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Forbidden Britain

Steve Humphries uncovers via oral testimony the hidden history of Britain's pre-war homeless

There is a widespread and often unquestioned assumption that many of the major social problems in Britain today are far worse than they were before the 1950s. In fact there is a growing body of evidence which suggests that juvenile crime, riots, child sexual abuse, government work schemes for the unemployed, extra marital affairs and homelessness were all part of the British way of life long before the last war. They often have a secret past and were much more common than has previously been thought. Much has remained hidden because of government censorship of information and ideas considered to be damaging or dangerous.

Feature film or newsreel coverage of all these issues was either banned or closely controlled. The press did cover subjects like riots, juvenile crime and extra-marital affairs in some detail, but the reporting was often extremely biased and distorted. In the race riots of May and June 1919 for example, the overwhelming reaction of the press was to blame Britain's black community for the violence directed at them. The most taboo subjects like incest and child sexual abuse were considered so shocking they were rarely reported or even spoken about. In the new BBC2 series, Forbidden Britain I have tried to reconstruct the secret histories of these subjects by using little known documentary evidence, archive film – some of which was censored – and, most important of all, personal testimony.

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