TV and Radio

On this page you will find listings for TV and Radio programmes (only those available on Freeview TV).  This in mainly down to documentaries on BBC4 and BBC Radio 4, although I have thrown in the occasional film or classical drama/comedy that might be of note.


TV and Radio Listings Saturday 28th November to Friday 4th December 2015

Nothing this week.


TV and Radio Listings Saturday 14th November to Friday 20th November 2015

Saturday 14th November

8:00pm BBC Radio 4:  Archive on 4: Archive on Four

Elsewhere on the BBC this week Dominic Sandbrook will be arguing that the 1960s were not real.  Here, Archive on Four looks at how from 1965 the BBC2 current affairs series Man Alive both reflected and fed changing social attitudes.


Monday 16th November

9:45am BBC Radio 4:  Book of the Week:  Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink

Singer-songwriter Elvis Costello reads from his own memoire.  An intriguing book, although to a degree this is a literary work rather than an historical one.

[Daily until Friday]


1:45pm BBC Radio 4: Raising the Bar: 100 years of Black British theatre and screen

Lenny Henry continues his study of black people on the screen and modern stage in Britain with a further fie programmes.

[Daily Monday to Friday and omnibus at 9pm on Friday]


9:00pm BBC4 Timeshift:  How Britain Won the Space Race – the Story of Bernard Lovell and Jodrell Bank

The story of the building of the Jodrell Bank observatory from its early days in 1945, to the creation of the radio telescope in the 1950s.  These BBC history of science programmes are often well worth watching.


10:00pm Channel 5:  Inside Holloway

Repeat of second of two parts of this 2014 documentary about Holloway women’s prison in north London.   This second instalment covers the years 1948 to 2014.  Hardly counts as serious history, more a string of tabloid sensationalist headlines.


Wednesday 11th November

9:00pm BBC2:  Let Us Entertain You

Third of four programmes.  In the first part of Dominic Sandbrook’s history of British popular culture he pursed a series of flawed theses (particularly the nonsensical idea that British pop culture is a “new Empire”, see my review here: ).  The secondpart descended into unstructured and contradictory randomness that did little more that assert that country houses and the Royal Family are central to British popular culture (see my explanation of why this programme was too poor to review here: ).

Hopefully, this third programme will not repeat this woefully chaotic spectacle of the second  It does at least appear to have a theme, that modern British culture is rooted that of the Victorian is at least a thesis.  But the evidence presented for this so far as been tenuous (they invented things, now we invent TV formats; they were capitalists, so are we!)  Apparently Dr. Who reinvents the Victorian adventurer in Victorian dress (really, David Tennant’s Converse, Christopher Eccelstone’ leather jacket and v-necked t-shirt?)  For sure, there was a tendency to frock coats in the some of the early incarnations and there has been something the steam-punk about Dr. Who in recent years is fair enough, but is this a general theme of British TV SF?  And does this mean that Dr. Who is essentially Victorian?


TV and Radio Listings Saturday 7th November to Friday 13th November 2015

Satruday  7th November

8:00pm BBC Radio 4:  Archive on 4: The End of the Rope

The venerable John Tulsa has a look at the abolition of the death penalty 50 years ago and discusses the reason for the defeat of continued attempt to reintroduce it.


Monday 9th November

1:45pm BBC Radio 4: Raising the Bar: 100 years of Black British theatre and screen

First of ten fitreen-minute programmes.  Lenny Henry looks at long struggle for black performers and writers to gain their place on stage and screen.

[Daily Monday to Friday for the next two weeks, and omnibus at 9pm on Friday]


10:00pm Channel 5:  Inside Holloway

Repeat of first of two parts of this 2014 documentary about Holloway women’s prison in north London.   This first instalment is only just in by period here, covering the period 1852 when the Camden prison opened to 1948.  Next week looks at more recent years.  I have very little confidence in Channel 5 to produce anything other than prurient rubbish … but we will see.


Wednesday 11th November

9:00pm BBC2:  Let Us Entertain You

The first instalment showed how the degree to which Dominic Sandbrook has abandoned the terrain of serious history for repeatedly asserting the same point over and over with selective and often inaccurate evidence in support.   This second instalment levers together some random evidence to suggest that Britain culture as a whole is still in the thrall of the aristocracy, public school and old money.  There are of course elements of truth here, but no doubt these will be presented in way so one-sided that it makes a nonsense of them.


TV and Radio Listings Saturday 31st October to Friday 6th November 2015

Saturday 31st October

8:00pm C4:  How to be a Queen: 63 Years and Counting.

By my count, this is something like the fifth C4 documentary about the Royal Family in as many months.  This looks like more fawning, makeweight nonsense.  It asks how the Queen has remained popular for the last 63 years, a question that it would take more than a 90-minute C4 documentary to answer.


8:00pm BBC Radio 4:  Archive on 4: The Time Machine

Not sure what to make of this offering from Archive on 4.  It’s broadcast marks (a little imprecisely( the date on which Back to the Future II was set, presented by the comedian/rapper Doc Brown (whose main qualification seems to be that he takes his names from a character in Back to Future, but is more interestingly Zadie Smith’s brother).  He looks at the events of the day 21st January 1981 when the first DeLorean car (also featured in the film) rolled off the production line. Then, like Joyce’s Ulysses, this programme immerses itself in the events of that day and their long term impact.  A rather convoluted set up, but the idea of looking at a day’s events (which I know has been done before, but I cannot recall when and where) has potential.


9:30pm C4:  It was Alright in the 1970s

For a show based on clips this programme has ideas above its station.  Last week’s It Was Alright in the 1980s made a vague attempt to build up an analysis of fear is the 1980s (nuclear war, AIDS, drugs) but ended up sounding like a GCSE meeja-studies project.  When it discussed AIDS it could not distinguish the social comment of Dot Cotton’s homophobia in Eastenders from Alf Garnet’s (admittedly tired) lampooning of reactionary ideas in ‘Til Death Do Us Part (which itself displays the same ironic ambiguity that infects this programme).  All are held up for ridicule rather than analysis.  Most telling, the government’s public information film, Don’t Die of Ignorance, is reported as a triumph.  Most HIV/AIDS campaigners at the time criticised this film for being too vague, and avoiding rather than confronting the taboos that meant that ignorance was likely to be perpetuated.  This programme looks as “Living Dangerously” in the 1970s, which would seem to imply poor health and safety on TV, jokes about domestic violence and what now appears as appalling casual racism (and I am not sure that Spike Milligan attempting to play Asian character in the 1970s at the very least excruciatingly embarrassing, but given the Beeb cancelled The Melting Pot after just one episode of a planned six in 1975 it must have been pretty bad).  As ever, irritating minor celebrities give random reaction to a series of unrepresentative clips in a way that is often prurience wrapped in irony.

[Repeated 11:05pm Monday 2nd November]


Sunday 1st November

1:30pm: BBC Radio 4: Ten Days that Toppled Thatcher

I assume that this is being broadcast to mark the death of Geoffrey Howe, who played a prominent part in the fall of Thatcher.  I suspect there will be nothing new in this 30 minute programme.


Monday 2nd November

8:00pm:  BBC Radio 4: Who Runs Labour?

Interesting comparison between the situation in the Labour Party now, and its previous high-point in the early 1980s.


Wednesday 4th November

8:00pm BBC4:  Britain’s Nuclear Secrets Inside Sellafield.

Repeat showing of Jim Al-Khalili’s programme from earlier this year.   Although this mixes the history of Windscale in the development of British nuclear weapons and domestic nuclear power with a keen interest in the physics, the history itself remains somewhat functional and lightweight.  Some of these judgements are a little questionable (his claims that nuclear power offering cheap energy does not stand up to scrutiny).  Nonetheless, an interesting watch.


Wednesday 4th November

9:00pm BBC2:  Let Us Entertain You

The Daily Mail’s in-house historian Dominic Sandbrook back with another (if it is true to form) light-weight TV series, this being the first of four parts.  His previous outings have swung between the anodyne and the plain wrong (for more details on Sandbrook’s failings, see my blog  This series is accompanied by a just-published book, The Great British Dream Factory, in which Sandbrook argues that with the decline of Empire, culture became central to the UK economy, and this in turn is rooted not in the affluent South but in areas of industrial decline.  This culture, Sandbrook continues, was based the imperial period with elements of music hall, the Victorian adventure and the certainties of the class system dominating rather than any element of modernity.  While there is truth that many of the cultural tropes of British culture are based in the rise of mass culture in the nineteenth century, Sandbrook requires a very selective reading of cultural history to sustain this hypothesis.  What is perhaps most remarkable about Sandbrook’s book is that, in an act that is both arrogant and lazy, it totally ignores previous scholarships on the British popular culture (Richard Haggard?  Dismissed as a “highbrow” in one sentence.  Raymond Williams?  Simply ignored).  It is trite and ill-thought through stuff.  I will be giving it a proper seeing too on my other blog.


