Roman Kemp: Our Silent Emergency – BBC 1

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*Trigger warning – mental health issues.*

There’s a lot of talk in the media about mental health issues these days, but, sadly, the number of suicides remains high, especially amongst young men.  Roman Kemp (and the fact that Martin Kemp and Shirlie Holliman’s son is 28 makes me feel extremely old) made this programme about mental health and suicide after his close friend, Capital Radio producer Joe Lyons, took his own life.  Roman said he lives only three minutes from Joe, and would have rushed straight round if Joe had felt able to ask him for help.  Tragically, he didn’t: neither Roman, nor anyone else in their friendship group, nor Joe’s loving family, were aware of how badly Joe was struggling.

People here in Greater Manchester may be aware of the Shining a Light on Suicide project being championed by Sir Alex Ferguson, Mark Hughes and Andy Burnham.  One of the things it suggests is making a safety plan of what to do and whom to contact if you feel that you’re at risk of harming yourself, and this was also something that was mentioned in Roman’s programme.

No-one really feels very comfortable talking about this sort of thing, but we need to be.  Roman also talked about his own struggles with depression, and the fact that he’s been on medication for it for many years – and the fact that some people, especially young males, don’t feel able to talk about it.  I think women and girls do talk about it more, but it’s still not spoken about openly in the way that physical illnesses now are.  Roman said that more than three quarters of young men feel unable to confide in their friends and relatives about their issues, and that was borne out by the discussions he had with people who’d lost a friend or relative to suicide.

One of the lads he spoke to, who’d attempted suicide himself, said that he wasn’t even sure that he wanted to end his life – he just wanted to get away from everything in his head.  He just wanted it to stop, and it wouldn’t.  A lot of people will have been there.  Everything going round and round in your head.  Maybe other people driving you mad.  Maybe feeling trapped in an uncaring workplace, or a difficult domestic situation.  But, if those safety plans are in place, maybe people’ll be able to see another way out.

It’s been said over and over again that mental health problems need to be destigmatised, but it still seems to be something that many people feel unable to talk about, and it continues to be a particular problem amongst young men.  Please, please, if you’re struggling, ask for help.

 

Nadiya’s American Adventure – BBC 1

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This is historical and cultural, OK: it’s not just an excuse for me to talk about food!   I have to admit that the first thing I did, on arrival in New Orleans in 2014, was go to the Cafe du Monde for a beignet.  I did go and look at the historical sights, and have a ride on a Mississippi steamboat, after that; but, when it comes to New Orleans, it’s food first!  Nadiya Hussain looked as if she was having a wonderful time, making and eating food from different New Orleans traditions.  And what a refreshing change to see a BBC documentary in which everyone was just being nice to each other.  No-one was pushing an agenda, making nasty remarks, or making accusations against anyone.  Everyone was pleasant, cheerful, enthusiastic and positive.  What a lovely, lovely hour’s TV!  When we can travel again, could Nadiya be given her own series, please?  Let’s all be nice to each other and eat cake.

Sadly, there weren’t any beignets in this programme.  I was rather put out about that!   But we did start with Mardi Gras … I’m assuming that this was Mardi Gras 2019.  And King Cake – this is what we would know better as Twelfth Night cake (always reminds me of the disastrous picnic in Katherine L Oldmeadow’s Princess Prunella!), complete with a small figurine hidden inside, brought to New Orleans by French and Spanish settlers and now associated with Carnival rather than Christmas.  In New Orleans, they get through the most enormous amounts of it, and we saw it all being made by hand.  And we heard the bakers talking about what an amazing time of year Mardi Gras is, everyone feeling the love and sharing the love.  I can’t see it happening in 2021, but fingers crossed for 2022.

Also in the French quarter, we got to see, and Nadiya got to make, the famous po’boy sandwiches.  No-one’s 100% sure how they originated!  But they’re very nice.  And usually very big!

But, as we were reminded, New Orleans isn’t all about the French Quarter, and we then saw Nadiya visiting an African-American neighbourhood which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  There, she met a family trying to revive their local community with a restaurant serving soul food, the traditional African-American cuisine of New Orleans … although the actual term “soul food” only dates back as far as the 1960s.

And then it was out of the city and into the bayous, on a boat with a couple and their young daughter.  Or should that be “bayoux”?  There, she met five generations of a Cajun family, and was treated to gumbo and jambalaya, and a discussion about Cajun history.  Now, certain BBC presenters – Simon Reeve’s travel programmes are now virtually unwatchable – would have done the whole “Evangeline” thing, used it as an excuse to make abusive remarks about Britain, then made abusive remarks about America, and then probably said that Nadiya was guilty of “cultural appropriation” for trying on a Vietnamese hat later on in the programme!  Not in this.  Everyone, Nadiya herself and all the people she met, was friendly and welcoming and genuinely interested in what each other had to say.  This is the sort of programme we need!  More of this, please!

Next up came a children’s jazz band, and rocky road for the kids!  And then, finally, we were treated to members of the New Orleans Vietnamese community combining Creole crawfish dishes with traditional Vietnamese food to create something new – a melting pot, in fact.  And, yes, Nadiya tried on a Vietnamese hat.  And, no, no-one found that in the slightest bit offensive.  They were interested in her, and she was interested in them.

