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Those of you who have not yet been lucky enough to have seen this wonderful series, written and presented by Professor Amanda Vickery,( shown above with two of her favourite characters, Lord and Lady Shelbourne) and which is SO relevant to understanding the era in which Jane Austen lived, will now have the opportunity to purchase the DVD.  It has just been released by the BBC and is now available to buy in all the usual outlets, shops or online.

If you are not familiar with it then do read my detailed reviews of the series, Episode One here, Episode Two here , and Episode Three here . As you can probably tell, I loved the series, particular Episode Two, A Woman’s Touch. You can also read my interview with Amanda Vickery  about the series here and my interview with Neil Crombie, one of the directors, here

If you live outside the UK and want to see the series this may be your only way of doing it, for, as far as I am aware, the series has not been brought by any overseas broadcasters. So its time to fire up those multi-region DVD players…;)

Sadly, there are no extra features on the DVD, but  there is much to savour and enjoy in the programmes themselves. The three programmes in the series were fabulously produced, directed and filmed last summer on location throughout England and Wales, at some of our most interesting buildings, from the  very sumptuous to the much less so. Written and presented by Amanda Vickery the series is based on her book, Behind Closed Doors, and is a wonderful companion piece to it. So, go to it , you will not regret it ;)

…on the 7th March 2011, and is now available to “pre-order” on all the well-known sites.

This was one of my favourite TV series of last year, and Amanda Vickery fully lived up to the promise of the evidence of her live lectures, revealing herself  to be a vibrant, sensitive and authoritative guide to the domestic habits of the differing classes of people living in the 18th century.

The series is sumptuously filmed on location throughout England and Wales, and is invaluable as a companion to Professors Vickery’s best selling and most excellent book,Behind Closed Doors upon which the series was based.


At present there is no sign of this being bought by foreign TV stations so if you have a multi region DVD( a must!) then I recommend you order this DVD now.

My reviews of the three programmes are accessible, herehere and here. My interview with one of the directors of the series,Neil Crombie, is accessible here and my interview with Professor Vickery about the series is accessible here.

This series has been throughly thought-provoking, and the  final installment was no exception.

It  realigned the balance of the series towards the other side of the seductive Georgian coin, and threw more light on the lives of the poor, the  dispossessed and servants in this era.

It is all too easy to  imagine that most Georgians lived in fine Palladian homes or wonderfully proportioned town houses or rectories,as we have seen in previous episodes, when, in fact, the urban poor lived hugger-mugger in the garrets and cellars of these  houses, some fine, some  distinctly not, and the  rural poor lived in hovels, almshouses or, if they were desperately unlucky, in the dreaded workhouse with its dehumanizing system of operation. This programme was a discussion of mainly two parts: what were  the  property-owning Georgian ideas of  privacy, what rights did these privileged property owners have, and to what  lengths would they legally go to  defend their homes?  Second,  what sort of privacy was allowed to the poorer members of society? How did they protect their property, such as they had? It demonstrated how the elegant architecture of the era  reflected this strongly hierarchical society and its richer member’s new desire for privacy.  And how servants and the poor had few resources open to them to maintain their dignity and property rights.

The lack of an effective police force and dependency on the watchman meant that many urban(and rural) homeowners defended their homes every Englishman’s Home was his Castle- to the nth degree. They used every legally defensive measure available to them,shutters and iron bars to secure their homes…

and  the now thankfully outlawed mantraps, as used in the grounds of surburan villas in Kensington…

now in the collection of the Museum of London where they will do no more vicious harm.

And despite this being the Age of the Enlightenment and the rational  age of reason, many homeowners were still afraid of the supernatural and the unknown enough  to  use charms and votive objects  for added layers of protection( we think immediately of Mrs Norris and her use of” charms” in Mansfield Park!).In this Surrey household  slippers and shoes were used as a supernatural lightening conductor to ward off evil…

The programme  made a wonderful visit to one of my favourite “museums” (I search in vain for the right word to describe this place..an instalment…an experience?) Denis Severs House in Spitalfields,London.

A filmmaker’s dream,every still looked like a Chardin still life….

Even the dripping  washing hanging in the Hogarthian garret was picturesque….

I shall restrict myself to only to three images…..but the point was made that the hierarchical Georgian society was reflected in these elegant buildings -the most remote and poorest accommodations available to only the poor and to servants….

The trusty iPad was again in use, here showing the degradation of life in garrets,where a whole family would eat, live and sleep all using the same communal “Jordan” or chamber pot. Squalid indeed.

A visit to Erddig House in Wales famous for its benign treatment of servants, was used to demonstrate the differences between servant accommodation and accommodation for their employers.The use of corridors,bells, separate servants wings , innovations of the 18th century, all combined to make servants lives more remote from their masters and increased their employer’s privacy…

(did you spot the spectacular sugar loaf in the kitchen at Erddig?)

Servant’s lives were prescribed not only by the architecture within which they lived, but by the rules imposed by their employers….

