The Pursuit of Love – BBC 1

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I feel as if I should have some very strong opinions about this, seeing as it’s in the sacred Sunday 9pm slot; but I haven’t.  It wasn’t particularly good.  It wasn’t particularly bad.  I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment on how faithful it was to that.  Most of the characters were intensely irritating, and some of them were so OTT that it was difficult to take them seriously; but I assume that they were meant to be like that.   And not an awful lot actually happened.

Having names popping up and pinging noises was silly and infantilising; it would have been better to have used pop music from the appropriate era; and I really didn’t get that bizarre fantasy scene with Lord Merlin prancing around.  And what was going on with two cousins in their late teens sharing a bath?  Sharing a bath with a sibling or cousin when you’re 7 is one thing, but, when you’re 17, it’s extremely weird.

However, the costumes were great, and the shots of various glorious stately homes were lovely.  But Pride and Prejudice, or even Downton Abbey, this ain’t.  We’re not going to be talking about it in 26 years’ time.  We aren’t even going to be talking about it in 26 weeks’ time.  But there’s nothing else on on Sunday nights, and it was entertaining enough, so I’ll be sticking with it.

It’s based on the book by Nancy Mitford.  I will read it at some point, but I’ve never understood all the fuss about the Mitfords and I don’t think that this is going to change my mind about that.

We’ve got two upper-class cousins, Linda and Fanny, in the 1930s.  Fanny’s mother, known as “the Bolter”, ran off when Fanny was a baby, leaving her with an auntie, and she (Fanny) has somehow ended up living with another auntie and uncle, plus their numerous offspring, who include Linda.  Linda’s dad is a pantomimish type who thinks that women shouldn’t be educated and all foreigners are baddies, and rides around yelling that he hates children.  The children spend a lot of time hiding in cupboards.  They have a neighbour called Lord Merlin.  Linda marries a banker who has a bit of German ancestry.

Er, and that seemed to be about it.

Maybe it gets more interesting later on …

 

Make-up: A Glamorous History (final episode) – BBC 2

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I do love a good American Dream story!  Max Factor, born Maksymilian Faktorowicz in a small town outside Lodz, started work at the age of 8 because his family were so poor, sailed steerage to Ellis Island to escape the pogroms, moved to LA because he was so taken by “the movies”, and pretty much created the modern make-up industry.  Amazing.  Meanwhile, his half-brother became a Chicago gangster who worked closely with Al Capone!  The programme didn’t actually mention the gangster brother, but I thought I would!

I do not love 1920s fashion.  It seems to have been designed for women who were no more than a size 6, and had no tummy, backside, waist, hips or bust.  On top of that, it involved miniscule handbags.  What a larger-sized female who couldn’t leave the house without carrying everything but the kitchen sink with her, i.e. someone like me, was supposed to do, I have no idea.  Just look uncool, I suppose 😢!  But, hey, at least women of any size could choose what sort of make-up they wore, and the 1920s/1930s was the era in which it became affordable for everyone.

It’s important for everyone to be able to choose a look which works for them.  The current Coronation Street storyline, in which Nina was badly beaten up because of her choice of clothes, make-up and hairstyle, based on the horrific murder of Sophie Lancaster in Bacup in 2007, is reminding us how prejudiced people can be just based on someone else’s look.  We’ve still got a long way to go, but the inter-war years were the period in which we at least really started to move towards each person choosing what worked for them.

But to get back to the point …

…. this was another fascinating episode, as we saw the make-up/cosmetics industry roll on into the days of mass marketing, getting people in white coats to convince you that it was all good for you, and setting up all those counters which still tend to be the first thing you see when you walk into a department store. On the one hand, women were rebelling, choosing their own looks, and having their hair cut short – despite schools suspending girls who turned up with short hair, employers sacking women with short hair, and clergymen preaching against the evils of having your crowning glory cut off.  On the other hand, there was all this advertising making you feel that you didn’t look right.

