Essex social historian contributes to Thirties in Colour documentary

  • Date

    Wed 25 Aug 21

photo of Prof Pam Cox sat in a cinema looking at an unseen screeen

A new Channel 5 series sheds light and colour onto life in one of the most turbulent decades in British history with social historian, Professor Pamela Cox, from our Department of Sociology, providing some of the on-screen analysis.

The three-part series Thirties in Colour: Countdown to War takes black-and-white films from the era and colourises the footage, bringing the past vividly back to life. The films offer a remarkable window on one of the most turbulent decades in British history and capture a nation determined to remain stable in the face of economic and political chaos across Europe.

The series includes stories both familiar and less so. A homecoming parade in Hull to celebrate local hero Amy Johnson, the first British woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia; the Battle of Cable Street, where over 100,000 ordinary people from the East End forced back Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists; the England vs Germany football match at White Hart Lane featuring an infamous Nazi salute; the opening of the first Butlins; the Jarrow March for jobs; a mass trespass at Kinder Scout in the Peak District; and Operation Pied Piper - the evacuation of 1.5 million people away from Britain's cities on the eve of war.

Professor Cox said: "It was great to be part of this series and to see the Thirties brought to life in a new way. An event like the Battle of Cable Street – where the East End community came out to challenge Oswald Mosley – may be familiar to us but this footage gives it a new immediacy."

Audiences will be familiar with some footage from this period, from newsreels in the run up to the start of World War 2 in 1939, 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.

The series (and its predecessor, Edwardian Britain in Colour) 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 the decade leading up to the second world war. Professor Cox was asked, as a social historian, to watch and comment on a whole range of short films. Other commentators include Onyeka Nubia, Author, Helen Antrobus, curator from the National Trust, Michael Rosen, children’s author, Barry Davies, football commentator, Tim Bouverie, historian, and other historians and writers. The first episode focuses on “setting the scene” showing us that this was a decade of change with people starting to see the world opening, but with social inequalities and the threat of conflict ever looming on the horizon.

Professor Cox took part in Edwardian Britain in Colour (2019), presented the BBC history series, Servants (2012) and Shopgirls (2014).

Thirties in Colour: Countdown to War is narrated by Imelda Staunton, and the first episode was screened at 9pm on Tuesday 24 August, repeated on Sunday 29 August on 5Select. Subsequent episodes will appear on Tuesday 31st August and Tues 7th September.

5Select is found on Freeview channel 55, Sky 153, or Virgin Media 152.

The series can also be viewed online.