Cunk on Britain (2018) s01e03 Episode Script

The Third Episode

Today, Britain stands at a fork in its crossroads.
And its people are asking questions.
Now we've got our country back, what actually is it? Who are we? And why? The best way to find out where Britain's heading is to look behind us into something called "history" - a sort of rear view mirror for time.
So that's where I'm going.
Back there.
It's a journey that'll take me the length and width of the country.
On my odyssey, I'll be starting sentences in one location .
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and finishing them in another.
And looking at some of the biggest faces in British history, and asking other people's faces about them.
If Shelley's one of the greatest poets in English literature, how come nobody gives a shit about him today? That's a complicated question.
But it's not just a story of things, it's also a story of people sitting or standing on things.
All of it taking place in this skepterred isle we call home.
So join me, Philomena Cunk, as I take you right up the history of The United Britain of Great Kingdom.
Thisis Cunk on Britain.
Last time, we saw how the British leaped out of Britain itself and sailed the world in boats.
This week we're examining the 19th century.
This was a time of invention, industry, discovery, empire building, urban squalor, sexual hypocrisy, optimism, statues, painting, photograph, him, her, them and tree.
It was a time when British creativity was at its peak, bringing us everything from great works of art to great works of train.
A time when Britain very much entered the third episode of its history.
It's the early 19th century and Britain is in the grip of the Georgian Era, a time when all English Kings had to be called George.
There was George Three, George Two, George Four and George One, though not necessarily in that order.
The Georgian Era saw the birth of a new artistic movement - The Romantics.
They weren't like the old romantics, which is like when your dad buys your mum a box of Black Magic from the service station when it isn't even her birthday, and they weren't like the New Romantics, which were all synthesisers and wind machines.
Instead, they were poets and artists whose names are still familiar today.
Wordsworth.
Shelley.
Blake.
And the other ones.
To find out more, I went to speak to an expert.
Who was Ron? Among the Romantics, you mean? Yeah.
Um William Godwin was quite wrong.
He believed that there should be no laws at all in society.
No, who's Ron? Ron? Uh, is there a Ron? Yeah, the one that wrote all the poems and signed them "By Ron".
Yeah, that That was his family name - Byron.
Lord George Byron.
Oh.
right! OK.
Yeah.
Who was the man from Nantucket that By Ron wrote about in his poem? I don't remember that poem.
It's the one that goes "There was a young man from Nantucket".
Is that Byron? I think so.
It was really good.
So how did it end? Byron was like a rock star.
He was sexy, like Mick Jagger, brooding, like Kurt Cobain and he had brown hair, like Harry Styles.
Little wonder he's still considered the number one dead romantic in history.
Which was your favourite of the Romantics? Probably, um, Byron, I would think.
Byron was the bad-boy of the Romantic poets.
It's thought that he probably slept with his sister and with most other women in England.
He was your favourite? Yeah.
The one who slept with his sister? Well, it's not I mean, I It's not on that basis that I like him.
I was just giving you a bit of background on him.
Would that have shocked people or was everyone sleeping with their sister back then? I think it was He spent much of his life in exile and Where's exile? Well, in his case it was in Italy, mainly.
And he wrote Don Juan, which was one of the greatest pieces of particularly rhyming poetry in English literature.
It must've been a good book if you can overlook the fact he slept with his sister.
But not all women of the age were Byron's sister who he was sleeping with.
Some of them were other women, like this one.
What exactly was Jane Austen? Jane Austen was a woman from Hampshire who wrote novels.
Is that it? Yes, that's it.
Absolutely.
Austen wrote novels, which are books, which look like this on the outside, and this on the inside, filled with words it's almost impossible to care about.
When are they going to translate Jane Austen's books into proper English? You know, from like ancient English.
Because they're sort of hard to concentrate on, aren't they, now that we've got, like, phones and stuff.
Well, she's not that hard, really.
Those sentences have sometimes got some nice balancing clauses with a lot of humour in them.
Why do they keep making Jane Austen's books into films and TV shows? There's only about five of them, isn't there? Whereas, like, there's 50 Mr Men books and they haven't done all of those yet.
I think there are lots of reasons for that.
People love the love stories.
They like the costumes.
They're also wonderful books with lots of opportunities for humour.
Are you talking about Jane Austen or Mr Men? Probably both.