And, of course, there was the obsession with the cinema!  A lot of this was about film star looks.  And a lot of it was about the actual science of make-up, and how people were influenced by the idea that this was all good for you.  But I think the main theme was that, after the Great War, women were increasingly rebelling against the control of society and the patriarchy, and how changing hairstyles, styles of clothing and trends in make-up all showed that.

Like the previous two episodes, it said so much about the society of the day, and how trends involving hair and clothes and make-up were a part of that.  This really has been a great series, and I’m only sorry that there’ve only been three episodes of it.  Well done, Lisa Eldridge and BBC 2!   Good stuff 🙂 .

Great British Railway Journeys (series 12) – BBC 2

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 I wasn’t sure how this was going to pan out, but Michael Portillo and BBC 2 have done an excellent job of adapting to Covid restrictions; and they managed to make Slough, Pinner, Hatch End and various other places which, with all due respect, don’t scream “glamour”, sound very interesting!   Windsor, Winchester and Oxford added some rather more traditional interest, along with Downton Abbey (OK, Highclere Castle), and we even got to see Michael riding on Thomas the Tank Engine along the “Watercress Line” heritage railway in Hampshire.

The theme was the 1930s, and we heard about a wide range of subjects relating to that decade, although we did also cross into the 1920s and 1940s.  We got the Abdication, the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, the establishment of the spinal injuries unit at Stoke Mandeville, the opening of a Mars factory 🙂 in Slough, Heath Robinson’s cartoons and the model village at Bekonscot, to name but a few.  And, of course, we got Thomas the Tank Engine!  The second week’s going to cover the Kindertransport, Sutton Hoo, the (in)famous Summerhill School and 1930s art in the first episode alone, so they really are packing a lot into each half hour slot.

The pandemic wasn’t really mentioned, but we did see Michael wearing his (garishly-coloured) mask on the trains, and he only spoke to one person at a time – no big groups, no joining in with dancing or other activities.  And he’s unlikely to be filming abroad any time soon.  But it didn’t spoil any of the programmes.  This is what we’re all having to do at the moment – adapt as best we can, and try to find interesting things to see and do within the restrictions.  It’s lovely to see another series of this, and it’s wonderful that they’ve been able to film it despite everything that’s been going on.

Make-up: A Glamorous History (second episode) – BBC 2

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  I am so impressed with this series!   I thought it was just going to be, well, lipstick, powder and paint, but the episode on the Georgians was great and so too was this episode on the Victorians.  I couldn’t help thinking how some of the Victorian ideas on appearance were still influencing children’s books written in the mid-20th century, which I was reading as a kid in the early 1980s.  As Lisa Eldridge pointed out, Victorian ideas on being able to judge someone’s personality based on how they looked verged on the bonkers – but, in Enid Blyton adventure and mystery books, you always know that anyone with a thick neck or “eyes set too closely together” will turn out to be a baddie!   And, at the Chalet School, wearing more than the slightest hint of make-up is a sign that you are a Very Bad Girl, and yet you’re supposed to look attractive at all times.  As Lisa said, that works OK if you’re naturally stunning, but it really doesn’t for the rest of us!  I do not have the nerve to go anywhere without make-up on.

All sorts of other things also made their way into this – from the Contagious Diseases Act, to people having issues with red hair because of Scottish and Irish nationalism, to soldiers being expected to have huge moustaches because it was thought that Indian men with lots of facial hair looked uber-virile and that British men should try to get the same look.

It started with fairly standard stuff about Victorians not being keen on the idea of make-up because it was associated with being on the stage, and also because the later Victorians were obsessed with the idea that cleanliness was next to godliness and thought that a clean face meant a bare face.  But it went beyond that, to talk about how it was felt that, if you covered your face with make-up, you might be trying to hide something … like the fact that your face was ravaged by syphilis, and from there it got on to the Contagious Diseases Act, and how women were so frightened of being dragged in for those horrific speculum examinations that they were afraid to wear make-up in case it led to their being mistaken for prostitutes.   Very interesting point.  And it also talked about the general attitudes towards women, and how a lot of make-up looked as if you were putting yourself out there rather than fading into the background.

