This weeks episode of Blitz Street on Channel 4 carried on with the theme set down in the first instalment – detonating mock-up bombs in a replica 1940′s street, with eyewitness accounts and expert analysis.
This week the team explode an SC 1000 ‘Hermann’ Bomb, weighing in at 1,000 kilograms. Containing Amatol explosive, it produces more of a ‘heave’ effect than smaller bombs, which was effective at demolishing buildings. The slow-motion playback of the explosion, showing the blast wave, is incredible stuff.
Later in the programme Incendiary Bombs are tested, and also a Flammbomb. Incendiaries were used to great effect on Portsmouth in January 1941, when one lodged in th Guildhall’s ventilation shaft left to the building being burnt out. Small metal tubes packed with magnesium, they had an effect out of all proportion to their size. Flammbomb’s were much larger, but used explosives to throw burning oil over a large area – effectively an early form of Napalm. They must have been ghastly to try to put out.
The programme also focusses a lot on the devestating raid on the Coventry – the scenes of mass funerals are harrowing stuff. Yet I think it is important to remember that it is estimated that 568 people died in Coventry on that night; some suggest the toll may have been as high as 1,000. However fives years later, Historians estimate that between 24,000 and 40,000 people were killed in one night in Dresden. This is not to belittle the experiences of Coventry, London and elsewhere, but to try and give some form of context.
While the eyewitness accounts are a real insight, and its great that their experiences have been shared and recorded for posterity, I’m quite frustrated with the cotributions of the Historians – Juliet Gardner and Stephen Badsey. Their contributions feel very ‘top-down’ and conventiona. In my experience there is more to the Blitz than the ‘we can take it’ cliche and ‘roll out the barrell’. In particular, Badsey’s poor definition of ‘myth’ misleading.
Channel 4 has long had a tack record for producing first class History programming, and this is one of their best yet. Produced to mark the 70th anniversary of the Blitz, this Tony Robinson-presented series is a great look at the events of the late summer and autumn of 1940.
The centrepiece of the programme is a full reconstruction of a 1940′s style street. The first programme shows the team exploding replicas of German bombs to study the effect of blast and shrapnel. The footage and analysis is gripping stuff. Too often we hear about bomb damage in words, or see the effects in black and white photographs. But to watch a full reconstruction, in slow motion colour, really adds something to our understanding of the Blitz. What really occurs to me, is how the biggest bomb detonated in this programme was 500 kilograms -and the explosion was huge. But by the end of the war the RAF was using 20,000lb bombs!
The programme also makes excellent use of eyewitness accounts – people who lived through the blitz, such as firemen, air raid wardens and nurses. And they tell some harrowing stories, such as people who were killed by blast, without a mark on them. Some great colour footage of 1940 Britain is also incorporated in the programme. It is always good to see colour footage, as it does bring to life a period in british history that is often seen in black and white, in more ways than just its colour. The Historian’s used are perhaps not the best, however. But the production is slick, as we might expect, and as usual Tony Robinson is an enthusiastic and spot-on presenter.
It will be interesting to see how future episodes pan out. In particular I will interested to see how the programme deals with the tetchy issue of civilian morale during the Blitz.
Click here to watch on Channel 4oD
Heres my round up of this weeks historical action on the box
Monday – Coal House at War As the families settle into their routines, the men face a tough training period to equip them for life at the coal face and in the Home Guard (BBC2, 7pm)
Tuesday – Heir Hunters Probate detectives search for the surviving relatives of a man who left £70,000 (BBC2, 7.30pm, also on Wednesday)
Wednesday – Railway Walks Julia Bradbury traces the route of a lost railway line from Weymouth onto Portland (BBC2, 7pm)
Wednesday – The Lost Symbol: Trutch or Fiction? examines the story behind Dan Brown’s new novel. Expect plenty of flustered freemasons! (Five, 8pm)
And sadly thats it, very quiet week this week!
This weeks picks for historically interesting telly:
Monday 12 October 2009 – The start of a new series, Coal House at War (BBC2, 7pm)
Also on Monday – In Saving Britain’s past Tom Dyckhoff looks at the history of Brick Lane in London (BBC2, 7.30pm)
Why did my son die? looks at protecting troops on the battlefield (ITV, 8pm)
Tuesday 13 October 2009 – In Heir Hunters we see the search for relatives of a man who left £350,000 (BBC2, 7.30pm, also same time on Wednesday)
Wednesday 14 October 2009 – Labour MP John Prescott looks at the North/South Divide (BBC2, 9pm).
Thursday 15 October – In The Red Lion Sue Bourne investigates the role of Pubs in British Society (C4, 9pm)
Heres my pick of this weeks TV, for all things historical. Sadly, theres not much in the way of quanity this week, but its more than made up for in quality.
Monday – How do they do it? looks at how Cold War military hardware is being recycled (Five, 7.30pm).
Tuesday – Blitz: the Bombing of Coventry examines the devastating Luftwaffe raid on Coventry in 1940, and how the RAF studied the techniques and used them in their subsequent attacks on Nazi Germany (BBC2, 9pm)
Also on Tuesday Warship follows HMS Bulwark to Phuket in Thailand, and the age-old ‘crossing the line’ ceremony (Five, 9pm).
Wednesday – World War I in colour explores the events of 1918, when Allied troops over-ran the Hindenburg line, the Kaiser went into exile and Germany finally surrendered (Five, 9pm)
Here’s my pick of the interestingly historical looking programmes on the box this coming week.
Monday 28 September – Bang Goes the Theory sees Liz Bonnin joins the RAF’s flight school to find out the truth about multi-tasking. Sounds like a ‘men can’t multitask’ programme this one! (BBC1, 7.30pm).
Tuesday 29 September – In the Victorian Farm Three Historians live the lives of Victorian Farmers. This week they deliver lambs and piglets, and turn to victorian science for a solution to their crop problems (BBC2, 7pm, continues at the same time every day this week). Also on Tuesday Warship sees the Royal Marines training in Brunei, and teambuilding with US colleagues (Five, 8pm).
Wednesday 30 September – In Railway Walks Julia Bradbury looks at the impact of tin and copper in Cornwall (BBC2, 7pm). Also on Wednesday Building the Ultimate looks at the evolution of the aircraft carrier from World War 2 to the present day (Five, 7.30pm). Straight afterwards World War One in Colour follows the battle on the eastern front, leading up to the Russian Revolution (Five, 8pm).
Thursday 1 October – Not strictly a historical programme, but this week David Starkey guests on Question Time. In Brighton for the Labour Party Conference, this should be worth a watch (BBC1, 10.35pm).
Saturday 3 October – In Dads Army Godfrey learns that his cottage faces demolition (BBC2, 7.45pm).