Fanny Anne Kemble by Professor Emily West #HistoricalDesertIslandDiscs

Well, we took a short break from posting our Historical Desert Island Discs for a week or two either side of the bank holiday. But here we are, our historians are still mostly in lock down so we are back and kicking off with our Americanists. The one and only Professor Emily West kicks off with Fanny Kemble…


Fanny Kemble

Today’s guest is the nineteenth-century British actor and writer Frances Anne (Fanny) Kemble (1809-1893).  Born into a prominent theatrical family in London, Kemble is mostly remembered among historians for her unhappy marriage to the US slaveholder, Pierce Butler. Kemble famously gave up her life on the stage to live as a ‘plantation mistress’ in the lowcountry coastal area of Georgia in the late 1830s, with Butler and their two young daughters. When the marriage failed, Kemble and her daughters left the plantation and Butler filed for divorce in 1847. Kemble subsequently published her Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839 in 1863, during the US Civil War. She also returned to acting, first in the US, and then following her return to England.


Often celebrated as an abolitionist due to her antipathy towards slavery and her sympathetic views towards enslaved women, Kemble held a complex relationship with the slave regime. Although she empathised with women who bore a heavy workload while also enduring pregnancies and childbirth, she also held characteristically racist views that were common to the era. Kemble was a public critic of slavery but also a private beneficiary.  She centred herself as a victim of the regime in a way that belittled the suffering of those held in bondage even as she struggled to cope with the patriarchal conventions of her era. As such, Kemble’s life reminds us that gendered and racial oppressions take multiple, varied, and intersecting forms.

Kemble has chosen the following Desert Island Discs:

1. Sergei Prokofiev, Romeo and Juliet (1938)

Kemble’s first acting role was in 1829 at the Covent Garden Theatre, where she played Juliet to critical acclaim. This music would have reminded her of a happy, fulfilling time in her life. Version recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra in 2009.

2. Ray Charles, Georgia on my Mind (1960)

Recorded by the native of Georgia, Ray Charles, and a decade later by James Brown, this song would have evoked mixed emotions for Kemble, reminding her of the beauty of the Georgian landscape, but also of her marriage’s breakdown. This version was recorded in 1976.

3. Aretha Franklin, Respect (1967)

While Kemble wished her husband, Pierce Butler, would simply respect her, she failed to hear the voices of her enslaved people requesting the same thing. This version was recorded in 1991.

4. Dolly Parton, D.I.V.O.R.C.E. (1969)

Feeling isolated and alone in the slave South, Kemble may well have taken comfort from the music of Tennessee singer and fellow actor, Dolly Parton. Sadly no video, but Parton’s fans have helped us out on youtube.

5. Gloria Gaynor, I Will Survive (1978)

Divorce in the nineteenth century brought shame and stigma, especially in the conservative slave South. So turning to this divorcee dancefloor classic would have brought Kemble a brief moment of pleasure.

Incidentally, for Gaynor’s new, 20 second ‘handwashing’ version on TikTok, see: Hand-washing

6. Nina Simone, I wish I knew how it would feel to be free (1967)

Simone’s version of this classic song became an anthem for Civil Rights activists in the US, but the lyrics are also relevant to Kemble’s enslaved people, whom she often failed to understand. This version was recorded at the Montreux Jazz festival, 1976.

7. Rhiannon Giddens, Julie (2017)

Kemble would have benefitted from listening to this poignant song, where Giddens imagines a conversation between an enslaved and white woman during the US Civil War, as the Union troops approach their plantation.

8. Ranky Tanky, Good Time (2019)

Times certainly don’t feel good at the moment, but Gullah people from the Georgia and South Carolina sea islands (where Kemble lived during her marriage) have always used music and verse to provide hope, dignity and self-respect. Charleston band Ranky Tanky celebrate lowcountry culture and the musical traditions of their ancestors in this unique part of the US.
For more on the life of Fanny Kemble, see Catherine Clinton (ed.), Fanny Kemble’s Journals (2000). Perhaps Kemble would choose this book in addition to the Bible and works of Shakespeare (which of course, she loved)? Kemble would have enjoyed knowing that people are still interested in her.

