Andrew Marr looks at the new Elizabethans

Thursday: New Elizabethans with Andrew Marr; (BBC Two, 9pm)
Andrew Marr outside Buckingham PalaceAndrew Marr outside Buckingham Palace
Andrew Marr outside Buckingham Palace

Last month, it was announced that Brits will be getting an extra Bank Holiday the year after next to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

In June 2022, Her Majesty will have been on the throne for a remarkable 70 years, considerably more than any other living monarch, and closing in on the 72 years and 110 day world record achieved by Louis XIV of France from 1643-1715.

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It perhaps goes without saying that when the Queen stepped up to her crown in 1952 at the age of 25, Britain was a very different place.

From the advent of television and smartphones, through the tumultuous time of the Troubles, to a series of royal scandals, Queen Elizabeth II has reigned through tremendous change.

To tie in with his new bestseller Elizabethans: How Modern Britain Was Forged (described as “The Crown in book form”), Andrew Marr takes a look at the seismic change British society has undergone since she first ascended the throne.

In this three-part series, he will be profiling the extraordinary array of ‘New Elizabethans’ who have in some way shaped, reflected or driven those changes.

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Marr, who currently hosts the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show and has previously presented Andrew Marr’s History of Modern Britain and Andrew Marr’s The Making of Modern Britain looks at how sung and unsung heroes – activists, innovators, artists, movers and shakers have defined this new Elizabethan era over the last seven decades.

He also asks: how will our generation be remembered in 100 years’ time; how did each decade shape the next to get us where we are today; and where exactly is that?

In tonight’s first programme, Andrew examines the way Britain went from a rigid, deferential, hierarchical, patriarchal and class obsessed-society in the 1950s, towards a more liberal, inclusive, egalitarian society in the latter part of the Queen’s reign.

It is the story of the permissive society, of changing attitudes toward homosexuality, sexuality, gender and race, of a breaking down of class barriers and the growing equality won by women in the workplace.

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But, as Marr explains, many liberties have been won at a cost, and in the face of fierce criticism.

The programme takes in both sides of that debate: the liberal victories as well as the ferocious backlash of middle England at the perceived erosion of family values.

Andrew shows how Nancy Mitford’s lighthearted guide to the difference between ‘upper-class’ and ‘vulgar’ language sounded the death knell of an old world.

We will see how a former cavalry officer, who reported the conquest of Everest by Hillary and Tenzing in 1953, proved a harbinger of perhaps the most radical change of the era – as James Morris became Jan Morris: historian, journalist and a pioneering transgender role model for the new Elizabethan age.

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Andrew also looks at the divergent lives of two women who made us confront our attitudes to gender, sexuality and power: movie starlet Diana Dors and escort and nightclub hostess Ruth Ellis, who achieved fame of a completely different kind.

And finally, the presenter will show how social upheaval – breaking class barriers and social/sexual taboos alike – was championed in Westminster by the likes of Roy Jenkins, reflected on our TV screens and in theatres by performers like Graham Chapman, and rejected by moral crusaders like Mary Whitehouse.

Over the next three weeks, we will be reminded of just how much has changed over the past 68 years that Elizabeth has been on the throne.

With Marr’s knack of being able explain complex issues in a few crisp sentences, the viewer has an ideal history teacher for what is essentially another history of modern Britain.

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“Change is a constant,” the Queen said as she addressed Parliament during her Golden Jubilee in 2002.

“The way we embrace it defines our future.”

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