Yeah.
Who's your favourite Mr Man? Mr Tickle, probably.
Yeah.
I love Mr Tickle.
Jane Austen died in 1817 only to be reincarnated 200 years later in the form of this banknote.
But important though she was, she wasn't the most significant woman of the century.
That honour belonged to Queen Victoria.
Queen Victoria is often portrayed as old and grumpy.
It's where the term "Victoria Cross" comes from.
But she wasn't always a sour, disapproving old woman.
She was once a sour, disapproving baby.
Queen Victoria was born in 1819, in the usual way, out of a woman.
It was hard to tell that this infant would grow up to be Queen because her crown hadn't yet formed.
It was just hair, which must've been a relief to her mother as she was pushing her out.
As well as looking miserable, her other hobby was fashion.
Even at an early age, she was dressing like a cross between a disillusioned Lord Mayor and an angry hen.
In 1837, aged 18, Victoria became Queen.
Her reign was to be a period of great industrial, cultural, scientific, and political change, but the main thing people asked her about was why she was still single and when she was getting married.
Eventually, to shut everyone up, she fell in love with her cousin, Albert.
Prince Albert was German, but Victoria was willing to overlook that because they were in love.
And because most of her family were German, too.
Their untrammelled sexual passion is evident in every photograph of them.
What no-one saw coming was that during Victoria's reign, Britain would be turned upside-down by an avalanche of hurricane proportions, called progress.
This was the Industrial Revelation.
And the very first winds of that changequake detonated in the almost pre-historic world of transport.
The Victorians had horse-drawn buses, but you never see horses drawing anything these days, do you? When did they lose the ability to draw? Is it when their hands sort of turned into hooves? When we talk about horse-drawn buses, we're not really talking about horses drawing buses, but pulling them along.
So that That's the meaning of the word "draw" in this instance.
Oh.
Right.
And that stopped, really, once we had the railways and then even more the engines.
Engines ran on a mysterious new element the Victorians had discovered called steam.
It was a big deal, wasn't it, when they got trains to run on steam.
Where did they get the steam that powered the trains back then? Did they have to sort of mine it from underground? Or did they get it from the sky? Well, you can actually make steam by boiling water.
So what they're doing is using the coal to boil the water and make the steam that way.
Right, so clouds are made of boiling water? Why don't planes boil then when we fly through them? I think you probably want to speak to a meteorologist Oh .
.
about the clouds.
OK.
As well as carrying steam, trains could move people huge distances, and they worked much harder, and faster, than horses.
And unlike horses, they've got a big smiling face on the front, and the voice of Ringo Starr.
Soon the inevitable happened and mankind bred with trains, creating half-human, half-train super-engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who kicked the Industrial Revolution into overdrive.
Why is Brunel considered one of the greatest Britons of all time? Brunel built so many different things - towns, canals, bridges.
I mean he was responsible for many of the things that happened during the Industrial Revolution.
He really took our country forward in terms of technological progress.
Where does he rank compared to, say, Nick Knowles? He's definitely further up the list, on my list Nick Knowles or Brunel? Brunel.
I suppose we haven't given Nick Knowles a proper chance yet, have we? We don't know what he might come up with yet.
This is one of Brunel's most famous achievements - the Clifton Suspension Bridge, Britain's first white-knuckle ride.
Although disappointingly flat compared to today's rollercoasters, millions still flock to Bristol every year just to queue up and have a go on it.
As well as bridges and tunnels, the Industrial Revolution brought factories.
Factories were cavernous halls of noise and machinery, dirty and dangerous environments without even basic Wi-Fi and only the most rudimentary break-out spaces.
But they were changing Britain forever.
These days, no-one works in these factories except ghosts, and even then, they only work night shifts.
Workers did long, thankless hours, with no breaks and low pay in a squalid and threatening environment.
Conditions unthinkable today to anyone who isn't a junior doctor.
The Industrial Revolution was so frenetic, a man called Charles Babbage got carried away and invented the computer far too early.
Modern computers are tiny, but this was as big as a Transit van.
It was even bigger than the 1990s one your dad's got in the loft and won't throw away in case the bin men find all his bank details and mucky jpegs.
Hello.
Who are you? I'm Doron Swade.
I'm a historian of computing and I was responsible for building this engine.