Hating isolation, Kemble would not have enjoyed life on a desert island one bit. It would also probably remind her of how isolated and unhappy she felt on her Georgian plantation. For her luxury items, she would need a pen and paper to continue writing her journals and to jot down imaginary correspondence with her wide literary and theatrical social circle.


You can find our more about Professor Emily West and her research on US slavery in the US South, especially the lives of enslaved women, the relationships between enslaved spouses, family under slavery, and affective ties between enslaved people and free people of colour at the University of Reading here here 

To hear more from Emily, see her video made at the National Slavery Museum in Liverpool Here

You can also follow her on Twitter @emilywestfahey



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Sylvia Pankhurst by Dr Jacqui Turner #HistoricalDesertIslandDiscs

As it is Sylvia Pankhurst’s birthday this week, we thought that we would ask Jacqui Turner @Jacqui1918 to suggest some Desert Island Discs.  Here it is with Jacqui’s apologies to all academics researching suffrage out there…

Sylvia 1


Cast away on the desert island today (though it may be a stark reminder of her time in isolation while on hunger strike in prison) is Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960). Sylvia was a suffragette, socialist feminist, pacifist and social campaigner and all around top bird.


Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves (1985), Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin

‘Now this is a song to celebrate /The conscious liberation of the female state!’

An obvious choice so let’s get it out of the way upfront. It was clear that women were not going to be handed the vote so they came ‘outta the kitchen…doin’ it for themselves’ and adopting tactics that had been used by men in pursuit of the franchise. Even though we think of the suffrage campaign as a great cohesive movement of women, it was fractious with groups disagreeing on tactics and how the vote might be won.

Mancunian Way (2006) Take That

‘I’m gonna bring this town alive’

As a Lancashire lass born and bred myself, sometimes this drives me nuts – it is easy to forget that the Pankhursts were northern gels and the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) had its roots in Manchester’s radical and socialist politics. Sylvia was a founder member of the WSPU with her mother Emmeline and sister Christabel. In 1903, they spilt from the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society in pursuit of new measures independent of political parties and to progress their cause through increasingly militant tactics, breathing new life into the stalling campaign for votes for women.

London Calling (1979) The Clash

‘London calling to the faraway towns/ Now war is declared and battle come down’

While Manchester may have been a centre for commerce and industry the national centre of government was undoubtedly London. As the WSPU had no political affiliation they were determined to oppose whichever party was in government. In an effort to intensify political pressure, in 1906 the WSPU moved their headquarters and took the battle for the vote to London.

Hunger Strike, Temple of The Dog (1990)

‘Blood is on the table and the mouths are all chokin’ But I’m goin’ hungry, Yeah’

Sylvia went on hunger strike and was force-fed many times in protest against suffragette’s status as common criminals rather than political prisoners. Between February 1913 and July 1914 she was arrested and repeatedly force fed 8 times. Here is one account (with thanks to Vote100):  ‘I was struggling wildly, trying to tighten the muscles and to keep my throat closed up. They got the tube down, I suppose, though I was unconscious of anything but a mad revolt of struggling, for at last I heard them say, “That’s all”; and I vomited as the tube came up.’ McClure’s Magazine, Vol. XLI, Issue no. 4, Aug. 1913 (pp.87-93)

We are Family (1978) Sister Sledge

‘We are family/ I got all my sisters with me’

