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1959: A Panorama Guide

This programme has been hanging around on BBC Four for a while, but I think it’s only available on iPlayer now until 22 April, and is well worth your time if you’re at all interested in social history. Although it’s partly a celebration of the Panorama team of the time, it also has fascinating reports on the issues of the day, such as the idealistic experiment of new towns such as Harlow in Essex, race relations, youth culture and the political fallout of Britain’s decline of Empire.

One white settler in what was then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), illustrated the reason why Robert Mugabe is still able to wreak chaos in that country, as his bigotry provided the perfect conditions for such a extreme leader to take power. More bigotry presented itself in the form of the White Defence League, who seemed to want to repatriate everyone who wasn’t like them, with jazz singers such as Cleo Laine and her husband John Dankworth (popping up in both his present and 1959 forms) as the representative of the group fighting against such bigotry. This also tied neatly with the programme’s discussion of the competition between jazz and rock and roll as youth interests, featuring the 1959 version of Simon Cowell, Larry Parnes, and the young singers he packaged for the emerging teenage market, a notable example being Billy Fury.

There’s also a fascinating look at a pre-Wall Berlin, where the border between Communism and Capitalism was simply marked by a different road surface, and TV nerds will be thrilled with a glimpse of Lime Grove, the epicentre of BBC TV before TV Centre. This is the perfect example of just how valuable the BBC still is as a window on the present and the past, and I’d encourage you to make time for this programme whilst you still can.

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