TV and Radio Listings Saturday 24th October to Friday 30th  October 2015

 Saturday 24th October

8:00pm C4:  The Sex Change Spitfire Ace

A lot could be told through the story of Britain’s first surgical female-to-male transgender transition, and those of the other 1950s transgender people presented here.  I am not sure that I quite trust C4 deliver something beyond the superficial.


8:00pm BBC Radio 4:  The Future of the BBC – A History

With the future of the BBC very much in the balance with a heavy finder on the scales froma Conservative government that is increasingly willing to ride rough-shod over any established institution, this programme’s takes a timely look at how the BBC’s future has been seen in the past.


9:00pm C4:  It was Alright in the 1980s

This is, of course, a prime time clip show where irritating minor celebrities give random reaction to a series of unrepresentative clips in a way that is often prurience wrapped in irony.  For some reason, they have asked Nigel Farage his opinion on some of the programmes here.  This programme claims to look at the “dark side” of the 1980s on TV, issues covered include nuclear war, AIDS and the folk-devil of “video nasties”.  So plenty of room for the half-knowing cod sociologese that this programme specialises in.

[Repeated 11:05pm Monday 26th October]


TV and Radio Listings Saturday 16th October to Friday 23rd October 2015

Saturday 17th October

9:00pm C4:  It was Alright in the 1990s

This is, of course, a prime time clip show where irritating minor celebrities give random reaction to a series of unrepresentative clips.  There is some code meeja-studies comment, but occasionally some serious material pocks through.  The last chuck of It was Alright in the 1970s has some notable content with withdrawn sex-education films, and there is a backdrop of changing social mores.   As far as these things go, it really is not that bad.  It will probably compare favourably with 20 Moments that Rocked the 00s which follows on C5 (10:30pm) where Lauren Lavern looks at the decade in a much more superficial way.

[Repeated 11:05pm Monday 19th October]


Tuesday 20th October

9:00pm: BBC4 Timeshift:  The People’s Liners – Britain Lost Pleasure Fleets.

There are a number of currents to the BBC contemporary history output, and one of the biggest is nostalgia tinged transport.  Here is it costal steamers.  Very little of this will be post-war, the period covered being form 1820 to 1965.  There is another dollop of Timeshift’s approach at 12:00 midnight with a repeat of their programme on the camp spectacle of UK wrestling, When Wrestling was Golden – Grapples, Grunts and Grannies 


Wednesday 21st October.

10:00pm:  BBC4: Ford’s Dagenham Dream

Repeat of 2009 BBC documentary about the rise and fall of Ford’s Essex factory which opened in 1931.  Largely an oral history based on workers in the factory peppered with Ford’s product and marketing strategy.  Some real insights into the nature of the labour process, but elsewhere has a tendency to become a bit petrol-head.  (Trigger warning: Alan Ford’s professional cockney narration may be a little irritating and cause worrying flashbacks for anyone who has seen Cockneys vs. Zombies)


Thursday 22nd October

11:30am: BBC Radio 4: Rave: the Beat Goes On 

Following on from the last part Mark Radcliffe’s BBC4 history of Indie, Music For Misfits, this programme looks at (what  was for me at least) how the light-weight anarchism of the rave scene in the late 1980s shaded into full on free-market entrepreneurial music business by the 1990s.  Here, we have a look at the progress of Spiral Tribe from the fields around the south west corner of the M25 in the early 1990s to something much more in the corporate mainstream now.


Friday 23rd OctoberI 

10:00pm:  BBC4 Psychedelic Britannia

Another portion of the BBC4 pop-culture strand.  This is just a one-off looking at the late 1960s with interviews with Robert Wyatt and Vasti Bunyan.


TV and Radio Listings Saturday 10th October to Friday 16th October 2015

Saturday 10th October

9:00pmBBC2:  Ted Hughes: Stronger than Death

Probably not quite history, but worthy a mention here.  Would appear to be driven by Jonathan Bate’s new biography of Hughes.


Sunday 11th October

9:00pm: BBC4 Return to Larkinland

Another poet biog that may or may not be of interest for a historian’s perspective.


Thursday 15th October

9:00pm More4:  Disappearing Britain

I put this on last week.  I am so very sorry for anyone who watched as a result.  This is flabby, low grade heritage porn.  The makers seem aware that there is an concoction called heritage, but then goes all soft focus and talks about things that are “quintessentially English”.  A stomach churning saccharine syrup.


Friday 16th October

10:00pm BBC4:  Music for Misfits:  The Story of Indie.

Last part in what has been – overall – a disappointing series.  Very much driven by the music with little asked about that the greater social causes and significance of the rise and fall on independent music labels has been.  Quite watchable nonetheless.


TV and Radio Listings Saturday 3rd October to Friday 9th October 2015

Saturday 3rd October

8:00pm Radio 4: Archive on Four – John Lennon Verbatim

An engaging hour of interviews with John Lennon, edited together without comment (on iPlayer at


Sunday 4th October

9:00pm: C4, This is England ‘90

Last part of Sean Meadows’s fine evocation of the early 1990.


Monday 5th October

9:45am BBC Radio 4:  Book of the Week – Margaret Thatcher: Everything She Wants

Snippets from Charles Moore second volume of his authorised biography of Mrs. T.  This maybe the account of someone who agrees with much that she did, but the first the volume was an honest account with much new material.  The second volume – out this week – is much anticipated, covering her political zenith from 1982 to 1987.

[Continues daily until Friday]


8:00pm:  ITV: Britain as seen on ITV

Last of six parts.  Patchy clips show, lacking structure and context.  There have been some gems here, but amongst an awful lot of dross.  This last instalment offer a selection supposed British icons.  Whether this will say much about how the media (or ITV popular current affairs programmes) have projected British identity remains to be seen.  What this series has shown is that there is real potential for someone to use the archives of ITV and BBC local news programmes to construct a social history of Britain (or even a region of Britain).  TV producers, you can contact via the blog.


Tuesday 6th October

9:00pm BBC4:  Alan Johnson’s First Class Post

One-time leader of the Union of Communication Workers, Labour MP and minister under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Johnson’s image has remained strangely untarnished by his time in government.  His reputation was certainly boosted by his 2013 memoir This Boy and (more relevantly here) and his the second, 2015, volume Please Mr. Postman.  Here Johnson looks at the history of the Post Office although how much depth he will be able to develop in a one-off one hour programme, I don’t know.  There are some histories of the Post Office out there.  Dominic Sandbrook made a serviceable radio series in 2011 (still available on the iPlayer, and in 2012 saw the publication of Duncan Campbell-Smith’s Masters of the Post: The Authorized History of the Royal Mail, perhaps a little dry but a good factual history.  I suspect that this is more driven by Alan Johnson than any interest at the Beeb for another history of the Post, and the BBC may have been better served if they had coaxed him into something with a little more depth to it.


10:35pm BBC1: The VIP Paedophile Ring:  What’s the Truth?

The truth, I suspect, is that we do not know unless we get very luck.  Rumour is not enough (and there were rumours about Leon Brittan dating back to the 1980s although I have always detected a whiff of establishment anti-Semitism being directed at Brittan).  I suspect that this Panorama special will come down against the police for taking the allegations too seriously (which would be wrong) and the media reporting it.  What remains certain is that there was a time when abusers in positions of power, even if that power was quite slight, could use that power to act with impunity.  I have been reading Dan Davies’s In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile which portrays a terrifying picture of a man who, from his time as a manager at Mecca Ballroom in Ilford, used his position to protect himself – the higher he climbed up the celebrity ladder, the more he used that position to exploit the vulnerable and the more those he knew what he was doing felt unwilling or unable to challenge him.  This is surely true of some in the military and political elite at the time too, it is just a question about whether the names thrown up in recent investigations are the right ones.


Thursday 8th October

9:00pm More4:  Disappearing Britain

I am not sure that to make of this – Maureen Lipman and Eastenders actor Larry Lamb are engaged in a “celebration of British history, culture and tradition” in this first in a series of six.  Here the focus is on the north Cornwall resort and artists’ colony of St. Ives.


Friday 9th October

10:00pm BBC4:  Music for Misfits:  The Story of Indie.

I think that the first past history of the “indie music” – the music and the independent labels that, in theory at least, underpinned its artistic independence and innovative spirit – missed a few tricks.  There was no recognition that independent labels predate punk, although the programme is certainly right to point to the Buzzcocks’s Spiral Scratch EP as the first punk-independent record which showd what was possible  although the band , having proved their talent, promptly signed to a major United Artists with an in-house producer, Martin Rushent, who had previously worked with Yes and ELP).   There was a lot of focus on the “big Indies” such as Factory in the first programme.