So what games does it have? It doesn't have any games.
It must have, like, some basic games, like Mario Kart or Snake or I'm afraid not.
.
.
or Patience, like the shittest one.
It must have Patience.
I'm afraid it doesn't.
It doesn't have any games? None whatever.
It just does mathematical calculation.
So where's the screen on this computer? The screen, again, is part of the electronic era.
This has no screens.
As it happens, you don't need to read the numbers because it prints them automatically for you.
It's a shame, isn't it, that it doesn't have a screen because then you could turn it upside-down and the numbers would become rude words.
You know, like with a calculator? Yes.
Have you ever done that? I haven't but I know what you mean.
You've done this but you haven't done that? Correct.
Babbage never foresaw the terrible consequences of his invention - a machine that would autocorrect his name to "cabbage" every single time.
The Victorian age was an era of huge and inventive leaps.
But one man was about to take too large a step for many, Charles Darwin.
Darwin was born the son of a doctor, but using his own theories, soon evolved into a scientist.
He was faskinated by nature, and decided to find out more about it by going to sea on a beagle.
Darwin, uh, sailed off on his science mission on a beagle, didn't he? He did, yeah, he went off for five years on The Beagle.
Yeah.
A small ship which It was a ship? .
.
circumnavigated, yeah, circumnavigated the world Not a dog? No.
So it wasn't a ship that evolved into a dog? Certainly not, no.
On his journey, he visited the Noel Gallagher's Islands and came up with a theory - that animals that were dead were less likely to reproduce than ones that were alive.
Talk me through the events that led up to the moment where Charles Darwin invented the monkey.
Darwin didn'tinvent the monkey.
No-one invented a monkey.
OK, well, talk me through the events which led up the moment where Charles Darwin didn't invent the monkey.
Charles Darwin saw monkeys as potential progenitors of humans, ie, we could have evolved from them.
When they put monkeys in zoos, how long does it take for them to turn human? Well, it's not really to do with the zoo.
Alright, so say we kept one in the wild, how long would it take for that monkey to grow, like, a nose or ears? Well, they have noses and ears that are perfectly functional.
Like a man's nose.
Those apes and monkeys don't need a human nose.
It wouldn't do them any good.
What's the fastest evolution could happen? Like, how fast could you turn a pig into a cow? A pig into a cow? You're never going to be able to turn a pig into a cow.
Why would you want to turn a pig into a cow? Pigs are quite good at being pigs and cows are relatively good at being cows.
Why do you want to turn a pig into a cow? Just to see what it's like.
In 1859, he wrote a book about his theory called The Oranges Of The Peaches, which described how oranges have evolved from peaches.
Controversially, the book claimed that man was descended from monkeys, a twist most of the readers were unprepared for.
The idea that man and ape were close relatives was considered both hilarious and shocking - a bit like Graham Norton, but with more profound consequences for all humankind.
Eventually Darwin evolved himself into a corpse.
He was buried here, in Westminster Abbey, before evolving again, into worms and dust.
Meanwhile, Britain itself was evolving into an empire.
The British Empire was the biggest the world had ever seen.
It had started back in the days of Drake and Raleigh, then expanded when Captain Cook discovered Australia when he took the first-ever gap year working on a beach near Sydney.
With its year-round sunshine and abundant food, Australia was deemed the perfect place to send Britain's murderers.
It was hoped they'd suffer terrible homesickness as they lay soaking up the sun.
But there was a dark side to Britain's ever-increasing globalisation - slavery.
These days, people pay thousands of pounds to visit the sun-kissed islands of the Caribbean.
But in the 1700s, you could go there for free, if you were black and didn't want to go there.
It was immediately obvious to anyone that slavery was wrong, which is why it was only allowed to continue for hundreds of years.
There were many countries in the British Empire.
By Victoria's day, the empire bits were coloured pink on the map, to remind white Britons what colour they'd turn if they went there and stood in the sun too long.
And no bit of the map was pinker than the Jewel in the Crown - India.
For years, a British business, the East India Company, had ruled over India - and the locals weren't happy.
A corporation running a country is the sort of thing that usually happens in a scary science fiction film, but this was real, and ages ago, and had all tea leaves in it instead of lasers.
After a people's rebellion, the company was replaced in 1858 by the British monarchy and the British Raj was born.