The ideal employer respected his servants privacy to certain degrees-they were still expected to obey the rules of the household within their own shared accommodation, but affairs with servants were seen as immoral and disquieting. The story of Benjamin Smith a Lincolnshire lawyer and his affair with his maid was pitiful in every respect.

We were shown a wonderful French secretaire dating from the 1770s which encapsulated the Georgian society of the time:beautiful but hiding its many secrets in hidden drawers- “for dirty diamonds and love letters”- all kept away from the prying eyes of servants ,whose ability to gather knowledge of their employers doings was feared, especially in Crim. Com and Divorce proceedings…shades of Mrs Rushworth senior’s maid,who had exposure in her power…..

The pocket collection of the Victoria and Albert museum was accessed, the theft of a pocket begin analogous to rape ,so intimate was this pice of clothing used to hold a woman’s most necessary and private articles…

The gilt was most definitely  stripped from the gingerbread of Georgian elite women whose privacy was not respected by their husbands, the jealous husband of Ann Dormer of Rousham  in Oxfordshire (famous for its magical landscape gardens designed by William Kent) made her life one of unbearable misery and torture. She was under surveillance every minute of her life…..

…her lack of privacy was a constant mental torment to her, her sad state likened to living under a not-at-all benign dictatorship.

We were taken to Professor Vickery’s home , to see in Virginia Woolf’s words, her ‘room of her own‘ -her study- which she felt was essential for her to complete her work. And she sympathised with women such as Ann Dormer who never attained the peace and contentment their own small private space would have afforded.

The late 17th century concept of the closet, a small personal, private space where ones religious devotions coud be attended to in peace was taken up by the Georgians and expanded…

…into a small room where socializing could take place,where tea, gossip, chocolate and pornography could be dispensed,and where affairs could be conducted.

The hallucinogenic bargello work on the walls of the closet of Chastleton House in Gloucestershire was used to illustrate one of these tiny, intimate spaces ,where privacy could be assured. The point was made that it was usually the male head of a household  who had the prerogative to withdraw from family life, surely resonant of Mr Bennet (and possibly Darcy when Mrs Bennet came to call at Pemberley)

For the poor or for servants, their only privacy was most likely to be found not in a room of their own but  in a lockable wooden box where their precious  effects coud be safe from prying eyes of employer and /or fellow servants  for it was unlikely that many servants had a “room of their own”.

Hogarth’s series of prints,The Harlot’s Progress, a series with which Jane Austen was familiar was used to illustrate how Moll, the fresh-faced girl up from the country with her box, marked with her initials

eventually came to grief after a career as a prostitute, having her box ransacked by her own maid, while she was dying from some sexually transmitted disease. A metaphor for how low she had sunk in life and death.

The concept of owning property was for the Georgians the key to so many things:respectability, the right to vote, to be a magistrate….but for the less well off in that society what happened when your rights of property had gone, and you no longer had the comfort and respect that derived from owning your own front door? If you were lucky you were cared for in a communal charity like the many almshouses that were set up around the country. Below we can see the almshouses that were a charitable institution established by the Ironmonger’s Company, and form what is now the Geffreye Museum.

And while the living was communal with all its attendant rules and regulations, married couples could still exist in their own Gerogian version of a bedsit, living with dignity, despite having no property to call their own.They were the lucky ones.

The destitute had to fall back on very cold charity: parish relief and the workhouse. The workhouse at Southwell in Nottinghamshire which I have always found to be an almost unbearable place of sorrow, was examined.

Here families were brutally separated and forced to live in a communal way,something that Georgian society found so very distasteful.Husbands were permanently separated from wives and children separated from their parents. The school room of the workhouse,below,with its moralising verses to be learnt by rote…

..had frosted glass in the window panes to prevent the children catching an unauthorised glimpse of their parents,should they be fellow inmates.

This would eventually have been the fate awaiting Miss and Mrs Bates in Emma. Mr Knightley was actuely aware that they were doomed to  fall even futher from the genteel life they once knew in the Highbury vicarage, (a life which terminated socially and financially on the death of the Reverend Mr Bates)should their Highbury friends not support them financially.  Just as Jane Austen knew of such desperate tales. Poor Miss Benn who lived in abject poverty in poor, rented accommodation Chawton  was befriended by her during the years she lived in her Chawton home, a cosy, private, comfortable cottage by comparison, in the company of her mother sister and best friend. No wonder she counted herself lucky to live there on her brother Edward’s graceful charity. And no wonder when the threat of losing that home loomed in her final years, the resulting stress was most likely to have contributed to the cause of her untimely death.

But we ended on a high note……from the  unhappy desperate diaries of Gertrude Saville in Episode One,

the unloved unwanted spinster sister living in sufferance in her brother home on his charity…to the end of her tale, when she suddenly and unexpectedly became mistress of all she surveyed and had not only a room but a home of her own…

This episode ,indeed the whole series, explains and amplifies concepts  that were dear to Jane Austen, notably the search for one’s home, a place of one’s own. She saw the lot of women in her era with regard to this very clearly: the powerlessness or not of women in the search for a home of their own is central to many of her stories. For example, Fanny Price’s conflicting emotions between her Portsmouth  her Mansfield homes;  Jane Fairfax’s terror and bravery when faced with surrendering forever her status as a gentlewoman to become a governess, a servant living on sufferance in someone’s home ;and the deserving Miss Taylor who on marriage finally achieved accesss (and a key) to her own front door. Food for thought.