In the second, Radcliffe examines how in 1980s the independents began to move far away from being DIY affairs, to being major players themselves -Rough Trade, Factory and Mute being the prime examples.


TV and Radio Listings Saturday 26th September to Friday 2nd October 2015

 Saturday 26th September

3:30pm, BBC Radio 4: Tom Ravencroft’s Campervan of Vinyl Dreams

One of two, seemingly unrelated, programmes on the Beeb this week about the DIY ethos that grew up aligned to alternative music well before punk (and I assume Tom Ravencroft will mention his late father’s Dandelion Records).  Also see Mark Radcliffe’s three parter starting on Friday on BBC4.


Sunday 27th September

9:00pm: C4, This is England ‘90

Third of four parts.  Sean Meadows fine evocation of the early 1990s continues.

Monday 28th September

8:00pm:  ITV: Britain as seen on ITV

Fifth of six parts.  Patchy clips show, lacking structure and context.  But there remain a couple of gems amongst the trivial.  Perhaps this week’s selection, which looks at women (or how ITV regional news programmes represented women) will be more telling than most.



Friday 2nd October

10:00pm BBC4:  Music for Misfits:  The Story of Indie.

The first of three parts.  BBC4 has a decent track record on the history of popular music (and at least this one isn’t called Indie Britannia) and Mark Radcliffe is often thoughtful.  Whether he brings his own eclectic tastes in music to bare on the subject remains to be seen.  The first “indie” record label in Britain was Topic Records, a Communist Party aligned folk label with its roots in the Workers Music Association in the 1930s.  Other pre-punk examples include attempts to create more artistically centred music in the 1960s (Track Records set up by the Who’s management with Jimi Hendrix as their other big star) and into the early 1970s with genuinely utopian Hippy utopianism (John Peel’s Dandelion Records springs to mind) before the punk got hold of the idea with the  Buzzcocks’ Spiral Scratch and Sniffin’ Glue hit the street in 1977.  And lest we forget, to be indie is not necessary to be cool.  Stock, Aitken and Waterman’s PWL records was, arguably, the most successful independent of them all (and inspired, to be sure, by the independent labels that took soul music away from “race music” recorded by the major American labels until the 1950s).

What does this all mean now?  On the one hand no-one needs a recording studio or a pressing plant.  On the other, everyone needs the behemoths of YouTube and Facebook, far more ubiquitous than any record label (and let us not forget that the one-time online music platform of choice was MySpace, bought up by Rupert Murdoch).  And this opening up of production divorced from audience has led to an endless recycling that submerges most innovation.  So although we can all now do ourselves, but only so that (as David Quantick once put it) “pop will eat itself”.


TV and Radio Listings Saturday 20th to Friday 26th September 2015

Apologies, went for a long walk.


TV and Radio Listings Saturday 12th to Friday 19th September 2015

Saturday 12th September

9:00pm, Channel 4 It was alright in the 1980s

Following on from last week’s It Was Alright in the 1970s, the focus switches to the 1980s.

Last week’s programme was a very confused affair, unsure whether it was laughing at or laughing with the casual racism, sexism, comedy Nazis, and other sundry forms of chauvinism and even poor health and safety of the 1970s.  It took a few hesitant steps towards attempting to understanding what was going on before retreating back to it clip show tropes.

The programme hints at many things, particularly that the 1970s were a time when these ideas did not go uncontested and unquestioned (the clip from the left-ish children’s SF series The Tomorrow People  about why it is wrong to dress up in an SS uniform is wooden but well intended).  There is the beginning of an interesting discussion that sex education films, but it goes nowhere.

But on each occasion, things are cut short and understanding left undeveloped.  The seventies were a decade of cultural transitino as the freer and permissive attitudes of the 1960s began to permeate the mass media in an uneven way.  Similarly, black (and to a lesser degree Asian) people became visible through the media, but often as a figures of often as ridicule (although the point is missed with clips from To Death Do Us Part  and Porridge which show racism of white people – in perhaps an ambiguous way – and this racism is the subject of ridicule rather than the people subjected to this racism).

Perhaps we should not look to Saturday night light entertainment to open a window on the world, but this is mostly a missed opportunity.

[Repeated Monday 10pm]


Sunday 13th September

11:15an, BBC Radio 4: The Reunion

Ever reliable Radio 4 on-air witness seminar.  This week, the Birmingham Six with Paddy Hill, one of the six who was imprisoned for the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings, and not released until 1991 (a point where anyone with half a wit believed the six to be innocent in what was not so much a miscarriage of justice but an establishment cover up).  He is joined by three of those who campaigned to free the six, and (slightly oddly, perhaps?), the brother of a victim of the Birmingham bombs.

[Repeated Friday, 9:00am]


1:30pm, BBC Radio 4:  Oil: A Crude History of Britain.

Repeat of first part of Jim Naughtie’s history of British oil.  This can be heard at   This first part was a bit technical in parts, with attention on the difficulties of drilling in the North Sea.  But plenty of political context in the politics of the time from London to Scottish nationalism.


9:00pm: C4, This is England ‘90

Shane Meadows personal take on the 1980s has been an honest account of a troubled child growing up in the 1980s as good as any academic history for understanding the period.  Here his very thinly fictionalised eighteen year-old self, Sean Fields, enters the 1990s in this first of four dramas.  (For those who need a catch up session, there a summary of what preceded this on C4, Saturday 10pm for all of 5 minutes)


10:00pm, C4, The 90s: Ten Years That Changed the World

Repeat of this long documentary, first broadcast in June this year, which looks at British popular culture of the 1990s (very selectively).  This is trite stuff, if you think Oasis vs. Pulp, The Word and superstar DJ’s changed the world then you live in a very time-limited media bubble – which I do not doubt that the makers of this programme do.  I would suggest that what the 1990s show is that after the 1960s, after punk, after the movements of the 1980s and after the rave/dance scene of the late 1980s, popular/youth culture was shorn of any real radicalism, and its commodified side (always an element) became dominant.  From the 1960s capitalism took radical and youth cultures and turned them in commodities, by the end of the 1990s it replaced those cultures with simulacra of its own making.  This documentary does not show that process, but as with much of C4’s output, it part of it.


Monday 7th September

1:45, BBC Radio 4: Computing Britain

First of ten-part series on the history of computing in Britain.

[continues Tuesday to Friday this week, and Monday to Friday this week]


8:00pm:  ITV: Britain as seen on TV

Third of six parts.  Patchy clips show, lacking structure and context but with some gems in amongst the nostalgia (it is very telling that the claim to look at Britain trough sixty years of ITC is largely confined to the 1960s and 1970s).


8:00pm, BBC Radio 4 Oil: a Crude History of Britain

Second part of Jim Naughtie’s fine history of the British oil industry.




TV and Radio Listings Saturday 5th to Friday 11th September 2015

Saturday 5th September

5:10pm, Channel 5  Elizabeth II: the Longest Reign

Worthless royalist propaganda.  Also see The Queen’s Longest Reign: Elizabeth and Victoria on BBC1 at 9:00pm on Monday 7th September.


8:00pm BBC Radio 4, Archive on 4:  The Power of Political Forgetting

Potentially fascinating discussion hosted by David Aaronovich with Juliet Gardiner, Andy Beckett and Daniel Finklestein about how past events can slip from the “collective consciousness” and the impact of this on political actors.  This raises a whole series of questions about how the writing of history is a political act, sometimes knowingly so, that shapes current debates.


9:00pm, Channel 4, It was Alright in the 1970s

OK, there is no rigorous history here, or even serious historical intent.  But in dredging up horrendous examples of casual homophobia, racism and sexism this second series of clips does at least tell half a story.  What would be more interesting, however, is to ask how it was that while TV comedy and light entertainment was cable of reflecting some of reactionary social attitudes of society, at the same time their drama and documentary departments produced some of work which is far better than most programmes that would be commissioned today.


Sunday 6th September

7:00pm Channel 4, The Queen’s Night Out

It would appear that C4 are entirely filling their public service requirement to put some documentaries on the air with royalist fodder (this is the third such programme in six weeks to appear on C4).  Princess Elizabeth and Margaret sneak out to celebrate VE day.  Some old ladies-in-waiting reminisce.  Yawn.


Monday 7th September

8:00pm:  ITV: Britain as seen on TV

Second of six parts.  Very much like It was alright in the 1970s (see above) this has no serious historical intent.  Rather, it invites us to laugh at the past.  Nonetheless, there is some genuinely interesting material here.  The clips in the first helping were largely culled from the archives of local news and magazine programmes, and although there is far too much reliance on ephemeral “one a lighter note” items, there are also real glimpses into forgotten lives.  Last week’s segment on the closure of the last public washhouse in the Midlands in 1977 set a standard that more professional histories often fall short of with its focus the lives of working class women in provincial Englan), although it is worth noting that the last steamy in England has in Everton and did not close until 1995.  Very irritating voice over by Jane Horrocks, however, sets the tone low.