There was also some talk about phrenology, which always makes me think of Mr Rochester doing his “feeling your bumps” thing, and the general idea of being able to judge people by their appearance.  It didn’t go into eugenics in too much detail, but it did touch on the idea.  And it also mentioned the idea of TB being seen as making people look attractive – bright eyes, rosy cheeks, etc – and compared it to the heroin chic idea of the 1990s.  It was just fascinating how the programme developed.

There was also some talk about hair.  There are still some rules about facial hair in the Armed Services, aren’t there?  Anyway, we heard about how, after the Crimean War, soldiers were banned from shaving above their top lips, and this was in force until 1916 … and how this was because Indian men with luxuriant beards and moustaches were thought to look very manly.  I have to say that I am not a fan of men having either beards or moustaches, although I know that some people wear them for religious reasons, but each to their own!

And then the issue of red hair.  I thought that prejudice against people with red hair was to do with religion, because Judas was supposed to have had red hair, and the Spanish Inquisition associated red hair with being Jewish, but the programme made the point that it was also associated with Scotland and Ireland – and presumably, by extension, with ideas of Irish and Scottish nationalism.  If Nicola Sturgeon was watching, she was probably quite chuffed to hear that!   Interesting idea.  I don’t really know why, but everyone has this image of Jacobites as having bright red hair.  You can even buy Jacobite tam o’shanters with a load of false red hair attached, which is utterly ridiculous: the Old Pretender and Bonnie Prince Charlie both wore white powdered wigs, and had brownish hair!    Scotland and Ireland do both have far higher percentages of people with red hair than England does, though.

All this from talking about make-up!   This series really is good.  It’s a shame that there’s only one episode left.

 

Make-up: A Glamorous History – BBC 2

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  I wasn’t sure what to expect from this programme, presented by make-up artist Lisa Eldridge, but it turned out to be pretty interesting, as she discussed how upper-class High Georgian ladies piled their hair so high that they had to sit on the floor of their carriages rather than their seats, and were so obsessed with painting their faces with white lead that at least one woman died of lead poisoning as a result.  The men got in on the act too, with the craze for “macaroni” dress – tall, powdered wigs, diamante buckles on shoes, et al.

Meanwhile, Georgian lads’ mags printed league tables ranking famous women according to their beauty, grace and elegance, with Georgiana Cavendish nee Spencer, the famous Duchess of Devonshire, always coming out on top.  Georgiana actually employed a personal hairdresser, who was paid more than her lady’s maid, housekeeper, butler or coachmen.  And such was the general interest in all these goings-on that shop windows were full of prints of pictures of the rich and famous, and people even rented hotel rooms so that they could hang out of the windows to watch their faves go by.  And we think that obsession with celebs is a 21st century thing!

But, according to Lisa, the shock of the French Revolution caused such a reaction against excessive make-up that it wasn’t until the days of glam rock and the New Romantics that people went so OTT again. I can honestly say that I’d never really thought of it quite like that before, but I can see where she was coming from!   I was going to mention Adam Ant, but dandy highwaymen and Prince Charming are more Regency than High Georgian 🙂 .

However overboard the whole make-up and hair thing went in Britain, it was far worse in France, where hundreds of courtiers would actually go and watch Marie Antoinette performing her toilette, because it was such a long and elaborate job.  It’s fairly hard to argue that that in itself had much to do with the French Revolution, but, OK, it was all part of the culture of excess.

The general idea of the programme was that make-up says a lot about the era, and that, in this instance, the upper-classes used make-up to show off their wealth and power – an ordinary person would never have been able to afford those sorts of cosmetics, nor would they have had the time to apply them.  The programme was as much about hairstyles as make-up, but, OK, the two things go together.  I could have done without the attempts to make everything “relevant” to today – I’m sure we can all think about the Georgians without needing to think about the Kardashians – but it really was quite interesting.