This was just wonderful.  Bravo, Nadiya, and bravo, all the people of New Orleans who made her so welcome!

My Family, the Holocaust and Me, episode 2 – BBC 1

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I think part of the idea behind this series was to show that the events of the Holocaust, whilst they were 75/80 years ago, are still having a big impact on perfectly ordinary British people leading perfectly ordinary lives; and it got that across very well.  The lady whose family were arrested by the Nazis only a few hundred yards from the safety of the Swiss border, near the ironically idyllic setting of Annecy – it sounded like a story from a book or a film, but it was real life – spent her teenage years in Manchester and went to my old school, so that was certainly pretty close to home for me.  We also saw Bernie Graham, who featured in the first episode, and Robert Rinder’s mum Angela Cohen saying memorial prayers for uncles and aunties who’d been killed in concentration camps, and being overcome with emotion: these were immediate relatives whom they should have known and loved and who should have played a big part in their lives.  

And we saw Robert and Angela meeting Leon Ritz, the last survivor of Treblinka, and hear him saying that anger wouldn’t do any good and that you had to look to the future.  Finally, we heard Robert say that he’d feared Treblinka would rob him of his optimism, but that he was still able to feel hopeful.   

These two programmes really were very well done.  Personal history programmes can sometimes be more effective than ordinary documentaries, and these were a prime example of that.

We learnt last week that Bernie had always been told that his young uncle had taken his own life in Dachau.  This week, we learnt that that wasn’t the case: he’d died in the terrible conditions there.  At that point, the ashes of Dachau victims were being sent to their friends and relatives, and so there was a grave for Bernie to visit, in Frankfurt where his uncle had come from.  He was able to say the Kaddish, the Jewish memorial prayer, there, as Angela was for her aunts and uncles at Treblinka, and it clearly meant a lot to both of them and to Robert … but so, so distressing.

The mum of Noemie Lopian, the lady from Manchester, who’s still alive and whom we met later on in the programme, had been a young child in France during the war.  She and her siblings had been sent away by their desperate parents, in the hope that the Resistance could get them into Switzerland.  They’d been part of a group of 32 children accompanied by young Jewish French Resistance member Marianne Cohn.  Only a few hundred yards from the border, they were arrested and imprisoned in the border town of Annemasse.  We saw Noemie actually visit the prison where they’d been held.

Marianne, who’d already saved the lives of many children by getting them into Switzerland, was raped, tortured and murdered.   The children were eventually freed, due to the intervention of the local mayor, and were helped to escape to Switzerland.  Noemie’s grandparents survived in hiding, and were later reunited with their children.  So that was a positive story, but, as she said, her mum had been through a horrific ordeal, and she felt that hearing the detail and seeing where it had happened gave a new dimension to her feelings for her.  

It really was a very emotional programme, all in a very natural way about very unnatural events.  I don’t always have a lot of praise for the BBC these days, but well done to them and to Robert Rinder and everyone else involved.  These two programmes were superb.

 

My Family, the Holocaust and Me – BBC 1

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Family history programmes are becoming increasingly popular, and they do work very well: they personalise and humanise history in a way that text books and ordinary documentaries can’t do, especially when talking about the murder of millions of ordinary people.  Many Holocaust survivors, and Second World War veterans, went to their graves without talking about what had happened: there was so much that the people in this programme didn’t know about their own grandparents and great aunts/uncles.

A lot of Holocaust programmes only focus on the death camps.  That’s understandable, but it means that other aspects of what happened are overlooked.  This programme didn’t: we did hear about the horrors of the camps, but we also saw Robert “Judge” Rinder visiting the site of an Einsatzgruppen massacre on the Lithuanian-Belarusian border, and we saw Louisa Clein (Maya in Emmerdale) and her sister Natalie looking into their grandmother’s involvement in the Dutch resistance, and how she gave her children up to foster parents for their own safety.  And it really was very well done.

The mass grave where hundreds of people, including some of Robert Rinder’s relatives, were buried, some of them still alive, is still there.  There’s something particularly sad about those little villages.  I’ve been to Babi Yar/Babyn Yar, but so many of the Einsatzgruppen massacres took place in little villages, or in forests, and nobody goes to visit the sites: how many people go to visit small villages on the Lithuanian-Belarusian border?  And that way of life, going back to the Middle Ages, was wiped out for good: communities in cities were to some extent rebuilt, but not those in villages.

This is highly recommended, and there’s another episode next week, which I’ll certainly watch.

We had three family stories in this.  Robert Rinder himself was looking into the history of some relatives on his father’s side.  His maternal grandfather was a Holocaust survivor, but his paternal grandfather, who featured in the programme but sadly died with coronavirus earlier this year, was a Cockney born and bred.  However, some of his relatives died in … ah, the wonders of Eastern European moving borders.  It was part of Russian-ruled Lithuania, which was in Poland in the inter-war years, and was then split between Lithuania and Belarus, even though most of the surviving population’s Polish … so the village where they actually lived is now in Lithuania, and the village 20 miles or so away, where they were murdered, is in Belarus.  He was able to speak to an elderly lady who actually remembered the massacre, remembered hearing the screams.  She talked about how the ground was still moving as they covered it up: people were still alive.  And the grave’s there – and it’s huge.  So many people, just gunned down.