8:00pm, BBC Radio 4 Oil: a Crude History of Britain

Jim Naughtie, who does a recent job on the topics he turns his hand to, looks at the history of the British oil industry since the 1970s.  Key, I would assume, is the boost it gave not only to Scottish nationalism and Thatcher’s governments which were able to sue oil revenues to appear much more competent than they actually were.  Hopefully we can expect more of this now he is freed from the Today Programme.


Tuesday 8th September

4:30pm, BBC Radio 4 Great Lives: Barbara Castle

The Radio 4 hagiography series often says more about those who chose the “great life” than the subject themselves.  Here Frances Cook of the Howard League for Penal Reform and (more surprisingly) the old Labour right-winger Roy Hattersley nominate the Labour left-winger Barbara Castle for consideration.


Thursday 9th September

9:00am, BBC Radio 4, Keir Hardy: Labour’s First Leader.

The focus here is not Keir Hardy (he died in 1915 and is thus not in this blog’s period), but that the story is told by Gordon Brown.


11:30am, BBC Radio 4, Too Much Fighting on the Dance Floor

A brief examination of the violence connected with some musical and youth subcultures in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Potentially interesting, although since this was most associated with post-punk movement, particualry hardcore punk and the skinhead movement (more associated with bands like Sham 69, Angelic Upstarts and the “Strength through Oi” bands than the ska revival) the interviewees on the programme might be a little poorly chosen (Claire Grogan of the fey post-punk pop of Altered Images. Really?).


Friday 11th September

9:45pm, BBC 4 The Story of Musicals

Repeat of all three parts of the highly serviceable 2012 BBC series on the re-emergence of the British musical in the 1970s through its Webber heyday of the 1980s to its decline of juke-box musical and film spin-offs of in more recent years.


TV and Radio Listings Saturday 29th August to Friday 4th September 2015

Sunday 30th August

11:15am BBC Radio 4: The Reunion:

This week the radio eye-witness programme looks at the foot and mouth crisis of 2001, the kind of topic where the reunion is at its best.

[Repeated on Friday at 9:00am]


7:00pm BBC Parliament Channel:  The 1955 General Election.

I am huge fan of these occasional showing of election night footage from the past.  Today we have three hours of footage from the 1955 election, the first to be covered on television.


Monday 24th August

8:00pm:  ITV: Britain as seen on TV

ITV celebrates its 60th anniversary by looking at those years in Britain through its own archives – a programme that could be either very good or very poor.  We will see.


10:00pm BBC4: Ian Hislop Goes off the Rails.

Repeat of Ian Hislop’s 2008 programme about the Beeching Report and the cuts to Britain’s rail network of the 1960s.  It is easy to dismiss Hislop as a fogey-ish misremembrance of things past, but in terms of a one-hour programme this does a decent job of setting Beeching not only in the context of the development of the railway network but the political and ideological imperatives of the 1960s.  Helped greatly by some strong expert input from railways historian Christian Wolmar and Charles Loft.

V and Radio Listings Saturday 22nd to Friday 28th August 2015.

Sunday 23rd August

11:15am BBC Radio 4: The Reunion: The Food Writers

Radio 4’s reliable series this week features cookery writers from the 1950s with the ubiquitous Mary Berry and Prue Leith, along with the more rarely seen Claudia Roden, Katherine Whitehorn and Rose Elliot.

[Repeated on Friday at 9:00am]


Monday 24th August

9:45am BBC Radio 4:  Book of the Week – Francis Bacon in Your Blood.

A weak of snippets from Michael Peppiatt’s memoir (to be published on 27th August) of his thirty year friendship with the artist Francis Bacon which started with an interview for a student magazine in Soho in 1963.  I am not sure how much Bacon tells us about Britain in the post-war period, the greatness of his art is part its sense of bleakness and isolation that are quite at odds with prevailing emotional openness and increasing sense of fun from the 1950 through to the 1970s.  His dark and inaccessible work is quite the opposite of the pop art that is examined by BBC4 this week (see below).

[Continues daily until Friday]


8:05pm BBC4:  When Lucy Met Roy: Sir Roy Strong at 80.

Roy Strong has long been considered one of the seminal figures of the 1960s, an icon of the more popular and accessible arts in the 1960s.  For my money, elite art in the 1960s remained a class-bound affair despite being under attack from more radical movements.  What Roy Strong represented was a middle-brow defence against these attacks, a limited form of populism which had long marked the outer perimeter of the English arts establishment.


Wednesday 26th August

8:30pm BBC4:  What Do Artists Do All Day: Peter Blake

Part of the BBC4 current on pop art (there is a documentary looking that the movement as a whole on Monday at 9:00pm and another on Andy Warhol at same time on Tuesday).  This neatly fits with the Roy Strong above.  While the pre-war avant garde battered the doors of convention and was often highly politicised (and the origins of British pop art, particular Richard Hamilton’s 1950s work most notably Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?, sometimes continued that radical stance), much of pop art threw that overboard for a pastiche of individualism, hedonism and consumerism.  My suspicion is that these programmes will take pop art in an uncritical way.


Thursday 27th August 2015.

9:00pm Channel 4: The Other Prince William

I was in two minds about whether to include another royal documentary in these listings (it is less than a month since C4’s last royal documentary).  This one is about Prince William, the current Queen’s second cousin and thus at the time of his death in 1971, fifth in line to the throne.  The story is here is likely to be that he could not marry the women who has, for the last few years at least, has claimed that he wanted to marry since she was Jewish, divorced and had two young children.  Other than this be more grist to the mill of the up-tightness of the royals, who cares?


TV and Radio Listings Saturday 15th to Friday 21st August 2015.

Monday 10th August

9:00pm BBC4:  Andrew Marr on Churchill: Blood, Sweat and Oil Paint.

Not really post-war, but typical low-grade great man history.  Andy could do better.

[Repeated 3:00am, BBC4, Tuesday 11th August]

10:00pm BBC4:  World War II: 1941 and the Man of Steel

Again, not my period or subject, but this is proper history with David Reynolds looking at how Britain and US ended up in alliance with Stalinist Russia.  At 90 minutes it has a chance to properly develop some of its themes.

You can watch whenever you wish on YouTube at

11:30pm BBC4:  Fifty British War Films: Days of Glory

Bizarre BBC documentary on British films about the Second World War.  Instead of putting a film historian in charge, or indeed a historian, the right-wing ideologue Simon Heffer is allowed to glorify these films and their importance to our “Island race in an abysmal, uncritical way.  Perhaps the documentary can be seen as ironic, Heffer by his own admission is the product of a childhood spent immersed in these films rather than an engagement in the complexities of the modern world.

Wednesday 19th July

11:00am BBC Radio 4: Three Pounds in my Pocket

Third and concluding part of the second series of Kavita Puri’s fine oral history of immigration from the Indian subcontinent.  The first two parts can be heard at

TV and Radio Listings Saturday 8th to Friday 14th August 2015

Monday 10th August

12:45pm BBC Parliament: Sixty Years of Swing

Repeat of this programme from earlier this year looking at the TV coverage of elections in the UK since the 1950s.  Some good archive footage and the odd insight here and there.   But the feel that this programme is little more than a compendium of clips is emphasised by looking to comedians to provide much (often inaccurate) commentary, although there is also more astute commentalry from a range of academics, journalists and TV professionals.  In the end it wobbles along in a rather directionless way – a segment on the graphics here, a comment on how much more sexist attitudes were in the past and so on.  A bit of a wasted opportunity.

[Also on at 9:40am Wednesday 12th August and at 9:15 pm on Thursday 13th]

9:00pm BBC4:  Britain’s Nuclear Secrets: Inside Sellafield

There is some historical context promised here with Jim Al-Khalili’s examination of the role of the nuclear processing plant in Britain nuclear ambitions since the 1940s

[Repeated at 10:00pm on Thursday 13th August]

11:30pm BBC Radio 4: Britain in a Box

Repeat to the sixth series of this low-level social history of Britani’s TV.  Tonight, the BBC 6pm current affairs programme Nationwide.  Followed on Tuesday and Wednesday with Men Behaving Badly and Casualty.


Wednesday 12th July

11:00am BBC Radio 4: Three Pounds in my Pocket

Second part of the Kavita Puri’s second series of her history of the experience of immigrants and their descendents from the Indian subcontinent to Britain.  The first series dealt with the early experience of immigrants in the 1950s and 1960s (and can still be heard at .  This second series looks at the turbulence of the late 1960s and 1970s, the racism and the fight-back against it (the first part can be heard at ).  Engaging oral history.

