Friday, 27 January 2017

Cut To The Chase

Part of the fun in watching history programmes on the TV is being picky about the detail and seeing what slant the producers put on the finished version that goes to screen. Often, their view raises interesting questions, not just about the research but what they are trying to say.

Clearly, the producers have their problems. When a programme is meant for a mass audience it has to be presented in a way that interests the average viewer, the information is very likely a lot simpler than the reality and the case being made is one that will keep them watching.

Which means story lines will have "human interest", any complexity of detail that needs careful analysis is avoided and in the present a full helping of politically correct comment that fits modern ideas about this and that. The past was often quite different.

Not so long ago flogging was a norm not just as a punishment decreed by magistrates and not limited to those at the bottom of the heap. Dr. Keate Head of Eton College in the 19th Century was notable in that he flogged many of the young male aristocracy and some who later became members of the Cabinet. If he were alive today those Eton men who joined The Bullingdon Club would have the scars to show.

This blog has mentioned before items from the family history series "Who Do You Think You Are" where as a BBC1 item with only an hour to present the personality covered and fit in two or three stories that the viewer will be inclining to keep watching. This week's was about Ian McKellen, see Wikipedia for a full article.

My own reaction is that given that he is a leading actor, it is a great pity that he never had the chance to play either of the parts of Arthur Kipps or Alfred Polly from the HG Wells books of 1905 and 1910, both made into films long ago.

The chance he missed was the musical version of Kipps, "Half A Sixpence" where the film lead was taken by Tommy Steele. In 1901, Ian's McLellen grandfather, an engineer, was living in a drapers shop in a line of shops, run by his elder sister.

The main story was about Frank Lowe or Lowes, a brother of his ancestor and a notable actor in the North in the late 19th Century, who had the misfortune to contract TB, bad for anyone, especially someone in the theatre. Among the nasty effects of this disease is that it can take some time before the end, wreck a family and mean years of poverty.

Frank ended up in the Liverpool Workhouse, yet another in this series, note Ricky Tomlinson's family. Even so, the BBC did not understand the situation. As it happens one of my great grandfathers died in the Liverpool Infirmary eighteen days before Frank and even younger, from pneumonia.

The programme did not understand that the Infirmary was for those for whom there was a chance to cure while the Workhouse had a death ward for those without hope, many of whom then would have been TB cases. Given that TB is on the rise again and the real fear that antibiotics may no longer cope, perhaps a little more might have been said.

Frank's father was a Robert Lowes, remarkable in his way in his political work to improve conditions for the workers of Manchester, and by extension, the country. But he was descended from a James Lowes, a master engraver. It was his illustrations in the key first books to appear about The Lake District that helped create the idea of back to nature and wildness.

This invited mention of the Wordsworth's and their friends and their time there extolling the beauties and wonders of the land. This soon turned it from a remote and isolated place into a top tourist destination. What the programme did not mention was what the locals really enjoyed.

It was fox hunting. Along with certain shires, The Lakes was a major location for the sport, Do you ken John Peel and all the rest. But I do not really see Sir Ian McKellen in the role of John Jorrocks, the hunting grocer of the Surtee's novels.

1 comment:

  1. Yes - we have given up on TV history programmes. Too unreliable and wedded to our times rather than the times they are supposedly depicting.