We also saw a man called Bernie Graham visit Frankfurt, where his grandparents had come from.  His grandfather had survived, and been reunited with Bernie’s mum, who’d come to England on the Kindertransport: his grandmother hadn’t.  He’d never been to Germany before, because he’d felt uncomfortable about it. There’d been some sort of family rumour that his grandmother had died after the liberation of Auschwitz, but she hadn’t: she’d died in Sobibor.  He heard her story, and he also heard about the brutality suffered by his grandfather.  His grandfather had lost an eye, and he’d often said about how that was down to the Nazis, but hadn’t talked any more about it.

Bernie, named after an uncle who’d taken his own life in Dachau, said that he felt that he’d been born into a state of bereavement: his friends would talk about their grandmas and aunties and uncles, and he didn’t have any.

And we saw Louisa Clein and her sister Natalie visiting Amsterdam, to learn about their grandmother, and her sister who hadn’t survived.  The grandmother’s story was not what you’d expect at all: she’d been involved with the Dutch resistance.  They knew that, because she’d received a certificate from Eisenhower after the war, but they didn’t know the detail, and they heard about how she’d helped Allied airmen to escape, which was fascinating.  And she’d given her children up to foster parents, and that saved their lives.

But her sister had died.  She’d been taken to a transit camp in Westerbork after refusing to wear an “S” symbol, and then deported to Sobibor, where she’d been killed.  They were able to speak to a man whose father had been this great-aunt’s boyfriend, and had actually gone to Germany to try to find her after she’d been deported.  There was a system whereby some Dutch Jews were sent to another place in the Netherlands, at Barveneld, where they were able to live relatively normal lives and she’d have stood a good chance of survival.  Having been a teacher, she was considered important enough to be put on this list – but the news came one day too late.  She’d been deported the day before.  You couldn’t make it up.  So sad.

They said that they’d known very little about her: their grandmother didn’t talk about her.  And that now they felt that at least they knew about her life, and what she was like.  And that was what this programme was really doing: it was taking individuals, it was humanising the worst period of human history.  This was their grandma’s sister, a teacher, a dancer, someone who was stubborn enough to refuse to wear an “S”, who had a boyfriend who was so devoted to her that he went into Nazi Germany to try to find her, and at least now they knew all that.  It was very powerful.

This really was an excellent hour’s TV.  Not everyone feels comfortable watching programmes like this, but they are very well worth watching.

Freddie Flintoff: Living With Bulimia – BBC 1

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Please, please be careful what you say about other people’s weight, or any other aspect of other people’s appearance: you don’t know the damage it could be doing.  And, if you’re struggling with any aspect of your mental health – unsurprisingly, given the current circumstances, mental health charities are reporting a worrying rise in the numbers of people experiencing problems – please, please ask for help.  I know that not everyone’s up for famous people baring their souls, but evidence suggests that it does encourage others to seek help, especially men who tend to be more reluctant to open up than women do.  A lot of the focus in this programme was about how many men don’t seek help, and it was brave of Andrew Flintoff to speak out, and also brave of the others who took part to do so, especially the family of a man who tragically died as a result of bulimia.  It’s estimated that 1.5 million people in the UK, of whom 25% are male, suffer from eating disorders.  Hopefully this programme will have helped people to feel that they’re not alone, and that it’s OK to talk about it.

It wasn’t quite what I was expecting.  I thought he was going to say that it was linked to coping with the pressure of fame, especially during the difficult period when he was England captain during the disastrous Ashes tour when we lost the series 5-0 and he was involved in the pedalo affair.  However, he was insistent that it was all about food and weight, and that it started when there were nasty comments in the media – notably from the Sun – about his weight and fitness levels.  The specialist whom he saw didn’t seem convinced by that, and said that it was never all about weight, but everyone’s different.

I, personally, quite genuinely can’t remember a time when I didn’t identify as “The Fat Girl”, and I don’t know what it’s like to have a normal relationship with food because I never have done.  One of the other people interviewed for the programme said that, in his case, it started in his teens, and was a form of self harm and linked to other things that had gone on in his life.  I think that’s probably more typical than what Andy/Freddie was saying and I found that easier to identify with, but we need to understand that everyone’s experience is different.  It’s very difficult with sports players, because weight can affect their performance, and, especially with a team sport where one player’s performance affects others, some fans and commentators and reporters are going to feel that they’re entitled to pass comment.

Maybe people’ll think more carefully after this.  I’ve heard Gary Barlow talking about the upset caused by “fat lad” comments in the media, as well.  It’s not really that different to calling other kids names in the school playground, which is how it started for a lot of us.   With a lot of people, it’s linked to depression and anxiety disorders, but most people’s problems are so interlinked that it’s hard to separate them.  Andy/Freddie was insistent that, with him, it’s purely about weight.  But we’re all different.