TV and Radio Listings Saturday 25th July to Friday 31st July.

Sunday 26th July

10:00pm BBC4: Len Goodman’s big Band Bonanza.

First shown at the end of last year, this programme purports to look at the importance of the swing bands in post-war Britain.  But really it is a celeb-led programme of reminiscences with Strictly Come Dancing‘s Len Goodman and little real historical content.  And worse, it is linked to a Jules Holland and Len Goodman programme recreating the Second World War time musical scene in Blackpool.


Monday 27th July

9:00am BBC Radio 4:  Reflections

The last of Peter Hennessy’s interviews with politicians reflecting on their careers has Clare Short in the hot seat.  Will he ask her why she waited so long to resign over the marc to war in Iraq, a full two months behind Robin Cook?  And how does she feel now about her call for Labour supporters to vote Liberal Democrat in 2010 to create a Lib-Lab coalition?  To my mind, she was one of the least impressive politicians of her generation.

9:00pm BBC4.   BBC:  The Secret Files

Two fine books charting the history of the BBC have been published this year.  Charlotte Higgins has published her acclaimed This New Noise while the latest instalment of the official history of the BBC Pinkoes and Traitors by Jean Seaton has received a more critical reception but does, for the most part, give a detailed and fascinating history of the BBC in the political turbulent period 1974 to 1987.

And how does the BBC respond to this?  Penelope Keith fronts a programme where the researchers, given full range to the BBCs archives, come up with swathes of bygone-celebrator gossip.  What a waste.  Has BBC4 become the purveyor of trivial documentaries with a symbiotic relationship with BBC1 celebs (see Len Goodman above)?

10:00pm BBC4.  Storyville: George Blake – Masterspy of Moscow

…and if BBC4 does show an interest in “proper history” it has a tendency to be spires and wars.  Quick repeat for this document about the Soviet spy.  Good documentary, but we get a lot of this.


Tuesday 28th July

3:00pm BBC Radio 4.  Making History

Again, nothing specific about what will feature on the programme.

Thursday 30th July

9:00pm C4.  Prince Philip: the Plot to Make a King

And alongside spies and wars, we can put the Royal Family as an obsession of TV history.  Nonetheless, the story of how the Philip the Greek was seen as an outsider by many of the British royal establishment but had the support of Lord Mountbatten who himself was not quite the establishment figure one might imagine.

TV and Radio Listings Saturday 18h July to Friday 25th July.

Monday 20h July

9:00am BBC Radio 4:  Reflections

Second instalment of Peter Hennessy’s series where he asks politicians past to reflect on their times and careers.  Here Nigel Lawson, the Conservative Chancellor at the height of the Thatcher years from 1983 to 1989, answers the questions.


Tuesday 21tsJuly

3:00pm BBC Radio 4.  Making History

Again, nothing specific about what will feature on the programme.

4:00m BBC Radio 4:  Document

Why is it that history ends up focusing on war and spies?  Can’t the programme makers see the difference between history and a Tom Cruise film?  So last week Document did spying, this week it does the story of Alfredo Atiz, an Argentine officer who was captured in the Falklands war and then became a diplomatic embarrassment.  Interesting enough, but it is a bit one note.


10:00pm, BBC4.  Cold War, Hot Jets.

Second part of the (mainly military) jet engine in post-war British history.  If the first part was mixed affair with much stroking and admiring of the military technology, the second programme is almost entirely without merit.  Its focus is on post-war British jet bombers as delivery vehicles for British nuclear weapons.  The dual messages of the programme is that this strategy succeeded in keeping the peace and that it is a tragedy that by the early 1960s Britain lead in jet technology was allowed to fall away, mainly due to Harold Wilson’s dastardly Labour government elected in 1964.  The first pro-deterant assertion is highly questionable, the second Britain as a jet age world beater view is just wrong.  Along the way much of the history also inaccurate.

Thus we have that by the end of the 1940s Britain “was forced to align itself with America and the bomb in the new ideological conflict between East and West”, a statement the half-truth of which obscures all the subtleties of the situation (particularly that the driving force in the creation of the Cold War was not simply US anti-Communism, but European and particularly British pressure to ensure that the USA would remain committed to its defence).  The programme implies that Britain developed a nuclear bomb after the first successful Soviet test on 1949 left the British government feeling like a “piggy in the middle” whereas Britain took a decision to a nuclear bomb in 1945.  (There is, if you watch the programme carefully, a tendency to use RAF personal not just as witnesses to their own experience but to make historical sweeping statement to shore-up this questionable narrative).

When it comes to discussion of the efficacy of the nuclear deterrent it is repeatedly asserted that it worked.  But no real evidence  is offered for this other than an absence of war in the European theatre across the East-West border, and that, in the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis didn’t lead to war.  The vagueness of any thinking behind this is demonstrated by what historical evidence there is being poor  For example the idea of Mutual Assured Destruction is dropped into a narrative about the mid-1950s, although the term was not widely used before 1962 (that is, after the Cuban Missile Crisis).  Rather than attempting to build up a picture of the real power relationships between East and West that included nuclear weapons and Britain’s role in that, we are offered glib and superficial generalisations.

Similarly slapdash history surrounds the anti-nuclear movement in Britain.  The first, 1958, Aldermaston march is taken as the point when “the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament began”, but the statement is wrong (and it matters little whether Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is capitalised).  CND was formed in 1957, and anti-nuclear campaigning went back at least as far the British H-bomb tests in 1956.  Indeed, the Easter 1958 Aldermaston march taken as that starting point was primarily organised by the Direct Action Committee which has been formed in response to Britain’s testing of the H-bomb in 1956.

The programme ends with a eulogy the TSR-2 fighter-bomber, cancelled in 1965.  This according to the writer/presenter James Holland, this is enough to make one weep – an act of technological vandalism that saw the end to Britain being a world leader in jet technology.  This is romanticised nonsense.  As the first part of the programme had made clear, Britain production of military hardware was not simply a matter of world role and power, it was also driven by trade.  These jets were to be sold.  The TSR-2 was a fighter-bomber, but by the time the first prototype flew in 1962 the USA had already had its Lockheed F104 Starfighter in operation for four years.  The USA was already taking orders for its replacement, the F111.  The TSR-2 was simply not attracting buyers

Nor was it a matter of this being a Labour government shifting priorities.  The Macmillan government had already cancelled the Britain’s independent nuclear ballistic missile project – Blue Streak – in 1960 and replaced it was a US system.  But that is conveniently left unmentioned by Holland.

There is much else to annoy here.  Much of the stock footage used behind the narration is wrong (discussion of the Cuban Missile Crisis shows a Vulcan launching what appears to be –  I am far from an expert on this – a Cruise missile, although these were not developed at this time).

This is not history.  It is boys and their toys with a right-wing ahistorical twist.

[This programme is available on YouTube at ]

TV and Radio Listings Saturday 11th July to Friday 17th July.

Sunday 11th July

8:00pm BBC Radio 4: Archive on 4:  Destroyer of Worlds

Ever reliable Archive on 4 looks at how British scientists were involved in the development of the atomic bomb during the Second World War but were then marginalised.  This is presented as an untold story, but it there is nothing new here.  That the story is told byProf Frank Close , a physicist, gives this a strongly scientific angle.

It can be heard via the BBC Listen Again facility at


Monday 13th July

9:00am BBC Radio 4:  Reflections

Return of Peter Hennessy’s series where he asks politicians past to reflect on their times and careers.  This first of three in this series has David Owen answering the questions.


Tuesday 14th July

3:00pm BBC Radio 4.  Making History

No details available of what will be in this programme.  Would it be right to think that this shows a low priority in the BBC for history….?

4:00m BBC Radio 4:  Document

… unless it is about spies.  If you are interested in the awful internal politics of the M15 this is for you.  The Le Carré-esque story of an agent who exposed British fascists and then found himself frozen out.


10:00pm, BBC4.  Cold War, Hot Jets.

The name says it all.  History as Top Gear might see it.  Much adoring of shinny machinery in this re-run of BBC two-parter form 2013.

Not only is the worship of military hardware an unpleasant wrapper, but the history is not particularly strong.  There is some reasonable context here, particularly that Britain’s desire to remain a world power after the Second World War required operating under the protective wing of the USA.   There is reliable bought in historical comment from Professors Peter Hennessy and, particularly useful in this context, David Edgerton.  The interview material with RAF pilots I genuinely interesting.

But much of the history is kept light and weak to keep the focus of the shinny machine.  The claim is made that the jet engine was a British “invention” rather ignores that in the 1920sand 1930s various designs and prototypes were developed France and Germany as well as Frank Whittle’s experiments in Britain.  Germany produced the first working jet planes in 1939 and the first jet fighter in 1944.  This sets up a rather simplistic narrative that Britain had jets and thus others (particularly the USSR) needed Britain’s technology.

