Jeremy Isaacs, the producer of The World at War and Cold War, reviews the changing nature of historical documentaries made for the small screen, and their reception by academics.
A conference at the Imperial War Museum in the mid-1970s brought together television producers and historians in an attempt to bridge an apparent gap between them. Two communities, suspicious of each other, sought to patch up differences and declare a truce.
The academics thought the telly-men were not interested in truths of fact, were casual in process and superficial in effect. The TV contingent thought the academics had too little interest in communicating to outsiders, and that they feared a new medium, rolling in cash, which offered historians a platform to a wider world. TV had made a star of A.J.P. Taylor. Other historians were dismissive of his lectures to camera, and perhaps a mite jealous of his fame.