This is a tricky one, did you know that there was a third Pankhurst sister, Adela? I am turning to Professor June Purvis here to explain the complex relationships within the Pankhurst family: ‘The three Pankhurst women were all members of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) but Emmeline and Christabel became disillusioned with the way the ILP never gave priority to the women’s issue, despite its claim to support gender equality. When they resigned from the ILP in 1907, Sylvia was deeply upset. She wanted to link the WSPU to the socialist movement. Sylvia subsequently portrayed her sister in The Suffragette Movement as an evil Svengali who led their easily swayed mother away from the true path of socialism. She labelled separatist feminist Christabel a Tory.’ Read more from Professor Purvis’ on the Pankhurst sisters here here 

War (1970) Edwin Starr

‘Oh, war I despise, ‘Cause it means destruction of innocent lives’

Unlike her mother and sister, who were patriotic supporters of World War One, Sylvia was a pacifist and internationalist. She considered the War as a means by which the Establishment or the ruling elite would preserve social and political inequalities and imperialism. She probably wasn’t wrong either.

‘9 to 5’ (1980) by Dolly Parton

‘Workin’ 9 to 5, what a way to make a livin’/ Barely gettin’ by, it’s all takin’ and no givin’/ They just use your mind and they never give you credit…’

It might be a surprise to see Dolly here alongside Sylvia but this song celebrating working women and calling out the capitalistic patriarchy may have appealed to Sylvia. She merged her feminism and socialism to establish the East London Federation of Suffragettes (ELFS) in 1912/13. They were predominantly a working-class organisation initially linked to the WSPU (until Sylvia was expelled in 1914) but with an independent mandate campaigning for social change alongside the vote between 1912 and 1920.

Radio Ethiopia (1976), Patti Smith Group

‘There will be no famine in my existence, I merge with the people of the hills’

Sylvia supported Ethiopia during the Fascist Italian invasion (1936–1941). She founded a newspaper New Times and Ethiopia News and moved to the country with her son. She died, was given a state funeral and was buried there in 1960. Emperor Haile Selassie I named her an “honorary Ethiopian”.


Sylvia has been given The Complete Works of Shakespeare and the Bible though I am not altogether convinced that she would have voraciously read either other than with a critical feminist eye. Her choice of book: Helen Pankhurst, Deeds Not Words: The Story of Women’s Rights – Then and Now (2018). How could she not choose her feminist granddaughter’s book published 100 years on?

Luxury item: A box of paints to express to her talent for art and painting.

My sincere thanks to David Turner and Chris Heighes, without whom there would have been very little music here at all!


You can find out more about Jacqui and her work and research at the University of Reading here and on Twitter @Jacqui1918.


Jacqui has curated and led the Astor100 Project, a national commemoration of 100 years in women in parliament throughout 2019 and 2020, you can visit the Astor100 web pages here Astor100  The web site includes a curated blog series written by internationally renowned academics, researchers and past and present female politicians.

The blog series accompanies a digital exhibition ‘An Unconventional MP’: The political career of Nancy Astor in 50 documents’, which showcases documents from the Astor Papers held at the University of Reading Special Collections to illustrate Nancy Astor’s political career and her legacy. You can find the exhibition on Twitter @LadyAstor100 (you may have to scroll down a little).


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Margaret of Beverley by Will Bailey-Watson (Institute of Education, PGCE History lead) #HistoricalDesertIslandDiscs

Our second blog from the Institute of Education here at Reading comes from PGCE Secondary History Lead Will Bailey-Watson. We all love working with Will and his prospective history teachers here in the History Department; the relationship Will has forged challenges all of us to think about how History is taught in Schools and develop our own strategies for the transition from A level to University. Over to Mr Bailey-Watson Sir…


C12th Palastine Map

Today’s castaway is Margaret of Beverley, a devoutly pious woman for whom a life on a desert island would have been no less unusual than the one she actually lived.
Margaret was born in Palestine in the 12th century. Her first disc would need to reflect her unconventional upbringing. As her intrepid parents journeyed home to Yorkshire with young Margaret, she recalled her dad having to defend the family from a ravenous wolf, so maybe she’d start with a bit of Duran Duran.