Although the programme is about the Cold War (it was originally part of the BBC2’s Cold War series of 2013) there is a failure to understand that there were other contexts.  Thus the Comet jet airliner is only understood in a Cold War context.  But the main spur to its development was the Empire/Commonwealth.   This has been considered by a 1943 government committee, the Brabazon Committee, out of which the Comet project grew.  The idea was that in order to hold together a global political and trading block under British dominance sea transport would no longer suffice.  Fast air communication (initially for mail, but then for people) would be required.  Thus, the Comet.  The story of the Comet is slotted in and dropped after reporting on how the Comet Mk 1 was forced out of the skies after a series of crashes (interestingly, the crashes are reported in reverse order in the programme; the first was in India in May 1953 and was dismissed at the time, the second crash was in February 1954 of a BOAC flight from Rome to Cairo was in January 1954).  What goes unmentioned here is that, to a degree, the problems were rectified and the Comet in marks 2 to 4 remained in production until the end of the 1960s.

More generally, there are other issues that are hinted at but never fully explored.  Technology is not simply the application so science, it is an ideology of modernism too.  This short British jet age stands out as a moment of British modernism, but this is never explored here.  Rather, this modernism is now recycled as nostalgia for a period when Britain believed itself to be the centre of the world of technology and power.

[If you cannot wait to watch this in TV, it is available on YouTube at with part 2 at

TV and Radio Listings Saturday 4th July to Friday 10thJuly.

Saturday 4th July

8:00pm, BBC Radio 4.  Archive on 4: Tomorrow’s World, Today.

Some interesting material in this hour-long consideration of how the future was seen in the 38 years that Tomorrow’s World ran from 1965 to 2003.  There are some reasonable observations about the origins of the programme in 1960s Britain where science was seen as the future, but the programme then rather loses a sense of direction.  Those involved in the programme suggest that the programme never “joined up the dots”, and understanding how the technologies investigated would work together.  I would suggest that there was a more fundamental problem is that it never understood the social context of technological change.  Most tellingly, there is no real explanation  why Tomorrow’s World came to an end in 2003.  I would suggest that there was a change in the way that people saw the future, with people seeing technology less as a saviour and in a more problematic light.  Tomorrow’s World was bound up with a discourse, perhaps related the Cold War, or progress through technology, that by 2003 had become redundant

[Listen to this at:]

Tuesday 5th July

3:00pm BBC Radio 4.  Making History

I am not convinced by the long historical view that Tom Holland et al take in much of time in these programmes.  In this first programme (of an eight programme run), the current debate on Europe is examined in historical context.  All well and good, but the focus here which includes Carausius (d. 293 A.D.) and Henry II (d. 1189) is more questionable.  While history can always benefit from digging back a bit further there are often diminishing returns.  Here there is decreasing benefit of going back beyond the 1890s, when the expansion of the British Empire reflected not industrial strength bur relative decline.  For the main part, the UK’s relationship to the Europe that was built at the in the years after the Second World War and this cannot be understood in any meaningful way by looking at the administration of Britain by a third century north European fragment of the Roman Empire.


Wednesday 8th July

4:00pm, BBC Radio 4: Thinking Allowed: Arab Londoners/Migrants and British identity

I have never quite understood why Radio 4 has an intelligent, witty and high-quality weekly programme on sociology, but cannot give contemporary British history the same kind of consideration.  The concerns are often relevant to contemporary British history and here Saffron Karlsen’s work on British-migrant identity raises some interesting issues.

9:00pm, BBC4.  Grammar Schools: A Secret History

Second part of two.  This looks at the grammar schools since the 1944 Education Reform Act brought these schools into the state system, through to their (partial) abolition in the 1960s and 1970s.  Although there is a doffing of the cap of balance (there is a recognition that selection also meant failure for the vast majority), the underlying theme of this documentary is that grammar schools were meritocratic, allowing the most able to rise out of the working class.  While it is certainly possible to point to individual cases of this, on the whole it did more to protect the social position of the middle-class than open up opportunity for all.  The commentary has repeatedly asserted that five successive prime ministers went to grammar school (Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major) but this is a flimsy soundbite.  Ignoring the issue that, strictly speaking, Callaghan did not go to a grammar school, there are a number of different experiences here.  None of the five were working class.  Wilson was the son of an industrial chemist and a school teacher; Heath’s parents were working class but by the time he was growing up his father was a successful small businessman; Callaghan’s father was a petty officer in the Navy; Alfred Roberts owned two shops by the time Margaret was born; Major (the only one of the five educated after the passing of the 1944 Education Reform Act) had a father who owned a small business selling garden ornaments although the business was failing.  All were thus lower middle-class, of the type who would have struggled to send their children to local fee-paying day schools if their children had not won scholarships to grammar schools (or in Major’s case, passed the 11+).  It may well be the case that Wilson’s and Major’s family would have not been able to afford this at times.  But this is evidence is of an aspirant lower middle-class, in many cases with working class origins and limited formal education themselves, whose aspiration to succeed was often though small business, having their hopes for their children met through grammar schools.

What is notable is that we have yet to have a prime minister who has been educated at a comprehensive school (Ed Miliband would have been the first): two recent prime ministers have been privately educated (Blair and Cameron) while Gordon Brown’s education was an odd form of fast-tracking that was selective in all but name.  Sadly, rather than reflecting on what this says about the continuing nature of class privilege in Britain, this programme is content to retell myths of meritocratic times past.

TV and Radio Listings Saturday 27th June to Friday 3rd July.

Wednesday 1st July

9:00pm, BBC4.  Grammar Schools: A Secret History

First part of two.  Re-run of the BBC4 history from 2012.  The first of these two programmes looks at Grammar schools from the end of the first world war to the end of second, a period when these were quasi-private schools which received direct grants from the government in return for offering a proportion of their places free on the basis on scholarship exams.  It is a bit of a mystery to me what the “secret” aspect of this is – BBC4 appear to have used this be mean “an oral history of …”  It is, however, an oral history somewhat skewed by the interviewees chosen.  David Attenborough is far from epitomising the kind of working class child that the programmes claims were aided by scholarships (his father was Principal of University College, Leicester) and even though Joan Bakewell, who is also interviewed extensively, had parents who left school at 13 and 14, her father foundry-worker father gained promotion to a managerial position.  Perhaps Terence Frisby (the playwright responsible for There’s a Girl in My Soup) is more representative of this group, as are some less well-known interviewees.

There is also a lot of drift in the focus of the programme – it becomes distracted by Frisby’s evacuation to Cornwell in the war and another interviewee’s experiences in the RAF; and much of the stock footage is little more than wallpaper.  At the same time there is little about the broader context of the grammar school education in the 1920s and 1930s.  Oral history alone is a poor way of assessing the degree to which this really was a meritocratic pathway for bright working class children or a lottery where a few lucky working class children received a better education as a form of social window dressing.

The programme is by no means uncritical about this – it recognises that many were left behind by this system and that some were excluded by the cost uniform and transport costs.  But on the whole it is one-sided in suggesting that this was a genuine form of opportunity rather than part of a system that denied any opportunity to the vast majority in a highly class-bound society.

In the last minutes it lays the basis on the next programme, which looks at grammar school after 1945 up to the point in the 1960s and 1970s where most were abolished.  The 1944 Education Reform Act (the Butler Act) is presented a part of the “new Jerusalem” that was emerging from the Second World War which, in stark contrast to the years after the First World War, sought to reward the British people for their effort in the war.  The focus here is on the extension of grammar schools, again seen in a one-sided way of spreading opportunity.  There is no space given to the idea that those who benefited most from this was the middle-class whose children were the main winners from educational selection (to a degree, by deliberate design).

Most working class children ended up in the non-academic tier of secondary moderns, with little chance of progressing to anything more than a manual or routine job.  A much more telling programme would have been The Secret History of the Secondary Modern School  – it is the memory of these is the basis for selection remaining unpopular in the Britain, but as that memory fades, programmes like this could help distort perceptions.  This programme by presenting a rose-tinted picture of grammar schools without is obverse of secondary modern education is another example of the lazy, one-sided and right wing output of the BBC television history.

Thursday 2nd July

11:30am, BBC Radio 4, Looking For Charlie Williams

Poet Ian McMillan looks at the life of fellow Barnsleyite Charlie Williams.  Williams was one of the few black footballers in Britain in immediate post-war period (he played for Doncaster Rovers, not McMillan’s beloved Barnsley).  He then turned to light entertainment and comedy with humour that often appeared to pander to, rather than challenge, his audience’s racism (his put-down of hecklers, “if you don’t shut up, I’ll come and move next door to you”).  His 1976 tour of Rhodesia and defence of the Robinson’s Jam golliwog logo were controversial too.  A contradictory but interesting character.

