THE MAKING OF MODERN Britain tells the story of a tumultuous period in British history from the end of the Victorian period to the conclusion of World War II. Marr contends that the country witnessed an important sea-change in its basic structure; whereas once it was a fundamentally stratified society with everyone knowing their place and being (ostensibly) happy with it, by 1945 it had become far more democratic. Individuals could now choose what kind of lifestyles they wishes, while the so-called 'working-classes' were no longer despised, but had a powerful influence over the way in which the country was governed.
Such changes, Marr contends, had to do with the collapse of Empire as well as major economic upheavals such as the Great Depression: as a result people were no longer willing to accept poverty as a 'natural' state, but made strenuous efforts to alleviate it through government policy. This idea lay at the heart of the Beveridge Report of 1942 that laid the foundations for the modern Welfare State.
In each episode of this fascinating series, Marr looks at the people that shaped British history - not only politicians, but journalists, social reformers and 'ordinary' people as well. We find out about people we might not have previously encountered, such as the gloriously titled Mickey the Midget, who tried his best to deal with the chaos resulting from the Blitz - when people rushed to the sewers, the subway, or any underground lair they could find, to escape the German bombs. Mickey saw the lack of sanitation, the filth and squalor in which people of the East End were sheltering, and set up a proper organization, with everyone assigned particular roles to ensure the health of the community as a whole. By doing so he proved the value of socialist organization, a move that was celebrated by journalist Ritchie Calder in his 1940 book on the Blitz and its consequences.
Marr proves an engaging and knowledgeable presence; he often puts on some of the apparel characteristic of the period (e.g. a Home Guard officer's uniform, or an early twentieth century chauffeur), so as to make it seem that he is living the past, not just telling us about it. This series is refreshing in its refusal to use the testimony of so-called academic 'experts,' relying instead on Marr's informative yet relaxed method of delivery.
The series may cover familiar ground, but it nonetheless offers new insights into early twentieth century British history.
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