History : So where are the people?

12th February 2004 at 00:00

A People's History of Britain
By Rebecca Fraser
Chatto and Windus pound;25

Once upon a time, when children wore caps and blazers and ate up their greens, schoolmasters and mistresses wore gowns and mortarboards and knew how to teach. Academic standards were high and every schoolboy (for some reason it was always every schoolboy) could recite the kings of England and the fights historical, from Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical.

If your favourite TV programme last year was Channel 4's That'll Teach `Em, and you find yourself gazing longingly at your slipper, then this is the book for you.

Rebecca Fraser has fond memories of HE Marshall's patriotic textbook from 1905, Our Island Story, which was always something of a misnomer since Marshall's islands were in fact New Zealand. Fraser has decided that children don't know their history any more, and could do with a good dose of Marshall along with cold showers and syrup of figs.

Unfortunately, Marshall has long been out of print, so Fraser decided to write one herself. And here it is, boldly - and just as inaccurately - entitled A People's History of Britain and carrying ringing endorsements from Andrew Roberts, who claims "no family in the English-speaking world should be without this stupendous work" and Paul Johnson, who hails it for blowing "a tremendous blast of British history" which, he reckons, the young will love while "the old will have their hearts warmed". What do they put in syrup of figs these days?

Sean Lang is director of the Historical Association curriculum projectnbsp;nbsp;nbsp;

Read more in this week's TES Friday magazine

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