Professor Vickery has been a knowledgeable, amusing, sensitive and delightful companion though this journey into the Long 18th Century, discussing concepts of home,property and taste, all concepts with which we are now familiar but then were distinctly novel for the newly emerging middling classes.

I have throughly enjoyed watching each instalment of this series and am saddened that there were only three. I do hope it becomes available on DVD soon ,and I do hope that you, my readers from outside the UK will get a chance to view it in way or another ,as soon as possible.

Amanda Vickery  very kindly agreed to let me interview her about her BBC TV series At Home with the Georgians,which is enjoying such great success on BBC2 presently. I thought you might like to read her fascinating replies to my mundane questions before the last episode of the series airs on BBC2 on Thursday evening…so here it is.

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The series is based on your book, “Behind Closed Doors” which I loved. Obviously you could not include all your real life characters in the 3 hour series so, when you were writing the series, what were your criteria for including a person’s story from the book?


The first challenge was to boil Behind Closed Doors (at a doorstopper 140,000 words) down to three one hour programmes. We carved it up into three big themes: Making Homes, Filling Homes & Protecting Homes. My key aim was to give each programme a strong over-arching theme. I had lots of meetings with Liz Hartford the series producer and Ross Wilson the executive producer from Matchlight films chewing over what would be the clearest thought-line – legible enough for non experts to enjoy without head scratching, but not so simplified as to do violence to the subtleties of history. However much I loved my characters if they didn’t serve the argument they didn’t make the cut. I especially regretted the loss of the rebellious Duchess of Grafton who strove to retain her standing in London as a separated wife. Alas. Another issue which governed our choices was whether there was enough visual material to support a TV case study. It is highly unusual for house, manuscripts and portraits to survive for individuals below the level of the greater gentry. Neil Crombie, the director of programme one ‘A Man’s Place’, was dismayed at first by the lack of beautiful well-preserved interiors in which to film. (John Courtney’s Beverly town house is no more; Wivenhoe is now a conference centre; Gertrude Savile’s Rufford Hall is a ruin etc etc.) But Neil and the wonderful researcher Eleanor Scoones were ingenious at finding ways around the absence.

They searched out the paintings hidden away in private collections of a mature Gibbs and Ryder – which I had never seen and encountered for the first time on camera. We went back to the manuscripts, the archives and I swanned about the surviving Georgian streets of Beverley and Exeter, Spitalfields and the Inns of Court. The dramatic reconstructions gave us visual diversity and a bit of relief from me talking to camera!

What was your favourite of all the stories you featured in the series and why?

For excruciating humour it has to be Dudley Ryder. We had over an hour of film of me pouring over the diary and responding to his ambivalences. I think barely 3 minutes were left in. As a feminist as well as a historian, and as a lover of realist novels, I have always felt it was important to understand the full humanity of men as well as women. Very few of the gents I have researched were the cardboard patriarchs of older theories. In fact, as bachelors they seem so self-conscious, gauche and half-baked it’s a wonder they ever headed up households.

Ryder went on to become solicitor general, but you would never have foreseen this from reading the diary he wrote in code aged 24. But I adore John Courtney too. In my mind’s eye he was something of a Mr Collins – deaf to female signals, desperate to be debonair and facing eight rejections with undiminished astonishment: “I was thunderstruck”.

What audience were you trying to reach with this series? Were you trying to reach people who are history nuts and have read your book or a completely new audience- for example, people who are fans of adaptations of Austen/Bronte/Gaskell novels not necessarily readers of the novel or indeed of serious history books?

I was asked to do the series by Janice Hadlow head of BBC2, who is writing her own 18th century history and who liked Behind Closed Doors as well as my first book The Gentleman’s Daughter. She enjoys characters, stories, details and arguments and thought viewers might too. The head of history at the BBC Martin Davidson hoped that I could make a series which would unlock a new audience for history programmes. All the surveys reveal that the current audience for history is predominantly male and middle-aged. Why should this be when women are the key audience for costume drama? Somehow a bifurcation of history has emerged on TV: putting it crudely, bonnets for the women and bombers for the men. I would love to reach an audience that wants to see a different sort of history (neither war nor Kings and Queens). I’m interested in producing documentaries which reflect what the history profession itself actually researches and teaches now. In BBC TV land, there is a vogue for “authoritative history” – i.e. history programmes written and presented by experts, rather than fronted by celebrities drafted in to go on a historical ‘journey’ of discovery or read a script written by the producer derived from textbooks. I was delighted to catch this wave.