Silenced: the hidden story of disabled Britain – BBC 2

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  I was expecting a programme to mark the 50th anniversary of Alf Morris’s landmark Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act last year, but there wasn’t one – maybe due to the problems of filming during lockdown? – and, strangely, this programme didn’t even mention it.  It was rather confused, starting by talking about physically disabled people, then switching to mentally disabled people, then switching back to physically disabled people and leaving the story of the rights of mentally disabled people stuck in the 1930s, but it made some interesting points.

It was very distressing to hear the story of the family from Birkenhead whose mentally disabled daughter was taken away by the authorities, against her will and theirs.  Her brothers were under the impression that she’d died, and only learnt 70 years later that she was still alive, and had been in an institution all those years.   By contrast, praise was heaped on Ludwig Guttmann, about whom we heard so much about during the London Paralympics, for doing so much to change attitudes towards physically disabled people in Britain … although the programme seemed quite critical of doctors who’d tried to treat those injured during the First World War.  Maybe the most telling moment was at the end, when campaigners talked about able-bodied and physically disabled children wanting to go to school together, none of them wanting to be separated from their friends.

Ironically, the programme started by reminding us about when Cerrie Burnell, the presenter, who was born with half of one arm missing, became a presenter on CBBC, and some parents complained.  Parents, not kids.   It then went back to the late 18th/early 19th century, making the point that mechanisation and industrialisation made it difficult for disabled people to find work, and forcing many into the workhouse as a result.

Then it jumped forward to the late 19th century, to talk about a woman called Mary Dendy.  Why had I never heard of her?  Although she was originally from Wales, she ended up in the Manchester area, and was one of the founders of the “Lancashire and Cheshire Society of the Permanent Care of the Feeble Minded”.  At this point, we left the history of physically disabled people and moved solely on to the history of mentally disabled people: as I said, the programme did jump around a lot.  Mary Dendy was distressed at seeing people, especially children, just left in workhouses to die, and founded a settlement at Sandlebridge, near Alderley Edge, where mentally disabled people could be cared for.  To that extent, she meant well … but she seemed to have no idea of mentally disabled people being able to care for themselves and make choices, and she wanted them kept away from society as a whole.

And then we came to the difficult subject of eugenics.  As most people know, the idea of eugenics did have a lot of support in the first half of the 19th century, including from some very well-known and well-respected figures.  Times change, thankfully.  Although Britain never had a policy of forced sterilisations in the way that some countries did, the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913 led to people being forcibly removed into institutions, and there was very much an idea that men and women should be segregated to avoid any possibility of their having children.

It remained in force until repealed by Harold Macmillan’s government in 1959 … long after the idea of eugenics had been completely discredited by its association with the Nazis.  But we never heard about that, because the focus then switched to physically disabled people, and the argument that, especially in the inter-war period, able-bodied people were trying to “mend” physically disabled people and “cure” their disabilities.

I must say that I’d dispute the criticism of doctors who provided false legs for men who’d had legs amputated as a result of injuries and gangrene in the First World War.  And, indeed, the general criticism of people with prosthetic limbs.  Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but I did find it quite odd.  My late grandfather had a false leg.  He had a leg amputated due to a combination of a car accident and poor circulation resulting from diabetes.  Having a false leg was what was right for him.  I don’t see why that’s any more “ableist” than a short-sighted person such as myself wearing glasses or contact lenses, or a deaf person wearing a hearing aid.  Cerrie doesn’t want to have a prosthetic arm, and that’s what right for her, and it’s appalling that she was criticised for that when she was on CBBC.  But, if someone else makes a different choice, then surely that’s up to them.

However, there were some horrific stories of the treatments to which people were subjected, often when they were only children – one woman spoke about having her legs broken over and over again, to try to get them to grow back straighter.

Then it moved on to the work done by Dr Guttmann, and then to the campaigns for disability rights.  I do think it odd that the Alf Morris Act wasn’t mentioned, but the focus was more on the protest movements than the actual legislation.  It was a shame that it didn’t go further back, really: it said “history”, but it did said next to nothing about anything prior to the early 19th century.  But I think that the idea was to mark the 10th anniversary of the Equality Act, which was also last year, and to focus on what still needs to be done.

