Last Night’s TV – A Century of Fatherhood
Sometimes, there are programmes that come along that you think will be a total yawnfest, but if there’s zilch on elsewhere, you end up watching and being glad you did. This was such a show.
The blurb about it made it sound more like a sociology or humanities lesson, and as regular readers of Primetime will perhaps know, I don’t want my telly to teach me things. If I wanted to learn something, I’d go back to university.
However, though there were without doubt times when the film bordered dangerously on the precipice of becoming a dull history lecture, the moments that dragged it back to the safety of a televisual footpath were the numerous first-hand accounts proffered up about dads.
Some delightful contributions were made by genteel elderly ladies and gentlemen, with one of the most charming being George Short, a retired miner who embraced fatherhood with vigour. Being a dad to George was, in short, his life’s work.
A lovely lady called Phyllis recounted how her family home would resonate with laughter when her dad was around, and how he spoiled his children with an always bulging pocket of sweets.
So with a fascinating collection of grainy photographs and archive footage, the fond, rose tinted recollections kept me in my seat rather than the explanations of the various socio-political implications of daddyness through the last 100 years.
Those rather less entertaining segments came from historians and sociologists who had studied the subject of the changing – or, as it turns out, not so changing – face of fatherhood over the last 100 years.
I’m afraid their contributions bordered on lecture hall dull, even when discussing something fairly revolutionary, such as the Fathercraft movement of the 1920s.
However, against my will, I did learn a few things, for example that the popular Victorian image of a working class bloke beating his family up was largely propaganda put about by the temperance league folks. The actual evidence points rather more to fathers of the time being hard working, well intentioned and kind fathers in the main.
So by the end of the film, I’d gained some knowledge and dug into the well of memories about my own late father, which was a welcome side effect. However, I was saddened to read as the credits rolled that many of the elderly contributors to the documentary had passed away soon after filming.
It made their colourful recollections even more poignant.
If you missed this film, you can catch it again here on iPlayer