Filling in the generation gaps
BBC Education, PO Box 234, Wetherby, West Yorkshire LS23 7EU. The central thread to this Landmarks series is the idea of keeping a timeline that can link familiar, everyday images with world events or general trends.
It opens in a 1930s classroom, with children sitting in rows with their hands on their heads while a fierce teacher drills them through their tables. "Life Keeps Changing" it was called, and rightly so, because you don't have to go back to the Thirties to find teachers and pupils who would be amazed by the sort of multi-media teaching pack the BBC has put together here, with its own textbook and software.
The first programme in the series, however, came as a timely reminder of the wealth of humbler resource material sitting on your own doorstep. Then there are school log books, or artefact loans from museums, which had a group of children guessing at the original function of an earthenware hot-water bottle.
There were some choice moments, like the Newcastle primary school which re-enacted Empire Day, but the programme hopped about the timescale a fair bit and it was quite a relief to reach a more settled theme in the second programme, "The Hungry Thirties?". The question mark here was intentional, as the programme contrasted the traditional picture of unemployment and depression with the prosperity and comfort of inter-war suburbia. Some of the detail was excellent: one moment we were presented with the original banner from the Jarrow Crusade, the next we were told the historical significance of a row of semis in what looked like Pinner. As in the opening programme there was excellent use of oral history, with vivid memories of clothes parcels and the dreaded means test.
So thoroughly has the series been researched that it is a pity it did not go a stage further and point out that not all of the south of England in the Thirties was prosperous, and there were rich people in the north too. However, there is no shortage of opportunities for children to undertake their own work to find out this sort of thing, either with the unusually-comprehensive teachers' notes, or with Peter Chrisp's attractive textbook.
This offers a wide variety of images of life in 20th-century Britain. If that's not enough, then there's the plethora of original material available on the software packages, which allows you to explore a virtual reality village in wartime or search through population patterns since 1930.