When we finally get out of this bloody pandemic, it’s going to be a different world, and, as happened after the Boer War, the First World War and the Second World War, we’re probably going to see a lot of social and economic change.  Given all the economic problems caused by the situation, some of that will inevitably be bad, but hopefully some of it will be good too.

This wasn’t a particularly good programme, unfortunately: it jumped around a lot, it didn’t seem to want to give space to different viewpoints, and the position of people with mental disabilities wasn’t brought up to date.  But, as I said, it did make some interesting points. It just could have been a lot better, because it had an important story to tell.

 

Royal History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley: the French Revolution – BBC 1

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  I thought that some of this was a bit patronising.  Surely most people realise that the institution of monarchy in France didn’t come to an end in 1789, or even 1793; and surely no-one thinks that the French Revolution was a peasants’ revolt.  Also, Lucy Worsley’s childish dressing up is extremely annoying, as is her use of the word “fibs” which I don’t think anyone over the age of eight is in the general habit of using …. although I did rather envy the large plate of French pastries which she apparently found necessary to illustrate the issue of food shortages.  Furthermore, there was a disappointing lack of reference to either tricoteuses or Charlotte Corday murdering Marat in the bath.  People should always mention these things when discussing the French Revolution.  Especially tricoteuses.

Having said all that, I thought she made some extremely good points.  There were three main themes which stood out for me.  One was the demonisation of Marie Antoinette – and I’d draw parallels with Henrietta Maria and Alexandra Feodorovna, as well.  All three had their faults, but they weren’t responsible for their husbands’ failures.  Yet people always seem to find it easier to blame a woman, especially a foreign woman.  One was the way in which French history romanticises the Revolution, conveniently ignoring the Terror, the fact that it wasn’t actually very democratic at all, and the fact that the First Republic only actually lasted for, er, twelve years.  And the third was the way in which British history views it completely differently, due in no small part to Charles Dickens and Madame Tussaud, and puts a lot of emphasis on Madame Guillotine.  I think it was probably also Dickens who popularised the image of tricoteuses.  I really was very disappointed that there was no mention of tricoteuses …

Poor old Marie Antoinette, then.  I think most people are now past the idea of her saying “Let them eat cake” but, as Lucy pointed out, the idea was so strongly held for decades that it even appeared in school textbooks.  I don’t think she ever stood a chance, even when she got married: it was too soon after the Diplomatic Revolution, and Austrians weren’t popular in France.  Then it took her a while to produce an heir … which was because Louis didn’t, er, make the effort.  And, as I’ve said, people love to demonise a woman, especially a foreign woman, and especially to make sexual allegations about her.  In poor Marie Antoinette’s case, she was even accused of abusing her own son.  That’s not widely reported now, but the “let them eat cake” story does still linger.

As for the French view of the Revolution, Lucy wasn’t nastily sarcastic like she was in the unpleasant series about American history, but she did poke a bit of fun at Emmanuel Macron (a man who irritates me a million times more than she does) for making out that the French Revolution was some great exercise in democracy which set the pattern for the entire world.  It was pointed out that the Storming of the Bastille only actually freed a few prisoners, most of whom were forgers and one of whom was an Irishman who thought he was Julius Caesar.  And that the franchise was only extended to some men, not all.  And no women.

I don’t think anyone sees it as a peasants’ revolt, but it does have this image as a mass uprising, whereas, as Lucy said, it started off with a group of upper-middle-class legislators having a meeting at a tennis court.  The “to the barricades” thing belongs to 19th century risings.  French history tends to gloss over that.  And it glosses over the Terror …

… whereas British history is obsessed with the Terror!   Guillotines!  Tumbrils!  Tricoteuses!  Oh, hang on, she didn’t mention tricoteuses.  The guillotine was apparently meant to be democratic, though.  I have to admit that I’d never thought of that, but it was a very good point.  English historians are very familiar with the idea of posh people being beheaded on Tower Hill, with a nice sharp sword rather than an axe in Anne Boleyn’s case, whereas common people were hanged at Tyburn; and Ancien Regime France had a similar system.  Then came the guillotine.  And it didn’t hurt – although I suppose we don’t really know that for sure, as none of its victims can tell us.  But there is still no denying the fact that a lot of people were guillotined, and that the Terror well deserves its name.

