Cruikshank - 1,000 Ways of Getting Drunk in England

Andrew Graham-Dixon explains his fascination for the painting which eloquently displays Victorian society's ambivalent relationship with the bottle. "This picture is one of the great odd-ones-out of British art," he says. "As paintings go, it was a bit of a disaster. But it deserves to be as famous as Cruikshank once hoped it would be because it's a picture which takes us right to the heart of the Victorian age."

"I think of Cruikshank's huge cityscape, peopled by drunks, with factory chimneys belching smoke in the background, as the quintessential picture of urban Britain, caught in the throes of the Industrial Revolution. I think that, if we can learn to read it right, we can understand a little better how it is that our own world its politics, its morality, its cityscape - was forged in the furnace of the 19th century."

Cruikshank's huge panorama has languished, little known and rarely seen, encrusted with grime, in the stores of the Tate Gallery for over 130 years. Following the creation of new hanging space, due to the opening of Tate Modern, the vast canvas has been cleaned (with alcohol) and will be on display at Tate Britain.

Cruikshank, best known for his illustrations of Dickens's Oliver Twist, was a crusading member of the Temperance Movement (whose members vowed to abstain from intoxicating liquor) and toured the country with his painting in tow, using it to illustrate his lectures on the perils of the demon drink.

Andrew Graham-Dixon's film tells the story of this exceptional work of art and also delves into the past to reveal the extraordinary history of alcohol in Britain where, at one time, ale was safer to drink than water, beer was believed to be non-intoxicating, nursing mothers were encouraged to drink stout, and one fifth of London houses were gin shops.

Viewers can find out more about Cruikshank and his painting by visiting the special Cruikshank site at Tate@BBC which has been created by BBC Online in collaboration with the Tate Galleries.

Genre: Arts

Running Time: 50 minutes (approx)