Magazine article The Spectator

Chillier View

Magazine article The Spectator

Chillier View

Article excerpt

A publisher has just reprinted, in time for its centenary, H.E. Marshall's Our Island Story (Galore Park, £19.99), which in its day was the immensely successful 'History of Britain for Boys and Girls, from the Romans to Queen Victoria'. I'm old enough to remember this from first time round -- it went through many editions -- and it's rather touching to see it again. It uses fables and legends, some possibly true, to illuminate the succession of monarchs, culminating in the glory of our Empire.

Good people are rewarded and bad people, such as King John and Richard III, meet unhappy and well-deserved ends.

This amiable view of our history is not one embraced by David Starkey, whose latest series on the British royal line, Monarchy By David Starkey (Channel 4, Monday), has just resumed. Starkey's royals are vicious beyond measure, almost subhuman, engaging in fratricide, infanticide, polygamy, child sex, treachery and mass slaughter whenever it suited them. There is an almost lip-smacking relish to Starkey's descriptions of each fresh horror. The precision of his vocabulary and sentence construction holds the interest enough to make you forget that you're often seeing the same image time and again. This is the opposite of a lavish, Genghis Khanstyle reconstruction. No expense has been incurred. The Battle of Bosworth Field was evoked by the thundering hooves of two -- count them, two -- horses. The money, I suspect, has been spent on Starkey himself.

Certainly, his clothes are expensive and immaculate. The suits follow you round the room.

In effect, what we are seeing is a lantern lecture as mounted in a village hall round about the time Our Island Story was first published. ('Dr David Starkey will give an Illustrated Talk on the Early Days of the Tudors.') It is a tribute to Starkey that he holds the attention so well. Little fidgeting, I suspect, at the back, and a far chillier view of the march of our nation's history than was provided by Henrietta Marshall.

By contrast, money has been poured into Space Race (BBC 2, Wednesday). The first of four parts covered the end of the last war, when Wernher von Braun fled both the Soviets and his fellow SS officers to reach the American sector, and Sergei Korolev was rescued from the Gulag to match his production of yet more lethal rockets. Except that at this stage the Americans didn't think rockets were important, so von Braun was reduced to giving illustrated talks to Rotarians about the possibilities of space travel. …

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