TV and Radio Listings Saturday 20th June to Friday 26th June 2015.

Sunday 21st June

9:00pm, BBC2.  The BBC at War

Second of two-parts.  I have a rule of no war and nothing before 1945 but broke it to include the first part of this two-parter.  I had assumed that while the first part was looking at the Second World War, the second part would look at the post-war period.  No such luck, yet again popular history means a history of plucky Brits standing up to the bellicose Germans like hobbits at the gate of Mordor.  So this second part looks at Richard Dimbleby reporting the fall of Berlin etc.  The one aspect of this that I find interesting is Dimbleby’s reports from the liberated Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, which the BBC held up for a couple of days since they did not believe the story.  The evidence is that the British public were shocked (see Joanne Reilly, Belsen: The Liberation of a Concentration Camp (Routledge:1997)) but how this quickly faded from many people’s memory of the war.

(Repeated 11:20pm, Tuesday 23rd June, BBC2)

Monday 22nd June

8:30pm BBC Radio 4: Analysis – How Gay Became OK

This programme promises to explain, in half an hour, how and why public opinion towards gay people has shifted in Britain over the last 50 years.  Good luck with that.


9:00pm BBC4:  How to be Bohemian With Victoria Coren Mitchell.

Part 3 of 3.  This series has been watchable enough, strolling along the Left Bank of the Seine and then through Bloomsbury without offering any great insights.  This last programme looks at the post-war British arts scene (Bacon, Freud and Passmore handing round Soho, with Crisp, Iron Foot Jack and a dose of Melly I would imagine).  The presence of AA Gill and the Rev. Richard Coles suggests that the programme might not have a strong grip on those who genuinely spurned convention in post-war Britain, the vast majority of whom probably never drank a cup of coffee in Soho.

Friday 26th June

11:20pm ITV:  Bloody Sunday.

Paul Greengrass’s 2001 film on the killing of fourteen unarmed demonstrators in Derry/Londonderry in 1972, based on Don Mullan’s book Eyewitness Bloody Sunday.  This film has been criticised for giving too much emphasise to the moderate leadership of the civil rights and anti-internment movements (particularly Ivan Cooper, the leading member of the pre-dominantly Catholic SDLP, although himself a Protestant).  The film was particularly heavily criticised by Jimmy McGovern for ignoring the experiences of many ordinary Catholics ( ) something that McGovern believed was the right focus and one that he adopted in his own docudrama of the events Sunday, shown on Channel 4 a few days after the release of Greengrass’s film.

For my money McGovern’s film adopts a black and white narrative that sides the Catholics (as the obvious underdogs and victims) but in so doing glosses over too many nuances to be good history.  (You can make up your own mind on this, McGovern’s film can be seen at ).


TV and Radio Listings Saturday 13th June to Friday 20th June 2015.

Sunday 14th June

9:00pm, BBC2.  The BBC at War

First of a two-parts.  In the first instalment Jonathan Dimbleby looks at how the role that BBC played in the Second World War, and how this shaped the BBC as an institution.  Expect a narrative of the plucky BBC standing up for truth and decency against the more manipulative instincts of the government and the Ministry of Information, and less in terms of insights into what the relationship between the state and its broadcaster say about nature of the state, ideology, class and power in mid-twentieth century Britain.  Strictly speaking I shouldn’t include this since it breaks my nothing before 1945 (especially war) rule, but I assume the second instalment will look at post-1945 military operations (Suez, Vietnam, the Falklands, ex-Yugoslav conflict and the Gulf war I would guesss) that are more relevant to my focus here.

9pm, BBC4: Ken Loach in Conversation with Cillan Murphy

Loach is both part of the cultural history Britain since the late 1960s and in part a chronicler of that history.  For my money, he is far better when tells personal stories (from Kes through to Raining Stones and most recently The Angel’s Share) rather than his historical pieces that can sacrifice accuracy for the political point he wishes to make (Land and Freedom, The Wind That Shakes the Barley).  His documentaries are worst of all (particularly The Spirit of ’45, my particular problem is that all his the vox populi are no such thing, most of ex-members of the Socialist Labour League of which Loach was a member in the 1960s before it became the quite barmy Workers’ Revolutionary Party).

Tuesday 16th June

11:30am BBC Radio 4, Minimal Impact

Second part of Radio 4’s examination of minimalism in British music.  The first part can be still be heard on the iPlayer

Thursday 18th June

11:30am BBC Radio 4, Mrs. Thatcher and the Writers

The story of Mrs. Thatcher’s dinners with some of the leading writers of the eighties while she was PM, and the writers of fiction continued fascination with the Conservative premier.

Friday 19th June

10:00pm, BBC4: Festivals Britannia

Another programme from the sometimes worthwhile Britannia strand of BBC4.  This looks at the rise of the modern festival from its origins in the Jazz festivals of the 1950s and free festivals of the late 1960s through the behemoths started by the Isle of White to today’s commercialised “Glasto”.  The degree to which this will succeed in relating to the cultural and political development of Britain, or be a glorified clips show, remains to be seen.

TV and Radio Listings Saturday 23rd May to Friday 29th May 2015.

Monday 25th May

9:00pm, BBC2.  Churchill: When Britain Said No

I have low expectations of this documentary, part of the BBC’s VE Day coverage, that looks at the 1945 election and why Britain rejected Churchill in the 1945 election in a “vehement” and “humiliating” fashion.  Although the presence of Juliet Gardiner amongst the talking heads might bring some sense, a preponderance of military historian (Max Hasting, Anthony Beevor) suggest the editorial line here will be one of the “great war leader” being betrayed by a fickle British public.

Tuesday 26th May

8pm, BBC4: The Secret History of Our Streets (5/6: Reverdy Road)

Repeat of the passable social history of London through some of its streets continues with a look at this Bermondsey Street to take look at “respectable” working class.

Thursday 28th May

9:00 pm, BBC 1, Panorama: Britain’s Secret Terror Deal

The much depleted Panorama is given the one-hour slot it needs to investigate the persistent allegations that the British military colluded with loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland during the troubles

11:00pm, BBC4:  Timeshift: The Golden Age of Coach Travel.

Social-history light with this re-run of nostalgia coasted history of inter-city coach services from the 1950s – first shown in 2011.

TV and Radio Listings Saturday 16th May to Friday 22nd May 2015.

Sunday 17th May

8:00pm, BBC4: Fighting for King and Empire: Britain’s Caribbean Heroes

(Repeat from last Wednesday)

For the purposes of this blog my rule of thumb is to draw the line of contemporary British history at 1945.  Particularly, I don’t do war and find the vast majority of military history pointless.  Here I will break both rules since the subject of this programme, Caribbean servicemen serving in Britain in the Second World War, was an important precursor of post-war immigration. This film is based on a 2014 film by Jimmy Chiba Divided By Race, United In War And Peace (

Tuesday 12=9th May

8pm, BBC4: The Secret History of Our Streets (4/6: Portland Road)

Repeat of the passable social history of London through some of its streets continues with a look at this north London road.  This instalment takes the opportunity to look at the nature the impact of poverty, immigration and then gentrification on this Notting Hill Street.

Wednesday 20th May

11:00am, BBC Radio:  4 A Short History of Ukrainians in Britain

The longer history of Eastern European immigration to Britain in the twentieth century has perhaps not received the attention it should have.  This could be an interesting corrective.

10:00pm, BBC4.  Jet!  When Britain Ruled the Skies and continuing at the same time on Thursday 30th

Repeat of the 2012 two-part documentary on the development of aircraft in Britain after WW2.  If I recall, this has a strong tendency to rivet counting seen through a nostalgia tinted camera lens.  On Thursday this you can follow this up with the even more men-and-machine look at post war British sports care (11:00pm, BBC4, Timeshift; Magnificent Machines – the Golden Age of the British Sports Car, also first broadcast in 2012).

TV and Radio Listings Saturday 9th May to Friday 15th May 2015.

Tuesday 12th May

8pm, BBC4: The Secret History of Our Streets (3/6: Caledonian Road)

Repeat of the passable social history of London through some of its streets continues with a look at this north London road.  This instalment takes the opportunity to look at the nature of working class solidarity.

Wednesday 13th May

9:00pm, BBC4: Fighting for King and Empire: Britain’s Caribbean Heroes

For the purposes of this blog my rule of thumb is to draw the line of contemporary British history at 1945.  Particularly, I don’t do war and find the vast majority of military history pointless.  Here I will break both rules since the subject of this programme, Caribbean servicemen serving in Britain in the Second World War, was an important precursor of post-war immigration. This film is based on a 2014 film by Jimmy Chiba, Divided By Race, United In War And Peace (

TV and Radio Listings Saturday 18th April to Friday 25th April 2015.