Producers at radio 4 and BBC4 assume that the audience is keen on history. At BBC2 you can’t take that for granted. You simply cannot make programmes aimed just at 20,000 experts who have done all the background reading. The goal is entertainment and to draw a wide and varied audience into another world with colour and character, wit and pathos – all undergirded with a single driving argument. The BBC are thrilled with the result, as their investment in trailers testifies. What the audience makes of it is another matter of course. We have our fingers crossed that history refusniks as well as history buffs will switch on to discover that there’s more to history than tanks and tiaras. I am committed to a holistic history that embraces everywoman as well as everyman. I still sympathize with Catherine Morland. “Real solemn history I cannot be interested in… the quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences in every page; the men all so good for nothing and hardly any women at all.”

How pleased were you with the end result?

I am delighted with three programmes – each reflects a collaboration with a different director, each with their own style and tone – ‘A Man’s Place’ with the theatrical and brilliant Neil Crombie (who shared my sense of humour), ‘A Woman’s Touch’ with the searching documentary maker Iain Scollay (who tried to catch me at my most honest and unguarded) and ‘Safe as Houses?’ with the stylish Phil Cairney (whose direction combined the formality of Neil’s and the observation of Iain’s). I also learnt a lot from the director of photography Dirk Nel, who had worked with several different history presenters. He instilled great confidence in me – which is half the battle – while training me to hit my mark. I will never forget him chanting “FIND the light, Amanda, FIND the light” before I set off on one of my rambles down a murky corridor. Almost everything was ad libbed to camera, so I am relieved that I came out with some coherent sentences. The aim of Dirk and all the directors was to capture my personality on camera. My friends say I am recognizably myself so in one key respect they have succeeded.

How much influence did you have in the choice of actors, locations and music?

The locations were driven by my research and availability, the actors were chosen by a casting director, Eleanor Scoones the researcher, Liz Hartford, the series director and Neil Crombie (who directed the reconstructions). All of them had read my book very closely – in the end I trusted to them. In an ideal world I would have directed the dramatic reconstructions myself! But even a control-freak diva has her moments of sanity and insight. The music was largely chosen by the directors, but I made my suggestions and had right of veto. Writing is a solitary process over which you exert total control, whereas TV is a collaboration with an army. You have to respect the talents and advice of your collaborators and accept that you are producing something which reflects them as well as you. Given my intellectual life (teaching apart) is quite hermetic, I loved working with a quick-witted and highly skilled production team. I am a gregarious person and relished the camaraderie. I also loved learning a new trade from them.

You allocated a whole chapter to Jane Austen in “Behind Closed Doors”. Do you consider her to have been an accurate recorder of late 18th early /19th century life? Did you find any of her plots/characters reflected in any of your real diarists’ lives?

I tried not to treat Austen’s work simply as descriptive evidence from which I could cherry pick juicy quotes to back up my arguments. Literary scholars are always accusing historians of simplistic cut and paste. But it is clear that Austen assumed that her readers were sensitive to the implications of taste and interior decoration. She relied on them to take domestic details (like Darcy’s gift of a piano to his sister, or General Tilney’s over-bearing choices of breakfast cups) as reliable signs of character. Even silly little tables had meaning.

Austen also relied on the social, economic and emotional importance her readers would attach to the drama of setting up home. When it comes to history, I hope my readers will make the same leap, and agree that domesticity is a universal subject, not a frivolous topic to be dismissed and patronized.

As for characters on TV, I rather enjoyed inserting Jane Austen herself into the narrative. She appears first as an anonymous spinster, living in what historians call a ‘spinster cluster’ in a small grace and favour cottage hard by the main road. Austen lovers will instantly recognize Chawton, but plenty of editors at the BBC were surprised when we revealed the impoverished sister to be none other than Austen herself. I wanted to show that however mocked by satire, the spinster’s life is no less heroic and productive than that of the smug marrieds.

Do you have another TV or radio project in the pipeline? If yes, can you tell us anything about it?

I am working on another Voices of the Old Bailey series with Elizabeth Burke of Loftus to be broadcast next summer on BBC radio 4, and we have been commissioned to produce a six part history of men and masculinity from the Medieval knight to the modern salary man. I am also working with BBC2 to develop longer span series which still aim to bring the Catherine Morlands of this world to an enjoyment of history. Floreat Clio!

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Floreat Clio indeed, and may I add Floreat Amanda because I really do think our understanding of the lives Jane Austen chronicled would be considerably impoverished were it not for her scholarly endeavours. I should like to thank her for her patience and kindness in supplying me with such fabulous replies to my questions,even though at one point our computers stubbornly refused to talk to each other!

The final episode of At Home With The Georgians Airs on BBC2 Thursday 16th December at 9 p.m. I will be watching as usual and posting my review on Friday. Do watch it if you can.  If you would like to embark on a reading project based around the programmes, Professor Vickery has kindly produced a short reading list, go here to see it (Do note many of the books will already be familiar to readers of this site!)

I do hope a DVD will soon be available, in the meantime enjoy: the series will remain available to “view again” for another week.