What Andy said about feeling guilty whenever he eats, and only feeling good about himself if he’s losing weight, though, is something that a lot of people will recognise, whether or not their own eating issues are linked with other things.  It was interesting that he didn’t actually know a lot about the condition, despite having battled it for over 20 years, and seemed quite surprised to be told that the amount of training he does was linked in with it.  He spoke about the pressure of trying to keep up his fitness levels during his career, and it was mentioned that sportsmen are 16 times more likely than other men to suffer from eating disorders, because of that huge pressure.  Some people do struggle more with their weight than others, and it’s very hard to deal with that.  You can read all the books and go to all the counselling sessions but, if you’re someone who puts on half a stone because of one weekend away, it makes things very difficult.  That’s hard enough for anyone.  I can’t imagine how difficult it must be if you’re under that amount of external pressure and scrutiny about your weight levels.

He also talked about how he hid it.  He told his girlfriend, now his wife, that he made himself sick after eating, but not the extent of it, and we saw him going into the toilets at Lord’s and explaining how he’d plan how he’d make himself sick during matches without anyone else knowing about it.  It was very distressing, and it just showed how someone can be struggling like this without anyone – relatives, friends, colleagues – knowing.

He also talked about feeling that he wasn’t entitled to have a problem.  There was once an episode of Casualty in which comment was passed about it being amazing that people in the West had eating disorders when so many people didn’t have enough to eat.  To some extent, eating disorders, like addictions, are seen as self-inflicted problems.  He actually seemed very reluctant to admit that he wasn’t in control of it.  And he’s happily married, with four lovely kids, and had a successful career as a top-class cricketer and is now enjoying a career as a successful TV presenter.  And, hey, he’s a big tough bloke from Preston.  But eating disorders can affect anyone.

The programme’s attracted a lot of praise, and hopefully it will help people, as well as helping Andy/Freddie himself.  There isn’t nearly as much stigma around mental health problems as there used to be, but we’ve still got a way to go.  Especially with men.  Please don’t suffer in silence xxx.

 

 

 

A Suitable Boy – BBC 1

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I really enjoyed this. OK, it was all a bit cheesy and obvious – you just knew from the title that any boy our heroine met would be anything other than suitable – but it’s Sunday night drama, not a documentary.  Sunday night drama is meant to be entertaining, and this was.

Andrew Davies, adapting Vikram Seth’s book, appears to have rediscovered some measure of self control, so we didn’t get any bare bottoms bobbing along a beach.  Instead, we got wonderful Indian architecture, scenery and music, and an amusing if rather unoriginal storyline about Lata, a spirited young woman whose mother was determined to find her a suitable husband, and who met someone thoroughly *un*suitable instead (although I gather that more suitors will turn up in later episodes).  There was also an unsuitable woman, with whom Lata’s brother-in-law became involved.  And the background (I refuse to describe the 1950s as “history”) was very much there too, with the Hindu-Muslim tensions, this being set in Northern India only a few years after partition, much in evidence.

Northern India is the land of princes and rajas and, whilst our characters weren’t in that league, they were still from the wealthier echelons of society, and close to the powers that were, although we were told that they’d come down in the world a little.  So a lot of the scenes were rather glossy and glamorous, which always works well in the Sunday 9pm slot 🙂 .   Escapism.  I need escapism.  I definitely need escapism!

It began with the wedding of Lata’s sister.  We saw Lata chatting away to her new brother-in-law’s brother, and I did wonder if they’d get together; but, instead, he took up with a much older singer.  Lata’s mother was desperate to find her a suitable husband; but she, being a thoroughly modern miss at university, was determined that she wasn’t being pushed into an arranged marriage.  Yes, OK, it was a bit cliched, but it was a drama, and they usually are a bit cliched.  Lata duly met a handsome young chap at university … but, needless to say, it turned out that he was a Muslim, whereas she was a Hindu.

The aftermath of partition was always there, with a lot of talk about building a temple next to a mosque, and riots breaking out towards the end of the episode.  Without wanting to get political, these are issues which still haven’t been resolved – and how I wish they could be.  The juxtaposition of the tensions and the unrest with the rather soapy storylines about the meddling mother and the unsuitable romance might not have worked, but it did.

I thought it was a very good first episode.  Yes, it was kind of obvious, but Sunday night dramas are!

Just a bit of a rant, though.  You’d think that the Whinge Brigade would be pleased that the BBC were showing a drama with an entirely South Asian cast; but no, they are whingeing about everything.  It doesn’t show the lives of poor people. Well, that’s because it’s about two wealthy families.  Pride and Prejudice does not show the lives of poor people.  Coronation Street and EastEnders do not show the lives of the aristocracy.  Things are about what they’re about.  The characters are speaking English.  That’s because it’s a BBC drama.  Did the characters in the adaptation of War and Peace speak Russian?  No.  Did the characters in the adaptation of Les Miserables speak French?  No.  And, the piece de resistance, it’s “Orientalist”, because characters are wearing saris and playing sitars.  WTF?  Would they prefer characters in 1950s India to be wearing Dior’s New Look and listening to Frank Sinatra?  What is it with these people?  If you show an interest in Indian culture, in the lovely clothes and lovely music, it’s “Orientalist” and “cultural appropriation”.  If you don’t, you’re a white supremacist.  Put a sock in it, FFS!  What on earth is wrong with appreciating a different culture?  Surely it’s good that we can appreciate different cultures.  I know these people moan about anything, but what on earth is the problem with Indian characters in a series set in India wearing Indian clothes and playing Indian music?

