With Hugh Dennis, at first glance the episode was seemingly about the First World War, but it really wasn't. The highlight from his story was the graphic illustration of how within a couple of generations a miner's family could produce a university graduate, and how the war forced a change in recruitment away from those born with the spoons in their mouths to those who could also actually do the job no matter what their origin. Years ago I made a programme about The Few for Channel 4, and how the Second World War's creation of the RAFVR democratised the recruitment practices of the RAF, and so I found this particularly fascinating, particularly with the idea of "temporary gentlemen" who would only be 'civil' and 'gentlemanly' in wartime conditions. Bizarre, but that's what this country used to be like! There was certainly social change following the first conflict, but it was still a job half done - whether that job has been completed today I'll leave for others to comment on!
With Alex Kingston, I found the first ten minutes extremely tedious, but then perked up when they discussed radio ranging at Passchendale - the second time the battle featured in two weeks, but at least this was a completely new take on it, and a somewhat tragic take in its own right. The last half hour, however, was pure television gold, as Alex Kingston discovered her "inner whore"!!! It turned out that her ancestor ran a somewhat dubious establishment, a right wee 'madam' in all senses of the word. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I'd see Alexander Armstrong's spoof WDYTYA sketch a few years back would ever be made flesh, but it was almost a remake - right down to the bit where she ended up owning properties all over the shop. "She's moved up into management, as it were", in Armstrongese! With the actress's own reactions, it was a rollicking good laugh, with a story taken in good humour, despite the tragedy of much of it. It was also fascinating to see just how well her ancestor did for herself, considering her starting point with the death of her husband and four children to feed.
Both stories are now on the BBC iPlayer for those resident in the UK. For those further afield, the following is the Alexander Armstrong sketch - the first half of which is very close to what was uncovered last night!
Scottish Research Online - 5 weeks online Pharos course, £45.99, taught by Chris Paton from 26 SEP 2012 - see www.pharostutors.com
New book: It's Perthshire 1866 - there's been a murder... www.thehistorypress.co.uk/products/The-Mount-Stewart-Murder.aspx (from June 12th 2012)