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26 September 2012

Revealing the life of servants for the BBC

Dr Pam Cox from the Department of Sociology is presenting a major BBC television series this autumn on the history of servants.

Dr Cox, who is herself the great-granddaughter of servants, is well known at the University as Dean of the Graduate School, but the BBC has been making use of her expertise as a social historian for its new series Servants: The True Story of Life Below Stairs.

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Dr Pam Cox is presenting a new series on BBC2.

The three programmes on BBC2 she presents coincide with a new series of Downton Abbey, but rather than portraying servants as characters in a period drama, these programmes will explore a gritty social history of Britain’s servants.

The programmes will examine the reality of servants’ lives from the Victorian era through to the Second World War. They will explore life in the great houses of the 19th Century as well as in middle class town houses and suburbs. The history of this vast group of workers has been greatly neglected although Essex researchers have done much to address this topic.

Professor Leonore Davidoff wrote one of the earliest histories of servants and Professor Paul Thompson conducted oral history interviews with Edwardian servants now stored at ESDS Qualidata within the UK Data Archive. Professor Edward Higgs has also researched domestic service and Dr Matthew Woollard, now Director of the UK Data Archive, has used census material to find out more about the lives of servants.

Dr Cox has been able to build on this and other research by bringing together several threads of her academic work.

She said: “Several years ago I wrote a book called Bad Girls, which explored the history of girls in the criminal justice system. One of the things that emerged was that many of the girls sent to reform institutions of various kinds were ‘reformed’ by being trained as servants.”.

Servants: The True Story of Life Below Stairs starts on Friday September 28 at 9pm and will run for three weeks. The programmes will also be available on BBC iPlayer.

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