Oh well.  Let’s ignore the moaners.  I really enjoyed this, and I’m sure that a lot of other people did too!  And we need all the enjoyable telly we can get at the moment!!

The Luminaries – BBC 1

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I was really looking forward to some Sunday night period drama, but I’m not getting on very well with this.  For a kick off, it keeps jumping backwards and forwards in time.  It wasn’t made clear initially that this was what was happening, so it was very confusing.  And our heroine’s got amnesia, so she’s as confused as the viewers are.  It’s supposed to be set in the New Zealand gold fields in the 1860s, but only one person seems to be looking for gold, although someone’s got a load of fake gold in his shop window. There’s supposed to be a lot of intrigue, but the only thing I really want to know is where the fortune-telling brothel madam’s husband, who gets murdered, is meant to be from.  His accent keeps changing from Manchester to Sheffield and back again, and it’s been round a few other places as well.  And why is everything, other than Eva Green’s hair, so dark?

The first few minutes were OK.  Anna (Bono’s daughter) met Emery (Tamwar from EastEnders) on a ship going to New Zealand, and it looked like it was going to be a romance amid everyone trying to make their fortune.  But then all the jumping around started, and it was very hard to tell what was going on.  I’ve now gathered that we’re going backwards and forwards in time, but it’s difficult to follow when we’ve just changed time again.  Anna somehow ended up in the house of a brothel owner/fortune teller, played by Eva Green, and the woman’s husband, the one with the changing accent.  And, at some point, the husband was murdered, and it may or may not have been Anna whodunnit.

Meanwhile, Emery doesn’t seem to have done much other than go fishing.  And the lighting is appalling.  Yes, I know that the lighting at the time would have been appalling, but it doesn’t make for very good viewing.  Everyone complained about this with both Wolf Hall and Jamaica Inn; but the BBC just keep doing it.

I’m not getting this at all.  Maybe it’ll improve  …

 

World on Fire – BBC 1

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At one point during the second episode, we went rather rapidly from Sean Bean wandering along Great Ducie Street and Bury New Road to Nazi bombs reducing poor Warsaw to rubble.  This is certainly an ambitious series, covering storylines across a range of different locations during the early part of the Second World War.  I assume that it’s also an attempt to give screen time to groups who are often under-represented in both wartime dramas and history books: a lot of the action takes place in Poland, and we’ve also got a black gay Frenchman with a white American boyfriend, a French Jewish nurse hiding her identity from the Nazis, a German child with epilepsy, a Polish Catholic child refugee, two members of ENSA, a pacifist and a female war reporter.

There’ve been a couple of scenes that I haven’t been entirely comfortable with, although maybe I’m being oversensitive.   Also, one of the German characters is called Uwe Rosler. Seriously. OK, it’s been spelt Rossler, but come on!  And the fact that there are so many different locations and storylines makes it rather confusing.  Oh, and, speaking of locations, I’m enjoying spotting familiar places.  Strangeways was Strangeways, and Castlefield and the John Rylands Library have also appeared … and I believe that the scenes at Dunkirk, which we haven’t got to yet, were filmed at St Annes.  To get back to the point, it’s not perfect, but it’s not bad – and it’s getting better as the series goes on.

I assumed Harry was going to be a big hero, seeing as the programme started with him being arrested for clashing with Oswald Mosley’s supporters at a BUF rally in Manchester in March 1939, but he spends a lot of time moaning, and has been trying to keep two girls, both of whom are far too good for him, on the go at once. He’s from a well-to-do background, living with his snobbish mother in an extremely large house. Lois, one of his girlfriends, lives in Longsight with her brother Tom, who goes into the Navy, and her dad, played by Sean Bean, who, having suffered shell shock during the First World War, is an avowed pacifist. Incidentally, whilst I accept that Yorkshiremen aren’t big on doing Lancashire accents, could he not at least have tried?!  Julia Brown (Lois)’s attempt at a Manchester accent isn’t bad at all.  Ewan Mitchell (Tom) ‘s leaves a lot to be desired: he sounds more Mendips than Manchester!

Lois and her friend are a singing duet, and join ENSA. I like that. Dame Vera Lynn must be one of the most well-respected figures in the country, but you rarely see ENSA mentioned in either factual or fictional accounts of the Second World War.

Harry’s other girlfriend is Kasia, a Polish girl whom he meets whilst working as a translator in Warsaw. A big part of this series is showing the effect of the war on Poland, and I believe that it’s attracted a lot of interest from the Polish community in Britain. The first time I went to Warsaw, way back in 1996, we were shown of a video of the devastation of the city during the war, and its rebuilding afterwards. It really was blown to smithereens.