Even so, I think that there was still some romanticising in Britain over the French Revolution, especially given the repressive nature of Pitt the Younger’s government.  But I think British historians get more romantic about the American Revolution, even though it was against Britain!

To draw this back to the idea of “fibs”, the point was that the French and British views of the French Revolution are very different but both pretty biased.  Fair point.  Although I remember everyone making a big fuss about the 200th anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille, in 1989.  We had a “French day” at school – which must have been at least a week early, as we’d have broken up by the 14th.  We were supposed to speak French all day.  Very Chalet School.  Except that no-one really bothered.  But we did get croissants at break.  It was a bit mad that we, in Britain, made a fuss of that.  But then people make a fuss about the Fourth of July as well.  Oh, whatever!  It’s an excuse to eat …

We were also reminded about the obsession with decimalising everything – although, strangely, without any reference to the Brumaire/Thermidor calendar.  And about the use of hot air balloons.  I think the idea of that was to make the point that the revolutionaries were into science, although I don’t think anyone’s ever “fibbed” that they weren’t.   And, apparently, Robespierre wasn’t as bad as people make out.  Hmm.  Oh, and the Tricolore is not really a revolutionary or republican symbol, because the white is the Bourbon colour, and it wasn’t really a thing until the 1848 Revolution, not the 1789 one, anyway.  The word “Tricolore” always reminds me of our school French textbooks.  They were a big thing in the 1980s.

Anyway, despite Lucy’s rather irritating presenting style, I enjoyed this more than her American history series, when she was so spitefully sarcastic about the history of our most important ally, or the previous “Royal History” series when she kept putting across the BBC’s Euro-obsessive agenda instead of talking about what she was supposed to be talking about.  This was much better, and hopefully the rest of the series will be the same.  And I wonder what happened to all those pastries …

 

 

Harlots (Series 2) – BBC 2

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This has been superb.  I watched the first series, on ITV Encore, but then it moved to Starzplay, which I haven’t got.  So I was very pleased when it was announced that BBC 2 would be showing both series 2 and series 3.   A series about feuding brothels in 18th century London sounds rather prurient, but it isn’t like that.  There’s an ’80s soap element to it, with the feuds and the elaborate clothes and the fancy houses, but a lot of what it shows is about the role of women in Georgian London – the susceptibility of vulnerable women to abuse, and also the way in which other women were able to take advantage of the demand for their “services”, either from a “keeper” or within a “bawdy house”.  It shows how the male Establishment would close ranks to protect their own – although, in the conclusion to this series, the women get the better of them, and it’s a big cast of strong female characters who lead all the plotlines.

We also see the diversity of Georgian London.  A lot of the women had come to London from various parts of the country, hoping to find work there.  There are a number of prominent black characters.  We see very few dwarf actors on TV, but one of the harlots is a dwarf.  We’ve got “molly boy” male prostitutes, as well as female prostitutes, and we’ve got lesbian and bisexual characters.  But none of it’s done in tokenistic way: each character is a full and natural part of what’s going on.

It’s well-written, well-acted, appeals to the senses – the costumes and hairstyles are amazing! – and is always entertaining.  Bring on series 3!

The feud between brassy but good-natured Margaret Wells and snooty, evil Lydia Quigley’s expanded in the second series to include a third bawdy house, run by Lydia’s son Charles and ambitious harlot Emily Lacey.  Without giving away the entire plot, there are murders and attempted murders.  We find out that Margaret and Lydia were once very close, and learn more about their backgrounds, and we see how Margaret’s relationship with both her daughters is affected by the situation which they’re all in.  Also in the mix are the puritanical mother and daughter preaching against prostitution, although we know that the mother was once a prostitute herself, Lady Isabella, whom Lydia Quigley knows is hiding away a secret child born as a result of abuse by her brother, and the Lord Chief Justice, who keeps ending up with either Lydia or Margaret in front of him in court but can’t do too much about either of them in case their associates reveal his own penchant for harlots.

