Katie and the new radicals;Television;Reviews;Subject of the week;History

5th November 1999 at 00:00
Sue Jones on a series of programmes that examine the social and technical developments of the past 100 years.

HISTORY IN ACTION: Women in the 20th Century. Race in the 20th Century. Weapons of War. Channel 4. Thursdays 9.30-9.50am.

Poor Katie! Once she was centre-stage giving her meal "man-appeal" with Oxo. Now she's been phased-out by the radical changes in advertisers' perceptions of family life since the 1950s.

And the new History in Action series "Women in the 20th Century" kindly provides us with an explanation.

Three 20-minute programmes look at women's role in war, the family and at work using a wide range of documentary, advertising, news and feature film extracts.

We are shown how advertising promoted the angelic, but nevertheless glamorous, wife and motherin order to get her money, while in the workplace men cheerfully assumed she wouldn't (or shouldn't) be earning much of it.

Documentary and fiction are used effectively together to demonstrate the attitudes of both men and women, but this is a chronological surveyrather than an in-depth probe: we do not see women in real poverty, socially excludedor in dreadful housing conditions. More material would be needed for a truly balanced history.

The parallel programmes on race, "Empire", "Migration" and "Civil Rights", are in the same style and also cover developments in Britain and the USA. Government propaganda films are particularly interesting, especially during WW2 when national and imperial unity on both sides of the Atlantic, whatever the colour of your skin, were seen as essential.

But just as equality for women could be neglected in peacetime, so radical attitudes could also regress.

Post-war documentaries and newsreels catalogue the struggles for civil rights against ignorance, prejudice and violence. Landlords refused black people as lodgers with excuses like "I wouldn't mind but the other lads wouldn't accept it". There were broken windows and racist gangs in Notting Hill, while in the US troops were called in to enforce the newly-won rights of black children to attend the same schools as whites.

All these programmes are carefully put together, but the information is sometimes too dense to be easily used. It is hard to listen to a commentary while reading quotations or statistics on screen against a moving background. Such details might be better onpaper, to be used at the student's own pace.

Some of the programmes show a timer box on the screen and this can be very helpful to teachers who want to show parts of the programmes at different stages of a lesson, and not necessarily in the order on the tape.

The commentary on "Weapons of War" is pacy and accessible, but densely packed, and pupils will need to concentrate to take it all in. The Net Notes give a good explanatory summary, but it would have been helpful to include the statistics which are otherwise easily missed.

The programmes give a clear account of the basic technical developments of weapons in the two world wars, and show how these changes affected tactics and strategy. There is just enough technical detail to make the explanation plain, but the human interest is not forgotten - poems and letters help put the technology thoughtfully into its dreadful context.

'Weapons of War 'video pound;12.99; 'Women in the 20th Century' is to be broadcast on November 10 from 5.00 to 6.00am; 'Race in the 20th Century' is to be broadcast from November 18 to December 3. All programmes aresupported by notes on the Internet at: www.channel4.comschoolsnetnotes

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