Duran Duran – Hungry Like the Wolf

Straddle the line in discord and rhyme
I’m on the hunt, I’m after you
Mouth is alive with juices like wine
And I’m hungry like the wolf


Van Morrison – Be Thou my Vision

Be Thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight
Be Thou my armor and be Thou my might
Thou my soul shelter, and Thy my high tower
Raise Thou me heavenwards, oh power of my power

Margaret spent the remainder of her childhood in Yorkshire, and by 11 she had to educate her brother, Thomas. In the 1180s, she decided to return to the Holy Land and arrived in Jerusalem not long before Salah ad-Din’s army reclaimed that most prized of cities. Margaret famously claims to have been stood on the ramparts with a cooking pot on her head, firing making shift missiles at the Muslim forces. Van Morrison would allow her to combine her gung-ho spirit with her religious fervour.

Destiny’s Child – Survivor

We comin’ in this game like some survivor’s
And we leavin’ this game like some survivor’s
So from now, until we dead and gone
We gon’ be some survivors, ya heard me?

For 15 days Margaret was on the front line of battle. She was hit, wounded, bloodied, and carried the scars for the rest of her life. Perhaps she would choose Beyonce and co. at their anthemic best for her third disc.

Fontella Bass – Rescue Me

Come on baby and rescue me
‘Coz I need you

Despite managing to pay her share of Salah ad-Din’s ransom price, Margaret was captured after leaving Jerusalem and spent 15 months in slavery. She later recalled the ‘chains rusted from my tears’. It wasn’t until a benevolent stranger paid for her release that she was let go. Margaret would need something euphoric and uplifting to bring back those memories.

Bob Dylan – Only a Hobo

A blanket of newspaper covered his head,
As the curb was his pillow, the street was his bed.
One look at his face showed the hard road he’d come
And a fistful of coins showed the money he bummed.

This was by no means the end of Margaret’s woes however. For several months she roamed the near East, garbed in little more than a sack. When bread wasn’t available she ate the roots of plants. Perhaps Bob Dylan would have captured her feelings for disc number 5.

Tina Turner – Proud Mary 

You know that big wheel keep on turning
Proud Mary keep on burning

Disaster struck again for Beverley when, for the second time, she stumbled into the heightened tensions of the Third Crusade. This time a Muslim army at Antioch believed she had been plundering from the dead. Her life was only spared when she invoked the power of Mary, thus converting the leader of the executing party. A bit of Tina Turner would have captured Margaret’s mood as she finally headed home.

Otis Redding – Sittin’ on the Dock of Bay

Sittin’ in the mornin’ sun
I’ll be sittin’ when the evenin’ comes

On the way home, Margaret learned that her brother Thomas was in France, living as a monk. He convinced her to join a nunnery and Margaret spent the last two decades of her life in relative peace. After the incredible life she’d lived thus far, something wistful and calming would highlight the change of pace for the penultimate disc.

The Cast of Hamilton –  Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story 

But when you’re gone, who remembers your name?
Who keeps your flame?
Who tells your story?

Finally, surely even Margaret would have to concede that what we know about her life doesn’t give us the fullest picture of events. She told the story of her adventures to her brother, and this devout pair wrote it as a series of leonine verses. As Aaron Burr muses in Hamilton, it really matters who tells your story…


A book for the island: A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, simply because I think she might feel an affinity with Anya.

Luxury item: Margaret’s story has captured people’s imagination in part because of the weaponizing of a cooking pot. I’d like to think that Margaret’s sense of humour would have stretched to recognising the absurdity of this image. Therefore, I think she might have chosen MOB Cookbook, so she can continue using that famous cauldron on her desert island.


