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A Life Without Work
Posted on Tuesday, 19th October 2010
The following has recently been issued by Richard Taylor, Archives & Local History Development Manager, Communities & Neighbourhoods, City of York Council, 18 Back Swinegate, York, YO1 8ZD.
BBC2 will be transmitting a two part documentary under the above title at 9:00pm on Fridays 22nd October and 29th October. The documentary marks the centenary of Seebohm Rowntree's 1910 study of unemployment in York.
This, like his better-known 1901 study on poverty, directly influenced the social policies of the 1910-1914 Liberal/Labour coalition government and laid the foundations for the Welfare State. Given the current debate over the size of the State, the transmission date in the week of the Comprehensive Spending Review announcement is not a coincidence - the programme is made by BBC Current Affairs.
The first programme, which is the more archive-heavy, concentrates on the BBC's attempts to trace the descendants of the unemployed York families featured in the original survey. The second programme features the stories of people looking for work in York 100 years on, drawing parallels and contrasts with the situation 100 years before.
The BBC originally made contact with our friends at the York & District Family History Society for assistance in tracking down the families' descendants, as it turned out that Rowntree had used pseudonyms in the published study. This led onto the BBC using the city archives, in particular the Medical Officer of Health archives, to track down one of the families through the child vaccination and slum clearance archives we hold.
The unexpected outcome was that one of the families concerned turned out to be the great-grandparents of York actor Mark Addy ("The Full Monty", "Robin Hood", and those ubiquitous Tesco ads with Fay Ripley). So, "Who Do You Think You Are" in reverse - they started with a real historical story and uncovered a celebrity as a result!
It was obvious to us that the BBC were surprised by the amount of information about the lives of ordinary people in a Victorian/Edwardian city archive, and as a result they did a lot more filming and interviewing in the archives than originally intended. How much of this makes it through to the transmitted version we shall see!