The Birth of Empire – BBC 2


“Manchester, the centre of all my wishes, all that I could hope and desire for …” – how cool is that quote :-)? Things we learnt from this programme, number one – Clive of India, victor of the Battle of Plassey, the man who established the East India Company’s control of Bengal, would really rather have been in Manchester. He spent some time here as a child, with his aunt, and, according to local legend, briefly attended what later became our local boys’ grammar school in the eleven plus era and was also attended by my dad. Sorry, that’s not really very relevant to Dan Snow’s programme, but I just couldn’t resist mentioning it.

This was the first of two programmes about the East India Company, following it from its establishment up until the Bengal famine of 1770 and its aftermath. The second episode will presumably go up to the Indian Mutiny (I’ve a feeling that it’s not politically correct to use the expression “Indian Mutiny” any more, but it’s the term I’m familiar with) and the dissolution of the company and founding of the Raj.

I’ve always found the early years of British involvement in India, brilliantly described in William Dalrymple’s White Mughals, rather appealing – the years of mutual respect between different cultures and religions, intermarriage without anyone frowning on it, and trade rather than conquest. Sadly, that didn’t last – and this programme traced the company’s move into politics and war, the clashes between Britain and France over India, the horrible Black Hole of Calcutta incident, the British takeover of Bengal, the increasing corruption within the company and then the catastrophic Bengal famine and the imposition of parliamentary control over the company. As Dan Snow pointed out, the nationalisation of a large financial concern considered to be too big to allowed to fail is nothing new.

In additional to all the serious stuff, we got some rather entertaining stories about Naughty British Men and indeed Naughty British Women getting up to all sorts of Naughty Things in India. One bloke had a wife and three mistresses all on the go at once. Not to mention all the opium that went down.

I think Dan Snow quite enjoyed telling that bit. And I quite enjoyed watching – the naughty stuff and the serious stuff. Well done Dan, well done BBC 2 – a good job there.

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2 thoughts on “The Birth of Empire – BBC 2

  1. Dorian

    After Clive won his battle at Palasi, the government said “oh you are a good egg, here, have some land in Ireland as a reward”. And Clive said “thank you very much” and built himself a nice house there, which he called Plassey House, after his battle what he won.

    And Plassey House was the first home of, and is still at the heart of, the University of Limerick, my alma mater.


    • All this after he’d been expelled from several schools and his dad packed him off to India because he didn’t really know what else to do with him – a very Boys’ Own-ish tale indeed!


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