Those who can


You can find out more about Will and his incredible work as Subject Lead for PGCE Secondary History here Will Bailey-Watson, Institute of Education, University of Reading

You can also find Will on Twitter @mrwbw and his inspirational podcast series including the reflective series for teachers Those Who Can 

You can also find out more about PGCE History at the Institute of Education University of Reading here: PGCE History at the University of Reading

clocktower 640x640

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Elizabeth I by Professor Carol Fuller (Institute of Education UoR) #HistoricalDesertIslandDiscs

We are still in lock down so our self isolating colleagues from UoR are also submitting their Historical Desert Island Discs. The Department of English have also started their own Fictional Desert Island Discs . This week and next week we are delighted to have two of our colleagues from the Institute of Education as our guest bloggers. First up is Professor Carol Fuller on her fascination with Elizabeth I…


Although not a historian by academic discipline I have long been fascinated, in a very amateurish way, by the great women in history whom I consider as early pioneers of feminism. Cast away on our desert island, this week then, is perhaps one of the most notable of these for me, Queen Elizabeth I.

Bruce Springsteen: Red Headed Woman (1997)

The path to the throne was not an easy one for Elizabeth. Daughter of King Henry VIII and the disgraced and beheaded, Queen Anne Boleyn, many of her Catholic detractors sought to deny her Tudor heritage and remove her from the line of succession. Her famous red hair was unmistakable though – she was undoubtedly a Tudor child.

Destiny’s Child:  Survivor (2001)

Her ascension to the throne and coronation in 1559 had not been straightforward. In getting there she had survived numerous political plots and intrigues. Elizabeth always employed great wit in distancing herself from these and only narrowly escaped being executed like her mother, at the hands of her half-sister Queen Mary I, following Wyatt’s Rebellion.

Christina Aguilera: Can’t Hold Us Down (2003)

As a Queen, Elizabeth was considered to be highly educated, enjoying access to an education in her childhood that was unprecedented for a girl at that time. As a monarch she was known for her intellect and mastery of multiple languages.

Snap: The Power (1990)

Unlike many other monarchs, she was a shrewd political player, both at home and internationally – Elizabeth was certainly no figurehead or puppet and took an active and key role in the running of her government.

Sam Cooke: A Change is Gonna Come (1964)

Her firm belief and patronage of Science, exploration and the importance of the Arts, was key to Elizabeth’s reign being called ‘The Golden Age’. She was also the first monarch who pioneered legislation to feed the poor – resulting in the 1601 Elizabethan Poor Law.

Frank Sinatra: My Way (1969)

Elizabeth was born in an era where women – no matter how ‘highly’ born – were merely chattel; used by the men in their lives to advance their own power and wealth. Not so for Elizabeth! Having fought so hard to stay alive, she had no intention of giving up her position to a man. She defied an attempt by Parliament in 1566 to her force her to marry. She chose never to marry, aside to her people in her role as Queen. Thereafter, she was famously known as ‘The Virgin Queen’.

Cyndi Lauper: Girls Just Want to Have Fun (1983)

Despite never marrying, Elizabeth was still something of a romantic player and was well known throughout Europe for a series of romantic scandals; most notably with Robert Dudley, Robert Devereux and Sir Walter Rayleigh. Whilst romantic liaisons were par for the course for the men of that time, not so for women. Elizabeth defiantly flouted convention, and kept the men in her life who were most important to her, close by her.

Simple Minds: Don’t You (Forget About Me) (1985)

By the time she died, Elizabeth was well beloved by her subjects, having learnt the art of spin early on. Always riding on horseback so she could be seen by the people and ensuring only the most flattering of portraits were circulated, the image of Elizabeth has endured since her death 400 years ago, well known even to this day.


As per usual Queen Elizabeth I was given The Complete Works of Shakespeare and the Bible, although this would be considered a cumbersome disappointment. As a famously well-known patron of Shakespeare, she would undoubtedly already have them. The same would be true for the Bible, not only would she have one, she would also have copies in numerous languages. Her choice of book would be Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaids Tale, just to remind herself what could have been if she had not placed herself as head of the Church in England.