Unlike in The Aftermath, there’s been no soft-soaping of how the Nazis treated people. We’ve seen Kasia’s dad, with the Polish forces in Gdansk – we were shown the Defence of the Post Office in the Free City of Danzig/Gdansk, which is very well-known in Polish wartime history – and her mum, in her own home, both shot dead at point blank range. Her brother is able to escape, and eventually to join up with Polish forces after spending a long time on the run.  Harry marries Kasia (conveniently forgetting, even once he’s home, to tell either Lois or his mum) so that she’ll be able to accompany him back to Britain, but she chooses to remain behind, pushing her little brother Jan on to the train with him instead – and we see Jan’s experiences as a child refugee, including Harry’s mum becoming attached to him and defending him when he’s bullied at school.

Kasia later joins the Polish Resistance. Most viewers will be familiar with the work of the French Resistance, and to some extent the work of the Resistance movements in other Western European countries such as the Netherlands and Norway, but, although we hear about the Polish units serving with the Allied forces, we hear very little about the Resistance movements further east.

We’ve also got a female American reporter, working in Berlin. Reporters in war programmes are usually male, so that’s another tick for diversity.  A major part of her storyline is the problems she’s having in getting reports past the censors, another important issue. Over in Paris (filmed in Wigan!), we’ve got her nephew, a doctor, who’s in a same sex relationship with a gay black French musician. I don’t know how their story’s going to pan out, but this is doing the important job of highlighting the fact that many different groups were persecuted by the Nazis: we still hear relatively little about the treatment of gay people by the Nazis – thousands of gay men died in concentration camps – or the fact that black people were subject to the Nuremberg Laws in the Nazi-occupied territory.  One of the doctor’s colleagues is a Jewish nurse, and I gather that we’re going to see the two of them work together help patients to escape from the Nazis.

Back in Germany, the reporter is friendly with a couple whose child is epileptic, and who are terrified that the authorities will find out.  The Nazis began killing children with disabilities began in 1939, and forced sterilisation of people with conditions including epilepsy began as early as 1933.  This has been gone into in quite some detail – and we’re also seeing how well-intentioned reporting can be dangerous, with the couple terrified that her link to their family will be discovered and their child put in peril as a result.  Again, this is highlighting another facet of the Nazi atrocities, and one which isn’t always given as much attention as it should be.  I’m sorry that there are no Roma characters, but I suppose they could only have so many storylines: there’s a lot to keep up with as it is.

Any dialogue between Polish characters or between German characters has actually been filmed in Polish or German, with English subtitles. I wasn’t sure how well that was going to work – remember Eldorado?! – but it’s actually working very well … although it’s rather annoying if you want to do the ironing or something else at the same time as you’re watching!

So, there are a lot of things to praise … but, as I said, I was uncomfortable with a couple of scenes. There were some very unpleasant scenes outside Auschwitz on Holocaust Memorial Day in January, with far-right groups claiming that the effect of the Nazi occupation on the wider population of Poland is overlooked because there is so much focus on the Jewish Holocaust. And it wasn’t an isolated incident. Two scenes in this programme, one involving Harry’s mother assuming that Jan was Jewish and Harry asking sarcastically if she wanted him to go back and change him for a Jewish child, and one involving the American reporter complaining that the American media would report on the persecution of Jews but not on the situation in Poland in general, came dangerously close to suggesting the same thing. I don’t imagine that that’s what Peter Bowker meant, but it was badly put. Suffering at the hands of the Nazis is not some sort of competition.  Can we not go there, please?

I’m also having a few issues with the German family (the parents with the epileptic child) because of the Uwe Rosler thing. Is a storyline about the Nazis wanting to kill children with medical conditions really the place for football jokes?  And, given that the scriptwriter’s from Stockport, no-one’s telling me that the name isn’t intentional.   Some of the language doesn’t ring very true for 1939 or 1940, either.  But, hey, nothing’s perfect.

I was on holiday when the first two episodes were shown, and have only just caught up.  A new Sunday night 9pm drama usually becomes a major talking point, and this hasn’t, so I assume it hasn’t attracted the sort of viewing figures that the BBC must have been hoping for.  That’s a shame, because it’s worth watching.  I know some people think that there’s too much talk about the Second World War, but there isn’t.  There really, really isn’t.

Who Do You Think You Are? (Kate Winslet) – BBC 1

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I thought that this was the best episode of the series so far, despite Kate’s melodramatics. I don’t think we’ve ever had anyone with Swedish heritage before: it was like stepping into the world of Vilhelm Moberg’s Karl Oskar and Kristina, and it’s a subject that’s not often covered on English language TV. It was really good to see something different. The military heritage on the other side of her family was interesting too. It had never really occurred to be that the Armed Forces would have been the main employers of musicians before the days of civil orchestras, although it’s really obvious when you think about it! And it’s nice to have an A-lister on the programme: they do sometimes have people whom I’ve barely heard of.  This was a very interesting hour’s TV.

She did overdo it a bit, with the tears and the “I can’t bear it”-ing. OK, it can’t be very pleasant finding out that your long-lost ancestors lived in poverty, had brushes with the law due to stealing food and lost children in infancy, but it’d probably be a similar story for most people’s families. Even those at the top of the social ladder would have been hit by infant deaths, and adults dying young. There were the constant references to her ever-so-‘umble roots, as well. One would have done! But, hey, at least she was interested enough in the social history to get emotional about it.