A confession. I do have to say from the outset that I truly adored this week’s episode. The series really came alive for me, Professor Vickery totally at home with some of her most interesting material, which she clearly relishes and she is obviously and authoritatively  in complete command of all the intricate detail.

The episode dealt with the new concept of taste, an idea imported from France, and how women’s interpretation of that sometimes dangerous conceit  influenced the interiors of homes rich and poor.

We began at Parham House in Sussex contrasting the Elizabethan, masculine Great Hall

with the 18th century feminised Drawing Room complete with harp. Mary Crawford would no doubt have approved.

The woman whose diaries provided Professor Vickery with much of her inspiration for this programme was Sophia, Lady Shelburne of Bowood House in Wiltshire and chatelaine of the most splendid town house, Shelburne House in Berkeley Square (now the Lansdowne Club)

In Professor Vickery’s words, Sophia was “a swot”, an intelligent, educated woman who became enamoured of the new fashion for neo-classicism

In search of inspiration in order to keep up with this new fashion, her diary entries show she  visited the Duke of Northumberland’s home, Syon House originally an Elizabethan building, but one that was completely overhauled by  the newly fashionable architect, Robert Adam…

to become a temple to the new taste….

incorporating detials from the evacuations at Pompei and Herculaneum in an impressive and sometimes exquisitely feminine manner.

When it came to designing their own town house/palace, the Shelburne’s commissioned Adam to design their dream home,a place suitably impressive for the politically ambitious Whig, Lord Shelburne,where he could entertain and impress supporters and government members alike.

We had a small trip to the architect, Sir John Soanes House Museum, full of its wonderful neoclassical collections(though it was not flagged up as Sir John’s house and it might have helped viewers unfamiliar with it,had it been…)

The consumerism of the 18th century one of Professor Vickery’s favourite topics-was examined. Matthew Boulton (my hero!)

and his genius for producing desirable goods for both the aristocracy and the middling classes was celebrated and we visited his home at Soho House in Birmingham.

He was shown to be a smooth operator when it came to selling and recognised that tapping into the female psyche guaranteed  profits and full order books.

Chippendale and his revolutionary Gentleman’s and Cabinetmakers Directory, the forerunner of catalogue selling was examined….

And his innovative designs for male and female pieces of furniture,thereby guaranteeing double sales, was admired.

The ingenious nature of Georgian metamorphic furniture, as in this cabinet bed at Temple Newsam near Leeds was discussed

And the trusty Ipad was used to great effect when looking at 18th century adverts for

furniture polish (again there is nothing new in this world)

And it was also used to illustrate the dangers that awaited someone overwhelmed by the new taste ,who didn’t know when to stop: incorporating neo-classicism,Gothic, Ionic Orders and Chinoiserie in their suburban villas was a sure way to ridicule.

One of my favourite chapters in Behind Closed Doors dealt with the Georgians use of wallpaper and how accurate a barometer it was for interior design and taste. We visited Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath (the home of Lord Mansfield)

to see the wonderful collection of delicate  fragments of 18th century wallpaper

including this scrap in the newly fashionable colour, yellow

and readers of Behind Closed Doors will recognise this fragment….

We saw Diana Spurlings women “doing it for themselves” on the Ipad

and visited Coles Wallpaper Manufactory where hand blocked and flocked papers are still made in the traditional manner, (a place I used to walk past on my way to catch the train to the office when I lived in London and used to peep through their open doors in the summer to see the magical process at work)

The new consumerism changed people’s social habits taking tea, for example,  where you could show off your new china and furnishings, became all the rage,a subject Professor Vickery deals with in detail in The Gentleman’s Daughter. Jane Austen knew this feeling well, especially when she was ordering her own and her brother’s Wedgwod china….

Lady Stanley, a sad case whose husband denied her decorating and visiting rights showed the other side of this Georgian coin…..poor lady,played very sensitively in this programme.

Women’s own efforts to decorate their homes was covered,and Professor Vickery visited the marvellous   Quilts exhibit at the Victoria and Albert museum which I also visited earlier this year and wrote about here

The amazing work of a ten year old, above, was lauded…..

We visited one of my favourite eccentric houses ,the home of the spinster Parminter cousins,A La Ronde and saw its totally feminine design and decoration, a miraculous survivor into the 21st century

And made a moving visit to the billet books of the Foundling hospital, which I’ve written at length about here,where in this case, a woman’s patchwork was her link to her child( and this story and a happy ending for once)

Finally, we revisited Lady Shelburne’s magically feminine Robert Adam designed drawing room which is now installed in the Richard Rogers post modern Lloyds Building in the City of London. A lasting monument to the taste of the Georgians.