Queen Victoria was made Empress of India in 1877, a title she was so thrilled by, she immediately set about never visiting the Indian continent at any point in her life.
For some reason, the debate still rages as to how good the British Empire actually was.
Was the British Empire evil like it was in Star Wars? I think the important point here is that yes, many people would have seen the British Empire as being an evil empire, whilst at the same time many people - unsurprisingly, most of them British - would have seen it as something that was a beacon of light, so I think that here lies one of the key debates in British imperial history - was it good or was it bad? Who was the Darth Vader of the Empire? Was it Queen Victoria? You probably wouldn't have had anyone quite as powerful as Darth Vader as, if you like, a supreme leader.
Erm What about Luke Skywalker? I think many people would have liked to have undertaken a Skywalker-like role as a saviour, but there probably weren't too many of those around.
Chewbacca? No, I think that's stretching it.
Meanwhile, back home, with machines doing all the hard work, people had more free time on their hands than ever and they needed entertaining.
What sort of music was popular in Victorian times? What were the genres? R&B, soul, rock? One was, erm, the music hall.
Is music hall the first sort of music named after a building? And do you think that was a big influence on acid house? Despite the name, music hall wasn't just music in a hall.
As well as singers, there were comedians, dancers and variety turns like on Britain's Got Talent, but with a few differences.
Back then, audiences enjoyed the acts for themselves, rather than asking David Walliams or Amanda Holden to do it for them.
And because the only way to change channel in Victorian Times was to walk up the road to a different music hall, the acts could be a lot shitter.
So could you play some music hall for me now? Erm, right, well, there were lots of popular songs and they liked certain sorts of rhythms and vamps.
So this was a very popular one, which goes like this HE PLAYS A JAUNTY TUNE # My old man said follow the van # And don't dilly-dally on the way # That sort of rhythm Hmm.
.
.
was very popular.
So why was that considered entertaining? But while commoners enjoyed this Victorian equivalent of ITV, posh folk were getting into a primitive, paper-based form of television called books, which streamed content from the page into your mind's eye.
Books were being produced in huge numbers.
Perhaps that's why the Victorian era produced more Victorian writers than any other period in history.
This is one of them - Sir Arthur Coning Roddy Doyle, perhaps the greatest writer of detective fiction he could possibly be - the inventor of Sherlock Holmes.
The first Sherlock Holmes story was such a hit, Coning Doyle wrote 55 sequels, which is four more than The Fast And The Furious.
Although, in the Sherlock Holmes stories, some stuff happens that isn't skidding.
Since his Victorian origins, Sherlock Holmes himself has regenerated many times and in many different forms throughout history, from drawings, to black-and-white man, to a black-and-white-man in colour, into a cricketer and even an alien.
But perhaps the best-known Victorian to put quill to paper is one of the greatest writists Britain has ever shat out - Sir Charles Dickings.
Dickings lived here, in a house, but he left when the council turned it into a museum, gift shop and education centre in his memory.
He became a writer, and began to create some of the most time-consuming stories in history.
The names of Dickings' most famous works are still familiar today.
Nicholas Nickelback.
Great Defecations.
David's Copper Field.
The Picnic Papers.
And his masterpiece .
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Oliver's Twist.
Despite the spoiler in its title, Oliver's Twist doesn't have a twist at the end, which, come to think of it, is a brilliant twist in itself.
That's how clever Dickings was.
BOYS SCREAM Like many of Dickings' works, Oliver's Twist exposed the grim underbelly of Victorian London.
As you can see from this blistering adaptation, it's an uncompromising, searing vision of extreme poverty and synchronised dancing.
Despite his genius, Dickings' immortality couldn't last, and in 1870, he died - forever.
We don't know what his last words were, or whether he managed to blurt out "the end" just before closing his mouth for the last time.
But while Dickings was celebrated, another Victorian wordsmith found himself on the wrong side of the law.
Oscar Wilde was a brilliant writer and wit, which is the Victorian word for "top bantz merchant".
He was persecuted for being gay, and ended up in Reed-ing Gaol.
Luckily, being a literary man, he loved reading, and was so happy he wrote a song about it.
Sadly, it didn't do very well, because there's no tune to speak of and, as you can see, he's misspelt "jail" on the front.
The Victorians treated Wilde like a sexual deviant because they were extremely prudish.
