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BBC Empire – #2/5 – Making Ourselves at Home – Jeremy Paxman

31/01/2021

Wikipedia

Empire is a 2012 BBC and Open University co-production, written and presented by Jeremy Paxman, charting the rise of the British Empire from the trading companies of India to the rule over a quarter of the world’s population and its legacy in the modern world

Episode two: Making Ourselves at Home

Paxman continues his story of Britain’s empire by looking at how traders, conquerors and settlers spread the British way of life around the world by creating a very British home. In India early British traders adopted Indian costume and many took Indian wives; their descendants still look fondly on their mixed heritage. In Victorian Britain such inter-racial mixing became taboo, especially as more British women began to settle in the colony and form families with British colonials. In Singapore he visits a club, now open to all, where British colonials used to gather together; in Canada he finds a town of Scottish ancestry whose inhabitants proud of the traditions, and have shops selling imported Scottish goods; in Kenya he meets descendants of the first white settlers, who were bitterly resented as pressure for African independence grew; and he traces the story of an Indian family in Leicester, whose migrations resulted from the changing fortunes of the British empire.

Reception

The series was criticised by some for its handling of controversial material while trying to avoid offense to numerous stakeholders and audiences. Associate editor of The Guardian, Michael White, said that “the structure of the programme was ramshackle” and he found the narrative to be “episodic and superficial”. He said that Paxman “was diffident charm itself”, as opposed to treating “the former subjects of empire with his customary … abrasiveness”. While White also found “the photography pretty as always”, he concluded that “the overall effect was curiously patronising, serving to reinforce the impression that the great man was basically on a jolly and going through the motions”.[2]

Stuart Jeffries, also for The Guardian, offered similar views, concluding that “Jeremy Paxman fails to argue strongly enough”. Nick Wood, for the Daily Mail, stated that Paxman’s approach was “all too predictably straight out of the cultural commissar’s lecture notes”, calling the series “cartoon propaganda”; Wood concluded that it “may be Mr Paxman, cowed like those poor dupes in 1897, was merely issuing a coded cry for help, hoping that a latter-day viceroy like the imperious Curzon, might free him from the mental chains of the Beeb’s script writers

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