The story with Kate was that her great-great-grandfather had moved to London from the Halland region of Sweden, becoming a successful tailor on Savile Row. This was fascinating: you think of emigration from Sweden as being to Minnesota and other parts of the American mid-West, not to London. Even Swedish emigration to America isn’t something that’s talked about that much in English language books or TV programmes. So much attention’s paid to emigration from Ireland and, later on, from Italy and the Russian Empire, and yet relatively little’s paid to emigration from Sweden and (then under Swedish rule) Norway, or even to the huge waves of emigration from Germany. I suppose it’s because there wouldn’t have been that much of a cultural or, with Scandinavia and mainly Protestant parts of Germany, religious clash, but it’s certainly a neglected area.

I don’t know what Kate was expecting to find out, but I got the impression that she wasn’t expecting to find that her ancestors’ lives had been so hard.  We think of Sweden, as with Norway and Switzerland, as being a very wealthy country, and forget that that’s a fairly recent development, and how difficult it was historically for countries with very cold weather, very hot weather and or a lot of mountainous terrain, especially at a time of rapid population growth.  The same with the idea of some countries as being particularly liberal, and or as not having a rigid class structure. It hasn’t always been like that.  Take the Netherlands, generally seen as the most liberal-minded country in Europe now, and its centuries of strict Calvinism.

Vilhelm Moberg described life for lower-class people in Sweden in the first half of the nineteenth century so well in The Emigrants, and I kept thinking about that when Kate was learning about her ancestors, although at least there were no religious issues here.  When she was taken to a grand castle type place, she must have wondered if they were aristocrats. But no – her great-great-great-great-grandfather was a worker on the estate, paid in tokens that could only be spent in the estate shop, and ended up dying in prison after being convicted of stealing potatoes, shortly after the death of his infant son.  The family were starving, with Sweden being hit by successive years of food shortages even before the Hungry Forties and the Great Famine of the late 1860s.  Neither of those two major famines came into it, strangely enough – we heard about the early 1830s and the early 1850s, but not the two “big” famines, although that was just because of which dates fitted with major events in the family’s history.

Her great-great-great-grandfather fared better, going into the Navy; and it was brilliant that she was able to see the sort of croft house that he’d have. But her great-great-grandfather was the only one of the three children he and his wife had who survived to adulthood.  He became a tailor, like his father – who’d been booted out of the Navy for embezzlement!  I can’t think of any other episode that’s featured Swedish history, and I really enjoyed it. How brilliant were the records, as well? Very impressed with mid 19th century Swedish record-keeping!

Turning to the other side of her family, she found out that her great-great-great-grandfather had served in the Grenadier Guards, joining up at the age of just 11, during the Napoleonic Wars. After having to leave the Army due to rheumatism, he became the head prison warder at Dartmoor … but, at that time, Dartmoor was seen as a sort of new model prison, with inmates working in gardens and attending classes in all sorts of subjects.

That was interesting as well, but I thought that the really good bit was his time in the Army, starting off as a real life Little Drummer Boy, at a time when the sons of soldiers often joined up as children so as to benefit from the educational and career opportunities offered, and rising to the rank of Drum Major. We’re all familiar with military bands, and the importance of drummers and buglers and fifers in the Army in the 18th and 19th centuries – I’m going to have “Oh, soldier, soldier, won’t you marry me, with your musket, fife and drum?” going through my head for the rest of the day now – but, as with Swedish and German emigration to Britain and America, it’s something that doesn’t get all that much attention, and it’s always nice to see new topics covered on a long-running programme.

I’d love to know how they choose people to go on this programme. Presumably they must do a certain amount of research first, to make sure that they can actually find something out, and that it’s something reasonably interesting. But do they approach the celebs, or do the celebs approach them? Where would you start, when it came to choosing people?   They usually manage to turn up something of interest, but often the socio-economic history behind it is something we’ve heard before, with other people.  But, as I’ve said, I don’t think they’ve shown anyone with Swedish heritage before.  A really good hour’s TV.

Poldark and Abolitionism – Poldark (series 5), BBC 1

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There seems to be an increasing trend for period dramas to address the social and political issues of the time in which they’re set. OK, Victoria didn’t do it very accurately; but it’s still extremely welcome.  Ballrooms and bedrooms are great to an extent, but getting some big historical talking points in there’s even better. And, in the first episode of the new – and, very sadly, last – series of Poldark, we saw several major characters attending an Abolitionist meeting.

Abolitionism was probably the first great popular movement. “Am I not a man and a brother?” – the famous Wedgwood image might not work today, but the sentiment does: certain people might do well to remind themselves of it. As the 19th century went on, there were so many more reform movements, and most of them did succeed. Some of them centred around just one brave person – think Elizabeth Fry and prison reform, or Josephine Butler and the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts. Some were mass movements, notably the campaigns for universal suffrage. Some were organised by groups of leading figures with particular interests. Workers’ rights, children’s rights, women’s rights, health, education, housing, sanitation, the removal of religion bars …

A lot of the language and images may seem patronising now – the Wedgwood image is very much of its time, don’t get me started on the Earl of Shaftesbury’s attitude towards the industrial north, and I don’t think the temperance advocates understood the real reasons why so many people drank too much – but people tried. To paraphrase Dirty Dancing (rather incongruously, I know), they thought they could make the world better.

