An epic account of the events that shaped Britain, from the death of Queen Victoria to the end of the Second World War.
A New Dawn
In the first of a six-part series, Andrew Marr revisits Britain at the dawn of the 20th century. He finds the country mourning the death of Queen Victoria; fighting an intractable 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.
Road to War
The assassination of an archduke in Sarajevo sets in motion the wheels of world war. In the corridors of Westminster old allies Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George fight over strategy. Out on the streets, the people are eager for battle, determined to 'teach the Hun a lesson'. Britain is on the road to war.
The Great War
Britain gets its first taste of total war. Marr argues that no shock has ever hit these islands with quite the force of what became known as the Great War. It transformed the lives of the British people - most dramatically the millions who fought on the frontline but also those at home who were bereaved, bombed, uprooted and bankrupted.
Having a Ball
The war was won and folks were fed up with feeling miserable, so the British people settled in for a decadent decade: the 1920s. Marr's feisty overview dances between topics (from the private housing boom to the Irish Civil War) and characters without crowbarring in contrived links. It's a captivating pick and mix without any drab, dry moments. Culturally, we thrived in the 20s. Nightclubs, sex and drugs were all the rage. Old money partied with new and the aristocrats made writers and artists their playthings. Cue the DH Lawrence stills and footage of dancing girls illiberally sprinkled with sequins. Later on, there's a recap of everything you need to know about the Lloyd George Cash for Honours debacle. And we learn how, in 1922, British radio began broadcasting for entertainment, if only for half an hour a week. Radio Times reviewer - Ruth Margolis
It can't be long before Andrew Marr is snapped up to star in a BBC drama. It's not just because of the flamboyant arm gestures, well-rehearsed delivery, little asides and love of accents (he does everyone from Winston Churchill to King George V, Stanley Baldwin and Gandhi in this edition). It's his predilection for dressing up. Moments after sporting a horribly unflattering beret as a Green Shirt (precursor to Oswald Mosley's fascists) we see him in a most unbecoming swimsuit. And then it's striped pyjamas. Marr is continuing his broad sweep through our modern history with a look at Britain in the 1930s. To him it was a time when the hat you wore defined you as a person (thankfully he doesn't feel the need to pop on a succession of trilbies and bowlers to illustrate his point). It was also, of course, a time of mass unemployment, the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany, the building of mock Tudor semis in "Metroland", the creation of Butlins Holiday Camps and the discovery of Gracie Fields. Of the latter phenomenon, he concludes, "In history not everything can be explained". But he does his best to explain everything else. Radio Times reviewer - Jane Rackham
Britannia at Bay
Andrew Marr continues to shine fresh light on familiar tales as he winds up his series. We're up to the Second World War and what it meant for Britain. Marr's trick, as always, is to fasten on the human details and use them to make us feel what an episode such as Dunkirk felt like for those involved. So we hear about the chartered accountant called Basil who took his motor launch over the Channel to help evacuate the beaches, or the way soldiers waiting for hours in the water put their cigarettes and matches in their helmets to keep them dry. Then again, the archive footage often says more than words: one shot of soldiers flailing miserably in black, oil-thickened seawater did it for me. Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain (a triumph of information processing, he tells us, from the map room at fighter command), the Blitz, El Alamein, D-Day - the war whizzes by as a series of sketches. And as usual there are resounding sum-it-all-up sentences. On the death of empire: "Imperial Britain's final flare," he intones, "was her finest hour." Radio Times reviewer - David Butcher