Robbie Coltrane was perhaps best known for bringing Hagrid to the big screen for millions of children around the world, including myself. But it wasn’t until after his passing last Friday that I became aware of his love of all things mechanical. And I especially wasn’t aware of a TV series he hosted in 1997 where he got to put his passion on display for all of us to see.
Coltrane’s Planes and Automobiles only ran one season with just six episodes, but they’re each fascinating and extremely well presented. From steam engines that powered early railways to superchargers that won a world war, he went deep into the history of some of the most significant engineering marvels with context provided by the people who knew them best. Being produced in the 90s means that a lot of the people involved with each topic from the start were still alive to share their experiences. Looking back at it 25 years later, their words are irreplaceable. And the production value with Robbie’s presentation could have easily rivaled Top Gear had his show continued. His enthusiasm with each topic and his wordsmanship were at a level I could only dream of.
It’s always a shame when a great talent is lost. But to me it’s an even bigger shame when I only learn about an amazing creation of theirs after they’re gone. Not that it would’ve made any difference to Robbie, but at least I’d get to know him for more than that one role that earned him the most recognition but was only a fraction of his story. This series is wonderful and I highly recommend each of the episodes. They’re on YouTube and arranged in a playlist. If you’ve only got time to watch one, I’d suggest starting with this one below.