(Cross posted to Britain at War)
I’m always wary of jumping on the bandwagon and criticizing TV shows based on the marketing – and if the number of newspapers who picked this up is anything to go by, it’s been a very successful press release… but it’s hard not to have a knee-jerk reaction to the news that Channel 4’s 2010 season of ‘factual’ programmes will include a ‘science-history’ programme, ‘Blitz Street’:
To mark the 70th anniversary of this pivotal event in British history, Tony Robinson presents a four-part science and history series which gives just a flavour of what it must have been like to live under such constant bombardment, and explores, crucially, why the Blitz failed.
The series – coming to Channel 4 in early 2010 – constructs a typical row of terraced houses on a military base. With the help of Ministry of Defence scientists, the street is subjected to a range of real large-scale high explosives and incendiaries, similar to those used by the Luftwaffe. Using a wide range of scientific sensors and gauges, there are precise measurements of the blast waves and dangerous after effects of flying shrapnel.
The series follows the nightly cat and mouse battles that took place between the Luftwaffe in the air and Britain’s ground defences, with barrage balloons and anti-aircraft guns. Also tested are the internal Morrison and garden Anderson shelters.
Blitz Street explores the profound psychological phenomenon that was the ‘Blitz Spirit’. A large number of eye-witnesses, many of them speaking for the first time, recount their amazing stories of survival.
And that kneejerk reaction is of course that this is not just tasteless but poorly thought out (surely Tony Robinson hasn’t exhausted the national supply of buried ruins so completely that he has to create them as well as dig them up?) and not terribly informative (is the solution to the ‘Blitz Spirit’ really to be found in the blast effects of German bombs?)
But think further. I actually reckon this is a brilliant piece of experiential history – because, as I’ll suggest in next week’s lecture, the broadest ‘blitz experience’ wasn’t being directly under the bombs, but hearing and seeing them from a distance, perhaps with the aid of the radio, newsreels or newspapers. So ‘Impossible Pictures’, the production company, have decided to allow us to share that experience of simultaneously spectating and incorporating resilience into the national mythology. How remarkably subtle.
Either that or it’s another celebrity-centred effort to emulate Top Gear, with a middle aged man blowing something up in an effort to make science and history ‘interesting’, which is how all TV now has to be.