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The Hows but not the Whys of the People's Century

A pleasing fantasy for an amateur historian is to imagine how to spend ten million pounds and four years devising a TV history of the twentieth century. If anxious about perspective one might, for instance, purchase as much historical film as necessary and give it as a common resource to programme makers in different countries to devise their own series. If an expert print of view was wanted one might divide the century into thematic episodes and invite historians to present their film essay of each: Norman Stone on The Russian Revolution for instance or Alan Bullock on the Rise of Nazism. If a factual approach was thought uninspired, one might devise a 'IV history composed entirely of feature films, poetry, paintings and music.

One might, with good reason, protest that such a project should not start from here, that a century consists of little more than a one with two zeros after it and much better to choose a chronological concept like Eric Hobsbawm's 'The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991'. Or one might accept that in a few years time there may well be a fin de siecle mood when an historical summation of the century will have TV viewer appeal, but that this mood has not yet come and, therefore, presenting a series of this kind now seems to lack a raison d'etre.

The BBC, however, (who else!) has accepted the challenge and the result is People's Century, a twenty-six episode TV history to be broadcast over the next two years. The junior partner is a public broadcasting service station in Boston, WGBH, and the series will begin in the United States next autumn. The first ten episodes have just finished their first showing on the BBC.

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