However, away from all the feuding and the nightlife and the ’80s soap-ish stuff, there’s a “Gentleman’s Club” of vile aristocratic man who enjoy raping young virgins, procured for them by Lydia Quigley.  Everyone becomes embroiled in all sorts of intrigues as they try to expose each other: there is a definite touch of Dallas and Dynasty about it, in a very well-portrayed Georgian setting, but we don’t forget that there are many women being exploited by rich men.  Satisfyingly, at the end of this series, the goodies come out on top … but there’s another series to come, when doubtless everything will get even more tangled.  Bring it on!

 

The Romantics and Us with Simon Schama – BBC 2

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Oh.  Well, I’d been looking forward to this.  I was expecting poems by Wordsworth, Keats et al and paintings by Turner.  Instead, we were informed that the Romantics converted medieval pilgrimages into Parisian riots, and that this was all to do with John Lennon and The Doors.  I mean, I like “Imagine” and “Light My Fire” as much as the next person does, but what do they have to do with daffodils in Grasmere or the season of mist and mellow fruitfulness?  And that William Blake wanted Superman to rescue him from John Locke and Darth Vader.  Locke’s books are extremely boring, admittedly, but I’m not quite clear about the role of Darth Vader in the late 18th century.  And apparently Shelley was a punk rocker.  Because he had a teenage bride.  I think the BBC may have got confused between Johnny Rotten and Jerry Lee Lewis there.  Not that either of them have got anything to do with Shelley.

By this point, I was beginning to wonder if Simon Schama, who is usually very interesting, had recently visited Amsterdam, never mind Paris.  And it then developed into everyone’s a racist, everything’s corrupt, all news is fake news, the entire world is horrible … why, oh why, does the BBC have to be so nasty and negative about everything?  The Romantics, and, for that matter, John Lennon, were looking for peace and beauty. How did the BBC manage to turn that into hatred and ugliness?  Thank goodness All Creatures Great and Small‘s on Channel 5, or the BBC would probably have tried to spoil that as well!  Where were the daffodils?  Where were the Lakes?  The Alps?  The Highlands?

This first episode was *slightly* redeemed by Christopher Eccleston reading “The Masque of Anarchy” and some shots of people walking round town with umbrellas to mark the 200th anniversary of Peterloo, but I still wasn’t convinced that medieval pilgrimages had anything to do with Jim Morrison.  Nor that any of it had anything to do with Darth Vader.

OK, the idea of it was that the Romantics had influenced the present day, and I suppose that some of the points made were valid, if a little far-fetched.  But the way it was presented was all about the BBC getting in little political digs.  Yes, you can make a link between the famous Delacroix “Liberty Leading The People” painting, the one associated with Les Miserables, and the 1968 Paris student uprising, although I’m still not sure where John Lennon comes into.  And I can see the link between medieval pilgrimages and modern day protests, although I’m not convinced that the Romantics were a link between them: pilgrimages were old hat well before the Romantics came along.  But did we need all the political gibes?

And I must confess that I never knew that The Doors were named after a Blake poem and was quite interested to hear that they were, and, OK, maybe some of Blake’s pictures did look a bit like superhero comics, but how do you get from there to saying that everyone’s a racist?

Things did look up when Simon started talking about Mary Wollstonecraft, but this was somehow twisted into saying that politicians do nothing but put out fake news.  He then got on to slagging off the British governments in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, whereupon my ears pricked up because I sensed a mention of Peterloo coming; but it was done in a way that was clearly intended as a dig at 21st century governments. Leave it out, BBC.  You are meant to be unbiased.  However, once he’d shut up about Shelley being a punk rocker, we did get “The Masque of Anarchy” and we did get Peterloo, so that was good.  But then he claimed that an 1818 painting of a shipwreck by an artist called Gericault had something to do with asylum seekers.  And did a lot of talking about cannibals.

