Sunday, 17 March 2013

Heritage! The Battle for Britain's Past, BBC Four

 Heritage! The Battle for Britain’s Past - A BBC / English Heritage Partnership

Season 1 Episode 1:
From Old Bones to Precious Stones
Three-part documentary charting the history of the movement developed to protect the nation's heritage. The opening episode looks at the birth of the organisation and the primary arguments of radical thought from people such as John Lubbock MP, Lt Gen Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers, Charles Darwin and John Ruskin who asked important questions to create the building blocks of a new world, sparking the first piece of legislation which safeguarded prehistoric and ancient structures

Season 1 Episode 2:
The Men from the Ministry
A look at the role civil servants played through the heritage movement in saving the ruins of Britain, exploring the determination of Charles Reed Peers who, during the interwar years, seized the opportunity to make history popular and attract the wider public to historic sites. Plus, the crisis that developed as some country houses were abandoned or demolished by their owners, and the ensuing debate over which government body should rescue them

Season 1 Episode 3:
Broken Propylaeums
The final part of the documentary investigates how the heritage movement suffered setbacks due to the after-effects of the Second World War, but also how people including John Betjeman and Dan Cruickshank gave families access to the historical buildings on TV. The preservation of unpleasant properties such as workhouses is also explored, along with a discussion on what the future may hold for heritage in Britain

Heritage! The Battle for Britain’s Past - A BBC / English Heritage Partnership
Wednesday 6 March 2013
Dr Simon Thurley
Chief Executive, English Heritage

From Kenneth Clark to David Dimbleby, Fred Dibnah to Fiona Bruce, the BBC has memorably celebrated heritage on the small screen. So memorably in fact that it can sometimes feel as if we’ve always loved our ruined abbeys and castles, prehistoric monuments and grand country houses.

Not so. Shakespeare’s home was torn down in 1759 by its owner who was tired of visitors peering through the windows. Can you imagine the uproar such an act would cause today? While in 1847, Berwick Castle was demolished to make way for the East Coast Main Line.  

So our love affair with ancient buildings is relatively new. It was inspired by a revolution that flew in the face of modern progress, one led at different times by socialists, aristocrats and until now, anonymous civil servants.

Starting this Thursday, a new BBC Four series tells the story of that revolution. Heritage! The Battle For Britain’s Past focuses on the pioneers of the past including Victorian archaeologists who fought to save our great prehistoric stone circles and those 1970s campaigners who railed against the demolition of the once loathed St Pancras train station.

This year is a fitting year for such a series. Because 2013 is the centenary of a landmark moment in the protection of heritage: The Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act of 1913.

With the passing of this Act, the State for the very first time stood up and recognised that it had a duty of care towards the physical remains of this nation’s history. The 1913 Ancient Monuments Act created many of the powers still used to protect Britain’s unique legacy of historic buildings and also established Europe’s most ambitious outdoor museum – today’s National Heritage Collection of historic sites and monuments, looked after by English Heritage, CADW and Historic Scotland.

English Heritage’s origins stretch back to this landmark Act and we wanted to mark the centenary in a way that fully captured what was at stake and what has been achieved since then – all the challenges, dilemmas and decisions, setbacks and successes.

Enter the BBC.

A meeting with the Controller of BBC Four, Richard Klein, the series’ Executive Producer, Basil Comely, and the BBC’s Partnerships Manager, Judith Nichol, and Heritage! The Battle For Britain’s Past was born. The series is the result of a partnership between English Heritage and the BBC. The BBC got special access to our experts and archives, while for English Heritage the BBC brings our research alive as only the BBC can and shares it with as large an audience as possible.

The series features familiar names like William Morris, Octavia Hill and John Betjeman but also the unsung heroes who worked quietly behind the scenes, the men (and in those days, they were almost all men) from the Ministry of Works, English Heritage’s predecessor. And it raises important questions as to who decided what did and did not constitute heritage as well as what is worth saving – and losing – today.

Above all, rather fittingly in this English Heritage’s centenary year, Heritage! The Battle For Britain’s Past inspires people to think again about those pieces of the past that surrounds them, why they survive today, and what should be done with them tomorrow.

Heritage! The Battle for Britain's Past, BBC Four, review

Sarah Rainey reviews the first episode of Heritage! The Battle for Britain’s Past, a three-part BBC Four documentary charting the history of efforts to protect the nation's heritage.
By Sarah Rainey Mar 2013 in The Telegraph /

As a member of the National Trust for more than 20 years (since the grand old age of five, when I used to crawl around a picnic blanket in the grounds of Rowallane Gardens in County Down), I reckon Heritage! The Battle for Britain’s Past (BBC Four) is one of the most important BBC offerings of the year. The three-part series, in association with English Heritage, opened last night with a fascinating insight into the pioneers of British conservation – and their 150-year fight to stop our old buildings and landmarks from being torn down.
“Heritage,” it blared, “isn’t about the past; it’s about the future.” Flickering black and white film reels from British Pathé took us back to a time when an Englishman’s home truly was his castle, and landowners believed they could do exactly what they wanted with their own property. Shakespeare’s house in Stratford-upon-Avon; Woodstock Palace in Oxford; Alexander Pope’s villa in Twickenham – all were destroyed by money-grabbing property barons with no thought for the next generation.
Championing the cause of heritage back in the 19th century was John Lubbock, the “MP of loopy causes”; a man who kept a pet wasp and claimed he had taught his dog to talk. Under the tutelage of Charles Darwin (whose interest in evolution sparked Lubbock’s passion for ancient history), Lubbock got the ball rolling for an Ancient Monuments Bill, which would finally be enacted in 1913. Archive footage, stills from historic tomes and newspaper sketches brought Lubbock – and his successors in campaigning, Lieutenant-General Augustus Pitt Rivers, John Ruskin and Octavia Hill – to life.
Stirring music, picturesque images of sunny countryside and an impressive selection of engaging historians made for easy-to-follow, informative TV. The highlight was a peek inside Sir John Soane’s house in central London, renowned as the best house-museum in the world. Egyptian sarcophagi, ancient urns and marble statues provided a feast for the eyes.
There weren’t quite enough shots of grand country mansions for my liking, and some of the scenes were a little forced (those poor walkers, merrily pretending to trudge through the Lake District in a thunderstorm). Producers also failed to make the obvious comparison with Pompeii, which nearly fell into ruin because it wasn’t adequately protected – instead focusing on Venice as “the first conservation crisis of the modern age”.
But Heritage! certainly gave pause for thought. In an era when many of our esteemed heritage sites (among them York Minster and the Bishop’s Palace in Lincoln) have been abandoned, callously cemented over or subject to theft, shouldn’t we be taking a leaf out of Lubbock’s book and doing more about it? A century later, there really is no excuse.

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