What did you do at school today?’ I ask my kids. ‘Ugh, history. It was sooo boring,’ they reply, in the charmingly harrumphy way they have.
But history done well doesn’t have to be boring.
History can speak to you about the past, the present and the future. It can be heartbreaking, amusing, surprising. WW1: The Last Tommies (BBC4, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, 9pm) was all this and more.
Compiled from interviews gathered over the last 25 years with the men who fought in the trenches, the women who went to Flanders as nurses, and the families both left behind, it was an absorbing three hours.
Of course, it has added poignancy in this week, as we mark the centenary of the end of the ‘Great War’, but with all those who fought now dead, and those for whom the war is in living memory now well into their hundreds, it felt like the last chance to glimpse an age we can scarcely imagine.
Archive footage and the memories of men and women like Florence Billington, Dick Trafford and Tommy Gay conjured up a land of streets filled with trolleybuses and horse-drawn carriages, of people working the land with horsepower alone, and miners working the seams with pick-axes.
It is incredible that people unused even to the combustion engine should soon be killed on industrial levels.
To see young soldiers smiling, laughing, dancing, as they waited for a troop train to take them to the front, you just wanted to shake them, hug them, warn them of the horrors ahead.
My kids couldn’t ask for a better history lesson than WW1: The Last Tommies. It took the abstract and made it human, immediate, and gave those old soldiers a voice that will echo for centuries.
Lest we forget.
School (BBC2, Mondays, 9pm) was a sobering look at modern education and how it is becoming increasingly commodified and money driven. And it will probably scare any parent to death.
I’ll Get This (BBC2, Mondays, 10pm) was a bit of a curio as five celebs meet for dinner and play games to see who will pick up the bill. It’s a format that will stand and fall by the guests, and episode one set a low bar.