Luxury item: a good skin cream. The lead and mercury based white face power of that time played absolute havoc with the skin!



You can find out more about Carol and her work at the University of Reading here

You can also find out more about Carol’s research and  The Improving Equity and Inclusion through Education Research Group here and Research at the Institute of Education here



Posted in News

Desert Island Documentaries by Dr Natalie Thomlinson #HistoricalDesertIslandDiscs

With the government advice that we are all in lockdown we thought we would take a slight departure from our usual format to give you Natalie Thomlinson’s best Historical Desert Island Documentaries. Something to fill the gaping historical hole in some of our lives…

We’re all getting to spend a lot more time inside these days, and sitting on the sofa and watching tv go together like chips and cheese. After a lifetime spent watching the sort of history documentaries mostly aimed at your 75-year-old CAMRA member Grandad, let me selflessly pass on my hard-won knowledge and tell you what to watch to get you through the lockdown. Just remember history’s one great lesson: however bad things are now, they were almost certainly worse in the past. And with that, put on the kettle, crack open a beer, get some snacks, and adopt a supine position on the sofa. You’re going to be there for a while.


7) Time Team (Channel 4, 1994 – 20104)

Not one for the purists, as this is technically archaeology rather than history. But I spit in the face of disciplinary boundaries! Sometimes you want serious people talking about serious subjects, and sometimes you just want a bloke with a west country accent and a woolly jumper enthusing wildly about entirely featureless 2000-year-old bits of broken pot. Time Team is what I would call peak hangover history tv, ideal for when reaching to the remote to change the channel seems like too much effort and you want to be transported back to an era when lying on a sofa all day groaning softly all day would have seemed like, well, luxury. The ‘Secrets of the Saxon Gold’ special on the Staffordshire Hoard (remember when the amateur enthusiast with the metal detector stumbled across Britain’s most significant ever Anglo-Saxon archaeological find in a field in Lichfield?) is particularly good, if you like that sort of thing.

6. Britain’s Greatest Ships (Channel 5, 2018)

Have I included this simply because it features Reading’s very own Dr Richard Blakemore as a talking head? Well, yes, maybe. But little cheers me up more than hearing Richard wax lyrical about the lives of 17th century sailors (truly, an interest I never knew I had until I washed up on the shores of this history department) , and in these times, cheering up is what you need.

5. The BBC Archive

Not strictly ‘history’ documentaries in that they document the society of the time, but the online BBC archive has a quite incredible selection of tv documentaries from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s which provide an incredible insight into how much our lives have changed in modern Britain. I am very fond of showing these to my students, as they will tell you. (TV is very educational!). I am particularly fond of two series called  Women at Work (1974) and  Marriage Today (1964)  and the hand-wringing attendant by the talking heads about whether women should work outside of the home, and whether sex before marriage could every truly be moral. Questions for the ages, I’m sure you’ll agree. Also some excellent retro styling going on in these, and the accents win awards of their own. Why do so many people sound like the queen?!

4. The Secret History of our Streets (BBC, 2012)


Based on Charles Booth’s famous London Poverty Maps (LSE) Maps , this series picked six London streets and traced their history over the last 100 or so years. An incredible testament to the way in which parts of London rose up and down the social ladder, and then back up again, and the mixed fortunes of the inhabitants of the streets, this is one of the best social history documentaries I have ever watched. It is micro-history at its best; afterwards, you too will probably be thinking that blowing 50 quid of your own hard-earned cash on an edition of Booth’s maps seem like a sensible investment. (Did I do this? Certainly did!) And if you happen to live in London, you can always have the fun of spotting the places you know; perhaps treat yourself with a walk to one of the streets as one of your daily rations of exercise…? Or maybe you’d just like to watch some more TV instead.

