Ian Hislop’s Stiff Upper Lip – An Emotional History Of Britain

9:00pm Tuesday 16 October on BBC TWO

In the final part of his new series, Ian Hislop takes a look at the ups and downs of the Stiff Upper Lip over the last century, and asks whether the regular displays of emotion and tears on today’s TV confirm its departure.

Ian begins with the General Strike of 1926 and reveals how behaviour and character on both sides prevented an all-out revolution. He goes on to examine Pont’s ‘British Character’ cartoons of the 1930s, in which the Stiff Upper Lip first became something to poke fun at, and at the Imperial War Museum he discovers the original story behind the ubiquitous ‘Blitz spirit’ slogan Keep Calm And Carry On.

He meets writer Alan Bennett, cast member of the groundbreaking 1960s satirical show Beyond The Fringe and visits the Welsh village of Aberfan, where in 1966 the local community met terrible tragedy with old-fashioned resilience and dignity in the face of an increasingly intrusive media.

Ian looks at the influence of 1970s American ‘therapy culture’ on British emotional expression, peeks inside the first British edition of Cosmopolitan magazine and considers if the nation’s outpouring of grief at Princess Diana’s death did or did not herald the final demise of the Stiff Upper Lip.

Ep 3/3

9:00pm Tuesday 9 October on BBC TWO

In the second part of his new series, Ian Hislop argues that we have the Victorians to thank for making the Stiff Upper Lip a truly national characteristic.

He resurrects the stories of remarkable – some might say bonkers – national heroes, like Captain Matthew Webb, the first person to swim the Channel. But he also shows how suffering in silence came to be seen as a service to society and how questions began to be asked about a homogenised, quasi-industrial approach to character building.

Along the way, Ian returns to his own character-building boarding school, Ardingly College in Sussex, introduces us to the weeping policeman ‘Robert Emotional’, explains the dark context to Charles Darwin’s observation ‘Englishmen rarely cry’ and talks to MP Rory Stewart about how the Stiff Upper Lip helped him as a deputy governor in Iraq.

Ian concludes on the battlefields of the Somme, where one officer literally treated war as a game, using football to motivate his men to go over the top. Ultimately, Ian argues, the Victorian ideal of reticent stoicism shot through with imperial swagger could not survive the mud of Flanders. Yet it was precisely those values which had sustained the Empire and persuaded so many to endure the First World War’s horrors.

Ep 2/3

9:00pm Tuesday 2 October on BBC TWO

In his new three-part series, Ian Hislop asks when and why we British have bottled up or let out our feelings, and how this has affected our history. Exploring emotion and identity over the last 300 years, Ian gives us his personal take on our evolving national character.

In the opening episode, Ian reveals how and why the stiff upper lip emerged 200 years ago in a country that, until then, was surprisingly touchy-feely and often awash with sentiment. The programme features extraordinary characters, such as aspirational young Scot James Boswell, plagued with anxieties about showing his feelings in fashionable London, and Mary Wollstonecraft, who argued that women’s heads should rule their hearts, but failed to practise what she preached. This was a time of profound transition for Britain – and how it expressed its feelings – which Ian encapsulates with the tale of two very different national heroes: Admiral Nelson and the Duke of Wellington.

Along the way, Ian finds himself playing cricket on the Champs-�lys�es, discovers some 200-year-old merchandising David Beckham would be proud of, and reveals why we have the great British Bulldog, and not the British Cock, as a national symbol.

Ep 1/3

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