Yet the century kicked off with a virtual reign of terror, amid Establishment paranoia about revolution. Trying both to fight this, on behalf of his pal Ned Despard – who did really exist, and was very well-known at the time although he’s largely been forgotten now – and to help to promote the campaign for Abolition, we have, of course, got Ross Poldark. Debbie Horsfield from Eccles has come up with all this, because the books don’t cover this period, and I’m rather enjoying it! Come on, what a hero! Mr Darcy may have been a good landlord, but he never made impassioned speeches in Parliament or saved the king from assassination attempts, did he? Mr Rochester locked up his wife and tried to commit bigamy! Now, Ross – what a hero. Tricorne hat and all!  And, hopefully, he’s making us think.

It looks as if a fair bit of this series is going to revolve around Ross’s friendship with Ned Despard, who, as I’ve said above, was a real life figure. Ned, like Ross, fought in the British army during the American War of Independence. He was then appointed superintendent of the Bay of Honduras (Belize), which was technically under Spanish sovereignty but had come under the control of British settlers – who were cutting and exporting mahogany, using slave labour. Poldark’s nemesis, George Warleggan the baddie, is getting involved in the mahogany trade. Ned clashed with the wealthy landowners, partly because, when new settlers arrived, some of them white and some of them (former slaves) black, he gave equal rights to them all. He also married a black or mixed race woman, possibly a former slave, Catherine (Kitty).

Despard was recalled to London, spent some time in a debtors’ prison, and then got involved in radical politics. Exactly what went on isn’t entirely clear, but he was arrested and imprisoned on suspicion of involvement in the 1798 Irish Rebellion, before eventually being freed without charge, and then, in 1802, accused of leading the “Despard Plot”, an alleged conspiracy to assassinate the king and launch an uprising. Lord Nelson spoke on his behalf. But he was sentenced to death, and hanged and beheaded alongside six others – in front of a huge crowd.

Both he and Kitty, who’d mounted a very determined campaign for his release during his first period in jail and again in 1802, had become very well-known. Kitty had, additionally, spoken out about the appalling conditions in which prisoners were being kept – a cause taken up by the MP Francis Burdett. And this programme also showed her speaking at an Abolitionist meeting.

Was Despard guilty? If so, what exactly was he guilty of? Was he, after being a thorn in the Establishment’s side for years, framed? If he was guilty – and he almost certainly was guilty, of some sort of plotting – then did the way he’d been treated excuse him in any way? We kept getting that trailer with the voiceover about “when your own country betrays you”. What does the fact that he enjoyed a lot of popularity amongst the working-classes say about popular feeling?

Something to remember. Ned’s actions in the Bay of Honduras were correct in law. There was no discrimination on grounds of race in British law in the 1790s, any more than there is now. And there has never been any legal barrier in British(/English/Scottish) law against interracial marriage. That’s just worth remembering.

And something to think about. Reform not revolution, yes … but these were very, very difficult times. I think it’s meant to be 1800, so we’re 19 years before the Peterloo Massacre, which I know I tend to harp on about but which is getting a huge amount of local attention at the moment because we’re so close to the 200th anniversary. If you’ve got a state which will do that, where peaceful protesters will be mown down and stabbed by the cavalry … as the voiceover for the trailer kept saying, “to whom do you then owe loyalty”?

This is great stuff. Period dramas don’t always make you think. They should do! As I’ve said, ballrooms and bedrooms are fine, but let’s get everyone talking about big historical issues – and they don’t come much bigger than Abolitionism. Let’s not make it all about politics, obviously. We want the soapy stuff too. Oh, and if Ross could do the bare-chested scything thing again, it would be much appreciated. But let’s think, as well.

Maybe it was easier in the late 18th and the19th centuries. People, or at least middle-class people, involved in the reform movements had so much more time. However strongly you might feel about something, it’s difficult to do much when you’re stuck in work all day and then you’ve got housework and family responsibilities as well. I wonder about this sometimes. People who go around setting up camp outside fracking sites, or whatever – have they not got jobs? I’m not knocking anyone: I just genuinely don’t get it.

But, that aside, the point is that people like Elizabeth Fry, Josephine Butler and the others saw injustices and they tried to do something about them. At the moment, there just seems to be so much anger and hatred. Some of it’s utter rubbish about the most bizarre things, like claiming that the Wimbledon draw was fixed as part of a conspiracy by the British Establishment to give an advantage to a particular player (I am not making this up!!). Some of it is extremely serious – people yelling and screaming outside primary schools and threatening teachers, because schools have introduced “No Outsiders” programmes which explain to children that everyone deserves to be treated fairly and equally.  Then there are all the people who hurl abuse at you and accuse you of every manner of prejudices just because you happen to disagree with them about something.  And politicians hurl insults at each other instead of trying to get anything sorted.

Less yelling, more contemplating, more “am I not a man and a brother”, more thinking you can make the world better? It’s a nice thought …