3. Lefties (BBC, 2006)

Documentary maker Vanessa Engel’s three-parter about the British left in the 1970s and 80s does not on the face of it sound like compelling viewing. But this fantastic series provides a wry look at the ins and outs of the arcane debates of the British left (People’s Front of Judea vs Judean People’s Front, anyone?), its idiosyncrasies, and indeed, its general tendency to self-sabotage. Particularly good is the episode on the squatters on Villa Road in Brixton , where a primal scream therapeutic commune co-existed with houses of drug-fuelled punks, speculum wielding feminists, ex-Etonians at war with their background, a Dutch man called Pym who led (still leads) a lifestyle ‘which does not require running water’, and a local thief that the street decided to take in rather than shop to the police. Watch out for Piers ‘brother-of-Jeremy’ Corbyn making a particularly good cameo appearance explaining the internal contradictions of capitalism to the bemused filmmaker. He’s a long range weather forecaster now, go figure.

Squatted houses in Villa Road, Brixton, London, 1977.

2) World At War (ITV, 1973-4) 

This is probably the most famous entry on the list; thanks to constant repeats on British TV pretty much since the moment it was made, most people in the UK will have seen a least an episode of this at some point, possibly without even realising it. But this 26 (26!) part documentary series from the mid 1970s well and truly stands the test of time, covering almost all aspects of World War Two in sobering and scholarly detail, with some amazing interviewees including Traudl Junge (Hitler’s secretary) and Albert Speer (the Nazi’s favourite architect), all delivered in a beautiful voiceover provided by Laurence Olivier. Properly good. Even better, it’s available to watch for free on UKTV play during the lockdown!

Access to this series can be found via YouTube and pay for view sites.

1. People’s Century (BBC/PBS 1995-1997)

Truly, the history documentary to end all history documentaries. The scope and ambition of People’s Century – which aims to tell the story of the twentieth century across the entire globe, through the voices of the ordinary people who lived through events – is simply stunning. It first came on TV when I was at primary school, and from the moment I heard the gorgeous waltzing theme tune, I was hooked. When it was on, my parents indulged me with the most significant of all concessions in a middle-class family: I was allowed to eat my dinner in front of the telly. Result! I could tell even then that my parents appeared to be somewhat bemused by their ten-year-old daughter’s taste in tv, but I was right then and I’m right now. My love for history was already strong as a kid, but this taught me that listening to the voices of the man and woman in the street was how you found out what it actually felt like to live through big historical events. Like World at War, this is also 26 episodes long, but you can hardly say you don’t have time to watch it now, can you?

people C


Honourable mentions also go to

Servants and  Shopgirls  (BBC, 2012 and 2014).
Working-class women generally get a raw deal in terms of their representation – or rather, lack of – in TV documentaries. In these two wonderful series, Pamela Cox explores the history of servants and shopgirls in 19th and 20th century Britain, and brings their stories vividly to life. I once met Pamela at a conference and embarrassingly fangirled her in the bar; she was very nice about it. My mum also liked this one a lot.

Black and British (BBC, 2016)
David Olusoga really nailed this four-part documentary on the history of Black people in Britain. A fascinating history that surprisingly few people know about.

Anything by Janina Ramirez
Perhaps I am predisposed to like Janina Ramirez as someone who is also fond of black hair dye and dark clothes myself, but she is fab. Particularly liked her programmes on  Treasures of the Anglo-Saxons and on The Viking Sagas

Cold War (BBC/CNN 1998).
Another extremely long series (24 episodes) to really get stuck in to. My big brother Dan (also a history teacher) is a huge fan of this. Access to this series can be found via YouTube and pay for view sites. 


So, on our desert island there is also The Complete Works of Shakespeare and the Bible but to see us through any extension to our time on the island we may need a Radio Times subscription. Luxury item? Obviously a massive HD TV.

You can find out more about Natalie at and on follow her on Twitter @sadhistorygeek.

Natalie’s current research on women in the Miners’ Strike can be found at and an online exhibition here Coalfield Women

Nat image


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