Monday20th April

9:00pm, BBC4, Kim Philby: His Most Intimate Betrayal (2/2)

Second part of Ben Macintyre’s programme based on his 2014 book A Spy among Friends. 

Tuesday 14th April

8pm, BBC2: Back in Time for Dinner (6/6: The future)

The historical content of this series on British eating habits since 1950 has come to end.  This last episode asks about future eating habits

8pm, BBC4:  The Secret History of Our Streets (1/6:  Deptford High Street)

Repeat showing of the 2013 BBC2 series that looks at six London Street from the time of Charles Booth’s survey’s of London of the 1880s and 1890s.   This creates a frame for looking out social and demographic change up to the current day.  Top end TV history.

Monday 20th April to Friday 25th April 2015

12:04pm, BBC Radio 4, Election Snapshots.

A series of five short programmes looking at a series of election photographs that epitomised (at least with the hindsight of those introducing the programmes) some UK general election campaigns since 1945.

TV and Radio Listings Saturday 11th April to Friday 17th April 2015.

Monday 13th April

8pm, BBC Radio 4, The Hobsbawm File

Frances Stonor Saunders, who has written valuable histories of the domestic cultural Cold War most recently with The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters (2013), looks at the recently released records of MI5 snooping on Eric Hobsbawm.

9:00pm, BBC4, Kim Philby: His Most Intimate Betrayal

The BBC continue to examine recent British history through the eyes of right wing journalists.   Yet another programme on the Cambridge Spy ring is presented by Ben Macintyre, Times Columnist and author of boys-own spy stories in the form of popular history.  This is the first of a two part programme on Kim Philby, perhaps now only the second most notorious traitor for the alumni of Westminster school, having worked for British intelligence while spying for Russia.  One assumes based on Macintyre’s 2014 book A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal.  This is certainly not a book that attempts to scratch beneath the surface.  As far as I know, no-one has written about the Cambridge spy ring in a way that goes beyond personality traits (Oedipal complexes, vanity, sexuality etc.) and ground it in the context of society and politics of the time, but Tim Milne’s humanising biography, Kim Philby: The Unknown Story of the KGB’s Master-Spy, at least tries to avoid the obvious spy-story tropes.  Expect cloak-and-dagger stuff combined with basic psychobabble that turns spying into a personality disorder.


Tuesday 14th April

8pm, BBC2: Back in Time for Dinner (5/6: the 1980s)

I was beginning to form the view that what started out as a reasonable attempt of a popular version of material history (how the past felt, what the stuff was like and how, quite literally, it tasted) has increasingly morphed into something that is much more driven by the how food was seen through the media.  So this instalment has much Jamie Oliver, Masterchef and Ready, Steady, Cook.  But it is an important point that the consumption of food was accompanied by the consumption of culinary media, although the impact this had on what people ate is another question.  Was food taking on meaning, but the consumption of food became divorced from eating it?  As ever, this programme hints at interesting question before moving on.

TV and Radio Listings Saturday 4th April to Friday 10th April 2015.

Sunday 5th April.

11:15am, BBC Radio 4: The Reunion

Reliable Radio 4 witness seminar.  This week the banning of Peter Wight’s book Spycatcher in 1985 with the then Cabinet Secretary Robert Armstrong; Wright’s lawyer, Malcolm Turnbull; the ghost-writer of the book, Paul Greengrass; and Stella Rimington, who worked for MI5 at the same time as Wright and has been a critic of his claims.

(Repeated, Friday 10th April, 9am)

Tuesday 7th April

4:30pm, BBC Radio 4:  Great Lives

Learie Constantine probably would have captained the West Indies had this always been given to a white player.   Trevor MacDonald makes the case for Constantine.  Constantine played some role in campaigning against racism in Britain – he and his family were asked to leave a hotel in London during WW2 because they were black and he later successfully sued the owners.  Later, he used his position as Trinidad’s High Commissioner in Britain to push the case of discrimination in employment in Britain and then became a member of the British state’s first anti-discrimination body, the Race Relations Board, in 1966.

8pm, BBC2: Back in Time for Dinner (4/6: the 1980s)

Maybe I have a low boredom threshhold, but what started as a good idea has became increasingly distracted from its theme of experience how people for a series of celebrity drop-ins (usually Mary Berry) and generalisations while losing sight of the food.  Still watchable, but the historical content is becoming swamped.

TV and Radio Listings Sunday 29th March to Friday 3rd April 2015.

Monday 30th March

6:30pm, BBC2: Portillo’s State Secrets (6/10. Traitors and Spies)

I am no fan of the unctuous and seemingly ubiquitous Michael Portillo; for me he will always be a Tory bastard, not a national treasure.  Nonetheless, it is good to see a series based on documents in the National Archive in Kew, although Portillo is rather full of how “special” is his access to them.  Of course, there is an excitement about reading a document that has been gathering dust for decades that gives a new insight, and perhaps this is a sincere attempt to communicate that thrill.  This episode looks at (if I am guessing the advance blurb right) Ian Fleming’s wartime work and the escape of the double agent, George Blake so the emphasis is clearly on the popular rather than the significant.

Tuesday 31st March

6:30pm, BBC2:  Portillo’s State Secrets (7/10: the Monarchy)

More pop-poking around the Nation Archives with Mr. Portillo, this time on the Queen statement to the nation in the event of nuclear war.

8pm, BBC2: Back in Time for Dinner (3/6: the 1970s)

Watchable food based post-war history.  What has become apparent by the second programme is that programme is losing sight of differences in diet (for example class divisions, but also regional one), and rather than playing to its strengths – food – the programme attempts an over-generalised social history of the period.  While it is undoubtedly true that women’s role in home and kitchen was a source of inequality in society, some of the other elements of social history are superficial.

Wednesday 1st April

6:30pm, BBC2: Portillo’s State Secrets (8/10:  Banned)

Series continues with a selection of state bans.

9:00pm, BBC2:  Strangeways: Britain’s Toughest Prison Riot.

Recollections of the events of 1990 in Manchester’s draconian prison.  I’m not sure riot is the right word.  “Uprising” is perhaps closer to the reality.

Thursday 2nd April.

6:30pm, BBC2: Portillo’s State Secrets (9/10: On trial)

Including a bit of Mary Whitehouse

Friday 3rd April.

6:30pm, BBC2: Portillo’s State Secrets (10/10: On trial)

The SAS storming the Iranian embassy in 1980, and Churchill’s preparations for a British resistance movement to Germany occupation in WW2.

TV and Radio week to Sunday 29th March 2015.

Monday 23rd March

20:30, BBC Radio 4:  Analysis:  Two Nation Britain.

Investigates the question as to where there is a divide between liberal and pluralist urban Britain, and more uptight suburban and provincial folk.  For my money, understanding the nature of these differences is key to understanding Britain in the last fifty years.

BBC4, 21:00: Storyville: Masterspy of Moscow – George Blake.   The BBC’s dependable documentary looks at the MI6 double agent who escaped from Wormword Scrubs in 1966 and still lives near Moscow, now aged 92.  The interview material is reported to be not as revealing as past interviews, but bound to be some interesting (if little new) material.

Tuesday 24th March.

BBC2, 20:00: Back in Time for Dinner (2/6:  The 1960s).  The first instalment of this history of post-war Britain through it food was engaging enough (see my review here).  Whether they can deliver this instalment without falling into too many “Swinging sixties” clichés remains to be seen.

Saturday 28th March

C4, 21:00: The Coalition

Drama-documentary on the formation of the Conservative-Liberal coalition.  Reportedly a result of in depth research, but the suggestion that much of it is played for laughs (including Mark Gatiss’s turn as Peter Mandelson) hints that this might not add to the historical record as did The Conversation (a fictionalised account of the Blair-Brown discussion over the leadership of the Labour Party in 1994.

9 responses to “TV and Radio

  1. Pingback: TV and Radio listings for the week beginning 5th October 2013 | British Contemporary History

  2. Pingback: This week’s TV and Radio. | British Contemporary History

  3. Pingback: TV and Radio Listings Sunday 29th March to Friday 3rd April 2015. | British Contemporary History

  4. Pingback: TV and Radio Listings Saturday 4th April to Friday 10th April 2015. | British Contemporary History

  5. Pingback: TV and Radio Listings Saturday 11th April to Friday 17th April 2015. | British Contemporary History

  6. Pingback: TV and Radio Listings Saturday 9th May to Friday 15th May 2015 | British Contemporary History

  7. Pingback: TV and Radio Listings Saturday 16th May to Friday 22nd May 2015. | British Contemporary History

  8. Pingback: TV and Radio Listings Saturday 23rd May to Friday 29th May 2015. | British Contemporary History

  9. Pingback: TV and Radio Listings Saturday 20th June to Friday 26th June 2015. | British Contemporary History

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