There has been some adverse comment on Professors Vickery’s style in the press and on the internet over the past week,especially regarding  her raw reaction to seeing a portrait of her hero, Dr George Gibbs . This was, in fact, a very funny part of last week’s programme, for having built him up to be her ultimate “hero”  in her mind, when he was revealed to be a rather ordinary looking chap, jowly jawed and all,  Professor Vickery was rather loud in her disappointment, failing to notice what the cameraman did, that Dr Gibbs’ descendant, who was showing the portrait , bore an amazing resemblance to his great grandfather how many times removed.  *snort*  In this week’s programme we get the impression that Professor Vickery became very attached to two of her lady diarists, and in particular to Lady Shelburne. For myself, I love to witness this aspect of Professor Vickery’s presenting technique, for I think it is this honest sympathy for her sources which enables Professor Vickery to fully understand them and to bring them to life for us. She is also not “too cool for school” an attitude I embrace myself and this is I think, a refreshing change from some of our more staid presenters.

Go here to watch episode two on series link at the BBC. Next week is the last in the series. I shall be bereft.

Neil Crombie ,the distinguished TV director, producer and writer, who has been involved with making some of the most interesting documentaries of the past ten years, such as the riveting documentary on Grayson Perry, Why Men Wear Frocks and one of my husband’s favourites series, Philosophy: a Guide to Happiness, recently very kindly consented to give me his thoughts on producing At Home with the Georgians and on working with Amanda Vickery. My questions(in bold) and his replies are set out below. I do hope you enjoy reading them. The second episode of the series, A Woman’s Touch, concerned with the 18th century concept of good  and bad taste, airs on BBC2 tonight- don’t miss it! And to whet your appetite, here is a link to the the trailer for episode two.

1) You were the producer and director  of “At Home With The Georgians”. What made you want to work with Amanda Vickery on this series?

I’d actually interviewed Amanda once before, for a documentary where she was one of the “talking heads”, so I knew she’d be an exciting person to work with. But it was reading her book that really clinched it for me. I just thought it was magical the way she’d use often quite dry and dusty scraps of information – non-famous people’s account books and letters and diaries -and from them conjure up real living breathin people, whose stories, dilemmas and conflicts – sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking – I could really relate to. I thought: this is a historian with a real novelist’s eye.


So many of the stories she tells reminded made me of little 18th century novels in miniature – the vivacious young woman who has to outwit the dragonish mother-in-law; the hapless young law student who dreams of a wife. As television material, it struck me as gold dust. So I very quickly realised that it’s be a rewarding challenge to help Amanda try to bring these people back to life.

2) What audience were you trying to reach?

Well, two of the bankers of British television schedules are the Sunday night costume drama (and obviously I’m thinking particularly of those Jane Austenadaptations we all love), and the property show.  And one of the ways to think about Amanda’s book is as an explanation of why that should be so. So we hoped we’d get as many of these genres’ audiences as possible. But also at the back of everyone’s minds on the series was the perception that history programmes on television are often very male in their language and focus. It’s always kings and wars and empires and weaponry and military derring-do. One of the things the Controller of BBC2, Janice Hadlow, who commissioned the series, was very clear about from the outset was that she hoped in some measure to redress that balance, and to see whether a more female audience might also be brought to history programmes. So it’ll be interesting to see whether that’s what happens. But certainly in my opinion it’s long overdue. It’s not just that Amanda is a bit different in her approach to the big male beasts of history television, the Starkeys and the Schamas. It’s more that the kinds of things she’s talking about – marriage, love, home, family, feelings, domestic politics, all the things Jane Austen talks about  – are a vital part of our history too.

3) One of the means by which this series is sightly different from the norm is in its use of actors to re-enact the lives of some of Amanda’s diarists from her book, “Behind Closed Doors”, and not just employing voice- overs. I
think it works well as a device and makes their stories  more immediate. Who was responsible for this decision? Was the casting of the actors difficult?

Before I’d come on board, the production company who made the series, Matchlight, had made the case to the BBC that there needed to be some sort of dramatisation. It just really helps you connect emotionally with the characters Amanda is talking about. But we all felt it was really crucial that we didn’t invent a single word – it had to be the unvarnished words of the diarists and letter writers she’d discovered.

And I hope your readers will agree that there’s a magic in seeing and hearing these ordinary people speak again in their own words from across the centuries. The difficulty in finding the actors wasn’t so much in casting people who could do it, but I was very aware that Amanda had lived with these people during her years of research and had very strong ideas of what they must have been like.  But I think everyone’s risen to the challenge.

4) The locations used in the series are stunning- from the grand  houses like Syon to the recreated workhouse. How did you choose which locations to include or exclude?

The choice of locations was very much led by the historical characters Amanda wanted to talk about. So yes, she does indeed take us into some amazing houses, but Amanda’s genius is to be able to relate them to the feelings and values and experiences of the people who lived there – and that’s what we’re all interested in.

But all of the dramatisations were in fact shot in four locations: two beautiful old early Georgian Huguenot weavers’ houses in Spitalfields, London, a little bit in Syon House, and also at Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire (which sharp-eyed viewers may spot also
served as Buckingham Palace in the film Young Victoria).

5) For potential viewers in the US, Australasia, Europe  and the rest of the world who haven’t yet had the opportunity to see the programme, how would you sell it to them?Are there any plans to sell the series abroad? Are there
any plans to release a DVD of the series in the UK?