I didn’t want cannibals.  I didn’t want Darth Vader.   And I didn’t want a load of political gibes and to be told that everyone’s a racist.

I wanted daffodils.  And lakes.  I wanted something romantic and beautiful, to distract me from everything that’s going on.

I’m off to sort out my holiday photos from the Lake District …

 

Great Continental Railway Journeys – BBC 2

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I was so excited to see a new series of this – I didn’t realise that one had been recorded pre-lockdown – in the TV schedules, and found it particularly interesting that much of the first episode was spent talking about the Spanish Civil War … largely with reference to Michael Portillo’s dad, who came to Britain as a Republican exile.  Scores of men from North West England fought in the International Brigades, and Spanish relief/aid committtees were set up all over the region; but no-one ever talks about it.  I remember once getting quite excited during a mid-1990s episode of Neighbours in which Karl Kennedy’s dad gave Billy and Toadie a lecture on the International Brigades!  It’s a subject that’s rarely discussed – except in connection with George Orwell, and we saw Michael visiting a Republican trench outside Huesca with Orwell’s son.

We also saw Michael visiting Salamanca, Avila and Madrid, all of which I’ve been fortunate enough to visit, and Zaragoza, which I haven’t … yet.  And a border railway station in the Pyrenees, used as an escape route by Jews and Allied soldiers fleeing Occupied France during the war.  No-one spells Zaragoza the old English way, “Saragossa”, since Real Zaragoza had that good run in the mid-1980s.  And no-one spells Marseille with an s on the end since they got to the European Cup Final in 1991.  This is an interesting linguistic phenomenon.  It should be investigated.

Anyway.  Michael, resplendent in a yellow jacket, purple shirt and vermilion trousers – I wonder if he dresses like that when he’s not filming – started off in Salamanca, with a Bradshaw’s guidebook (everyone knows that George Bradshaw was from Salford, yes?) from 1936.  We did hear a bit about the general history of Salamanca, but this was a very personal episode and the focus was on Michael’s late dad and his time as a professor at the university there: we even saw the index cards which Franco’s government had kept on Luis Portillo Perez.  Oh, and sliced ham.  Then lovely Avila, famed for its association with St Teresa.

And then on to Madrid.  We saw quite a lot of the architecture of Salamanca and Avila, but Madrid’s too big to cover in one segment of one programme, although we did see some of its highlights.  And, again, we heard about Portillo snr.  Michael stood in front of Picasso’s “Guernica” and talked about how his parents would never have met had it not been for the bombing of Guernica.  To be fair, he did talk about the devastation it caused, as well, not just its role in his own family history!  The lady at the Museum Reina Sofia said that “Guernica” was the most important painting of the twentieth century.  There’s certainly a good case for saying that.

Then it was on to Zaragoza, capital of Aragon … and we got a mention of Ferdinand and Isabella.  Things got a bit more light-hearted here, with the requisite making-an-idiot-of-himself segment, this one involving Michael trying to join in with the Aragonese Jota dance.  But then we returned to the subject of the Civil War, with the visit to the trench at Huesca.

Finally, after a journey through some lovely countryside, Michael ended up at the Franco-Spanish border station of Canfranc, opened in 1928, at which time it was the second largest station in Europe.  It’s not used much now.  That’s rather sad.  I do love those grand old railway stations!

And I love Spain.  We’ll get back there.  One day!   I’m not sure when this was filmed, but who would have guessed that, by the time it was filmed, going to Spain and indeed travelling by train at all would have largely vanished off the menu?   Let’s just hope that this doesn’t go on for too much longer.  In the meantime, especially with so many repeats on TV due to the disruption to filming caused by the pandemic, it is wonderful to have a new series of this lovely programme!   Thoroughly enjoyed this first episode, and looking forward to the episodes to come!