We like to think that we live in enlightened times, with old prejudices banished or fast receding. A sub-genre of period television drama has sprung up in recent years to fuel that notion.
Where the past was once draped in soft-focus nostalgia, a harder edge of reality has begun to creep in. Mad Men is perhaps the prime example. Although this painstakingly researched depiction of an advertising agency in 1960s Manhattan has its fair share of wistfulness, it does not shy away from giving viewers an unvarnished dose of the retrograde attitudes and conventions of a time when racism clung on to respectability and sexism was a word that did not seem to have been coined.
Mad Men and its ilk put the present in a more flattering light. Before the 2012 London Paralympics, the BBC broadcast The Best of Men, the story of Dr Ludwig Guttman's 1940s precursor to the Paralympic Games. The drama showed a spinal unit where paralysed former soldiers were consigned to their beds and the vast majority of patients died within three years. A fortnight after it aired, as young disabled athletes thrilled millions of spectators, we congratulated ourselves on how far we'd come.
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