets of one of our oldest, and most crucial, networks – the sewers. Their history is filled with eye-opening facts and a generous helping of pioneering British ‘firsts’. Fun-filled animations and narration from Mark Benton help navigate these tricky waters.

Getting rid of our waste without touching it has been a problem ever since we started building houses. A privileged tour of the latest solution – London’s Tideway Tunnel – reveals its staggering scale: a 16-mile-long storage tank to hide sewage beneath the river Thames. A history of sewers wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Hadrian’s Wall to marvel at what the Romans did for us almost 2,000 years ago – as long as you didn’t mind sharing a cubicle with a dozen other people.

A few hundred years of cesspits and Nightmen (the unluckiest job in the world?) led to the invention of the household toilet. But the growing cities of the Industrial Revolution meant leaky sewers brought new terrors, like a disease that could kill in hours – cholera.

Sewage pile ups like the Great Stink of London prompted Victorian engineers to overhaul our cities with the sewer networks that we still rely on today. In the lab we discover why they made sewer pipes round; and in the ridiculously ornate “Cathedral of Sewage” we see how massive steam engines muscled London’s sewage out of town.

Hold your breath as a sewer maintenance team take viewers below ground to see why these impressive feats of engineering are now bursting under the strain of modern life. As if having to deal with fatbergs wasn’t enough, the team also face the daily threat of being blown up.

So, what’s the modern-day answer to Victorian schemes like rebuilding Essex with excrement? How about a waterless toilet that leaves you with nothing more than barbecue ash? It’s a brave new world.

The Sewer Map of Britain, Channel 5, tonight, 8 pm

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