Last Night’s TV – Andrew Marr’s Making Of Modern Britain

by Lynn Connolly


I’ve always liked Andrew Marr; he’s personable, he’s intelligent, he’s witty and self-deprecating, and he’s far more enjoyable serving up slices of history than he is presenting some political show that makes the viewer – notably, me – lose the will to live.

And we should see more of him in this role if last night’s televisual expedition into Britain’s history was anything to go by.

This is what the BBC’s press release had to say about the show…

“Marr takes viewers from the imperial power of the late-Victorian age to the dawning of modern democracy; from Charlie Chaplin to Gracie Fields; and from the trenches and sea battles of the First World War to Britain’s triumphant victory over fascism in 1945…

“In the first episode in the epic six-part series, Marr re-visits Britain at the dawn of the 20th century. He finds the country mourning the death of Queen Victoria; fighting an intractable guerrilla war against the Boers in South Africa; enjoying the bawdy pleasures of music hall; and worrying about the physical and moral strength of the working class.”

Now, on paper, that sounded like something of a yawnfest, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Generally speaking, I’m allergic to TV programmes that try to teach me something; I’ve always stuck to the premise that my telly’s there to entertain me and if I want to learn something, I’ll go to a library or a college. But what made this history lesson so entertaining was most definitely because Marr was doing the teaching.

Again, that surprised me too; I hadn’t expected to find him terribly interesting. I’ve only ever seen him before in shows that, as I mentioned earlier, make me wish I was watching wood warp instead. But despite having an enormous job to do in walloping us with a ton of information in around an hour, none of the imparted facts and statistics felt hurried, and better yet, totally non-boring.

And a lot of it was quite disturbing, especially the fact that we British pretty much blueprinted the idea of concentration camps and gave the Nazis ideas they cultivated to horrific fruition in the form of eugenics. We’ve got the doubtless brilliant but, I suspect, sociopathic Francis Galton to thank for that it seems.

There were some hideous photographs to evidence the facts and grainy footage abounded, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Marr pulled off some pretty amusing impressions of various and nefarious historical figures, and his lurid descriptions of how music hall artistes might be pelted with anything from iron skewers to the corpses of dogs was wickedly entertaining.

As Marr himself said, the history of Britain is “dark, funny and surprising” and in its understated way, that statement encompassed all that was on offer last night. I can’t wait to see the rest of the series’ five shows as we gallop – though with time aplenty to take in the scenery – through history to modern day. And with the soft intonations of Andrew Marr to talk us through it, and incidental music that fairly leaves one breathless, it’s sure to be a fun trip.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.