In polite society, clothing was prim and proper.
Even glimpsing an ankle was considered racy.
So chances are anyone seeing a bum would've had a stroke.
In fact, the famed Victorian morality was nothing more than a hypocritical front - for one thing, as these photographs prove, people still had buttocks and muffs.
Some people even had intercourse.
Victorian London in particular was a hotbed of vice, with many a so-called "respectable gentleman" paying women for sex up the East End.
If you were a prostitute in London in 1888, there were two words guaranteed to put the fear of god into you - "Jack" .
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and "the Ripper".
Jack the Ripper was one of the most antisocial murderers Britain has ever seen.
Much of the fear of The Ripper was stirred up by the press.
And by the way he kept killing people.
The murders brought shame on 19th-century London, which is why, unlike other prominent Victorians of the age, Jack the Ripper has never appeared on a banknote.
Despite this, he's just as popular today as he wasn't back then.
You can still go on Ripper tours around Whitechapel - a fun way of commemorating a serial killer, although committing murders on the tour itself is lightly discouraged.
Because the culprit himself was never caught, there's a lot we still don't know about Jack the Ripper.
We don't know who he was or why he did it.
We don't even know if Jack the Ripper was his real name, or just a nickname, like 50 Cent.
We don't know when he died, or if he died.
It's chilling to think Jack the Ripper could still be alive today, living somewhere out there, under his real name.
Maybe he's one of your friends or neighbours.
Or maybehe's you.
You'd have no way of knowing.
And that's terrifying.
But it wasn't just prostitutes who died in Victorian Britain.
So did Victoria's beloved husband Albert, who succumbed to typhoid and stomach and bum trouble in 1861, a mere 125 years before the first transmission of the BBC comedy series Brush Strokes.
# Because of you # These things I do # Because of you # Because of you Ohhh-ohhh # Victoria was so heartbroken by Albert's death, she spent the rest of her life wearing black and pulling a face like Alfred Hitchcock watching a dog drown.
The grieving queen commissioned monuments to Albert's memory, such as the Prince Albert Memorial and the Royal Albert Hall, which functioned as both a concert hall and a receptacle for Adolf Hitler's missing bollock.
And then Victoria did what any widow would, and went off to the Isle of Wight to look out of the window until she died.
Fittingly for a monarch whose reign had seen many technomalogical advancements, moving pictures had just been invented - just in time to capture her funeral - but, sadly, not in time for her to enjoy the footage of her funeral.
The entire country came to a standstill for the procession.
It was as though the British public weren't just burying a queen, but an entire era, which they'd somehow managed to fit in the box along with her body.
The death of Queen Victoria reduced the number of women with a voice in British politics by 100%.
Because in 1901, women did not have the vote, even though, at the time, half the men in Britain were women.
Women were thought of as simple creatures who could give birth and raise families, but couldn't be trusted with something as complicated as drawing an X with a pencil.
Today it's unthinkable that a woman wouldn't be able to vote, unless she was really hungover or in her slippers and it was raining, but back then it was the law.
One woman decided that had to change.
Emmerdale Pankhurst thought women could be more than just wives and mothers, so she deliberately only had five children, leaving her loads of time for politics.
She founded the suffragette movement.
These women were tough and prepared to fight.
Like Wonder Woman, but with sleeves.
The suffragettes protested in creative ways.
Some chained themselves to important buildings, rather than the kitchen sink.
Others went on hunger strike, kick-starting the food detox craze that continues to this day.
One suffragette, Emily Davison, threw herself under a horse to get the vote.
But the vote wasn't under a horse.
It was in a little wooden booth in a primary school.
But, to be fair, women wouldn't have known that.
The suffragettes wanted the vote so badly, they were prepared to die for it.
Nobody knows why.
Maybe they imagined it was better in here than it actually is.
Maybe they thought there'd be games or sandwiches in here.
If they'd known it was just a pencil on a shoelace, they might not have bothered.
Eventually, women did get the vote after the next bit of history, but I can't skip past the next bit, because the next bit is war, and men will find that interesting.
Next time, we move into the early 20th century, a period when TV was invented, making life actually worth living for the first time.
And also, a time when Britain fought two World Wars, but no World Cups.
Why were all the British soldiers in World War I called Tommy? Was that just a coincidence?