Essex social historian commentates on Edwardian Britain in Colour

  • Date

    Wed 20 Feb 19

Professor Pamela Cox

A new Channel 5 series will shed light and colour onto life in Edwardian times with social historian, Professor Pamela Cox, from our Department of Sociology, providing some of the commentary.

The two-part series Edwardian Britain in Colour provides snapshots into everyday life in the years before the First World War, concentrating on the worlds of work and leisure, as well as highlighting some of the major social struggles and debates of that time, from suffrage to Home Rule.

 Professor  Cox, said: “The Edwardian period is typically viewed as a ‘golden age’ before the trauma and social upheaval of the First World War There’s lots of surviving silent footage from this period, but this is the first time we have seen large amounts of it in colour. The addition of colour brings the period to life in new ways  – we notice things we perhaps wouldn’t notice in black and white - textures, expressions, contracts, emotions and more.”

Professor Cox previously presented the BBC history series, Servants (2012) and Shopgirls (2014). Here she tells us more about her latest venture:

Tell us a little bit about the programme and your involvement in it?

The series was inspired by the Peter Jackson film They shall not grow old, which restored and colourised silent film footage from the First World War.  Whereas the Jackson film focuses on troops at the Front, this series takes us into everyday life in Edwardian times.  I was asked, as a social historian, to watch and comment on a whole range of short films. Other commentators include Alan Johnson, former Labour MP and author, and other historians and writers. The first episode focuses on’ setting the scene’ with an emphasis on hard work and leisure. The second episode focuses on change and conflict.

What can Edwardian life tell us about life today?

 The Edwardian era reminds us that the world can change very rapidly.  It was a time of social reform that changed the lives of those depicted in the films – shorter working hours, minimum wages, better working conditions. The work scenes in the film remind us why that was all necessary. The Edwardian period also saw major political struggles and reforms to reduce social inequality, to redistribute wealth and raise living standards for the majority. Again, when you see the levels of poverty depicted in the films, you’re reminded why all that was necessary.

On the lighter side, the films also show people enjoying public space and extraordinary community creativity in pageants, outings, and even the making/viewing of the films themselves. It’s clear that people enjoyed being filmed and were keen to see themselves on screen – an experience that would have been amazing at the time.

What interesting things did the programme uncover?

 We see working lives brought to life in very vivid ways. There are amazing sequences from docks, markets, mines, factories – and that really brings home the sheer physical labour that underpinned much of the economy at the time – labour performed by men, women and children. We also see people spending their newly-won leisure time in surprising ways, including a hair-raising trip on a forerunner of the roller-coaster in an Edwardian version of a theme park.

Edwardian Britain in Colour is narrated by Sarah Lancashire, and the first episode will be screened at 8pm on Saturday 23 February.