That’s really a question for the production company, Matchlight, but I’m sure they’ll be very keen to sell the series internationally, and it’s great to hear that you think there’s an appetite for programmes like this beyond Britain. So watch this space and we’ll keep you informed as and when we hear more.

*******************************************************************************************************************************

I should like to thank Neil for his patience with my mundane and pedestrian manner of questioning( Journalist- in- Training Daughter shakes her head at my efforts)and for his generosity and kindness in answering the questions so fully, with such delicious detail. I do hope you enjoyed this different take on the series and how it was made.

Last night the first of the three episodes of Amanda Vickery’s new BBC TV series, At Home with the Georgians was aired on BBC 2. I will admit that I approached it with some trepidation. I loved her book, Behind Closed Doors, upon which the series is based, and admire Professor Vickery tremendously, clearly therefore, I didn’t want it to fail. So… was I disappointed? I am glad to say, not for one moment.

Professor Vickery took us on an engaging and thought-provoking journey around Georgian England, visiting houses grand and small to discover what it  meant for a Georgian man or woman to set up a home. The answer? The goal of a establishing a home meant everything to them.

We were shown archive stacks, diaries, lodgings in the Middle Temple (below), remote Westmoreland farmhouses and grand houses in Essex and Staffordshire and one in Nottinghamshire that became a prison for that unlucky person who was not to be the mistress of all she surveyed. Professor Vickery argues that the evidence to be found in the outpourings of 18th century diaries confirms that what an 18th century man wanted above all was a home  and a capable wife. He certainly did not want a silly, pretty  empty-headed porcelain doll sitting quietly on an elegant sofa a la Lady Bertram, despite the teachings of the conduct books aimed at females. He needed a capable, active  intelligent woman who could act as his deputy in his absence and bring all her talents to the fore, running  a tasteful comfortable home, ready to take every advantage of the new consumerism. No wonder Darcy showed no interest in the sickly Anne de Bourgh, whatever his aunt might have wished. The lively and intelligent Elizabeth Bennet was truly the one for him. The 18th century middling sort of man also did not really want a carousing, dissolute way of life, for only with respectability came a place in society and a chance to establish a home and attract a wife.

Charlotte Lucas’ dilemma is set out before us in a very, very clear and unvarnished manner. As an unwanted poor, spinster living on the charity of her not charitably minded-brothers she would have necessarily been unwanted and eventually unloved. The mentally tormented Gertrude Saville of Rufford Hall in Nottinghamshire, whose unhappiness clearly manifested itself not only in the words but in the crossings out of her tortured  diary, was a spinster in her brother’s home, without dowry and any prospects of one day finding a home of her own. Her diaries (one page is shown below) clearly reveal her to be a poor ,downtrodden, depressed and oppressed being, seeking comfort in her needlework and her cat, and being at the mercy of her brother’s good graces and the servants spite.*shudder*

Men like George Gibbs of Exeter and Dudley Ryder, a law student of the Middle Temple in London, knew that marriage was the step necessary to provide a home and any prospect of long-lasting  happiness. Poor John Courtney of Beverley in Yorkshire who tried to woo ladies ,indeed any number of ladies, in the Assembly Rooms in York, shown below, felt a complete failure when he failed to attract a wife despite having a fine home and income to call his home.  No Life, Without Wife, indeed.

We dipped our toes into the consumerism of the 18th century-Professor Vickery managed to visit the Lawrence of Crewkherne’s auction  of Georgian gadgets-below is a tongue scraper(YEACH)in the sale-  after first reading about it here

Jane Austen was referenced copiously within this first episode,as she is in Professor Vickery’s book.  As a faithful  chronicler of what 18th century people desired above all she was lauded. What they wanted was not necessarily a dashing, romantic life, with heart stoppingly beautiful heroes and heroines finding each other after dramatic( or melodramatic) trials and tribulations, but something quieter, more satisfying; their shared home.  Home could be the grand palace, as in Pemberley ,but was  more likely to be that which was more attainable ; happiness and contentment could be more readily found in the more in humble surroundings of the personages as at Delaford or Thornton Lacey, Fullerton or, yes, even at Hunsford.  Home as the reward of virtue was what Georgian men and women really wanted.

Professor Vickery’s glee at being in certain locations was obvious. Here at the Rectory at Teigh, which was the setting of Hunsford Parsonage in the BBC’s 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice, she did what many of us have wished to so……posing in front of a certain closet….inspecting the shelves…..

Shelves in the Closet? Happy Thought Indeed

At one point when visiting Chawton Cottage Professor Vickery gave Jane Austen’s writing-table a hug. Austen  was, of course, an example of a spinster who had a rich, productive, creative existence once her brother Edward stepped up to the plate and offered her Cassandra and Mrs Austen( not forgetting Martha Lloyd) a permanent home in Chawton from 1809 onwards. I can’t help but think it was a virtual hug to the ghost of Jane Austen herself. Who would, l think have, enjoyed this hour in Professor Vickery’s genial, fun but thought-provoking company.

My dear 17 year-old daughter who, inexplicably, does not have the History Appreciation Gene in her DNA, sat with me last night as a penance,bless her, but was converted and enjoyed every second, squealing with delight at spotting Charlotte Lucas’s closets, and making intelligent comments on the fates of the dissolute George Hilton , and the sadly not -at-all handsome George Gibbs.

This was not a was not a trumpeting, loud programme about great battles in history : it was a quiet, fun but serious and intelligent  look at some of the most fundamental questions that bothered the Georgians and still haunt us today: will I eventually find a home and someone  to love, with whom I can share it? It was in one world, marvellous. And I can’t wait till next week’s episode. I did smile at little at the product placement- the use of an IPad in many scenes. But having had one for some months now I admit is  IS a very useful tool when examining painting and engravings in detail and this is how Professor Vickery used it on this programme ( Publishers of art books take note: publishing e-editions on IBooks is the way to go! )

The series is available  to watch again-sadly only for those of us in the UK, I think,- on series link,which means there are 20 more days in which it enjoy this first episode. Go here to see it.

Professor Vickery , above on the right, has just sent me notice of this- her overview of her series in her own words;)

It makes very interesting reading, and frankly I cant wait for tomorrow’s first instalment. Enjoy!

The Telegraph today included an interview with Amanda Vickery,as part of the publicity campaign for the tv series At Home With the Georgians which commences on BBC2 on Thursday. It is rather the best of the bunch, and so go here if you’d like to read it.

Go here to see it. Enjoy!

Professor Vickery sent me this stunning graphic today …

(Simply click to enlarge it)

As you can see it is relatively self-explanatory. The good news is that  the programme will be shown on BBC2 at 9pm on the 2nd, 9th and 16th December, which is of course the anniversary of Jane Austen’s birthday. I’m so looking froward to seeing this programme.  The full trailer  for the programme can now be seen on BBC.  On seeing it last night  my teenage daughter was very much impressed, despite the History Appreciation Gene being absent from her DNA! Good job BBC and Professor Vickery,together we will make an historian out of her yet….

Scenes from Professor Amanda Vickery’s forthcoming BBC TV series, At Home with The Georgians, based on her stunning book, Behind Closed Doors, is included in the latest BBC History trailer in the blog post written by the Commissioning Editor for History at the BBC, Martin Davidson . Go here to access it on-line and let me know what you think about the snippet. I’m very excited about it. Dry as dust history this will not be.

And Professor Vickery has also written a very interesting defence of the study of women’s history . Go here to read it. I feel that readers of Jane Austen, who used her domesticity to such universally applicable effect, cannot but agree with Professor Vickery’s sentiments.

A wife?-if so what sort? A meek and obedient doll a la Lady Bertrum, sitting looking pretty on her sofa , or a strong and competent woman like Sophie Croft  A home- a leased estate like Netherfield, or a more permanent Pemberley or a rectory, part of a family living? Riches? A mistress?  All these questions and more are going to be discussed by Amanda Vickery in the  2010 Joint Royal Historical Society/Gresham College Annual Lecture to be given at  The Cruciform, University College London on Thursday 11th November at 6.30 p.m.

The blurb informs us that:

Such is the gloom that surrounds settling down today and the glamour that attaches to mature bachelor freedom, it is hard to imagine that there was a time when marriage represented the summit of a young man’s hopes.

In the 17th and 18th century, bachelorhood was a temporary and unprestigious state best solved by marriage.  The Batchelor’s Directory of 1694 was unequivocal –  ‘Matrimony – what can better agree with man and more exactly relate to his necessities?’  Even men who felt no attraction to the opposite sex had to marry to gain the full benefits of adulthood.

There were even proposals to levy a tax on mature bachelors as a deterrent and a punishment for their evasion of the burden of domestic government and social provision. Perpetual bachelors were the ‘vermin of the State’ pronounced the Women’s Advocate stonily.  ‘They enjoy the benefit of society, but Contribute not to its Charge and Spunge upon the publick, without making the least return’.

We associate the history of home and private life with women, but what did house and domesticity mean to men?  More than you might think….

This lecture is free and open to all, so if you would like to attend you can: go here to get all the relevant details. There may be a podcast/video of the lecture, which may be made avaialbe for those of us who cant get there, and if there is I’ll flag up the details next week.

More news from Amanda Vickery- the BBC2 TV series based on her book, Behind Closed Doors looks at the moment as if it is going to be scheduled to be broadcast in the UK from the 2nd December at 9p.m.    It is now going to be called At Home with the Georgians and if you go here you can read a little more about it on the BBC’s website. I saw a trailer for it last night and I simply can’t wait…. If you go here you can hear Professor Vickery talking about Behind Closed Doors, as part one of the Blackwell of Oxford’s Bookshop Podcasts. Very interesting stuff. I will say once again, if you have not brought this book yet, please do so (it’s now available in paperback in the UK and is a bargain) as it throws so much light on the domestic arrangements of families in our era, it is not to be missed, and should be part of every Janeites library.

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