The History Girls 2: The Next Generation Strikes Back


[See previous in series.]
The next in our procession of History Girls (this is no. 6, and still counting!) is Bettany Hughes, who, like Helen Castor, presents great programmes all the better for being an expert herself. You can tell by people’s expressions, how involved they are with the material.
Helen Castor, in the BBC's "She-Wolves: England's Early Queens"

Helen Castor, in the BBC’s “She-Wolves: England’s Early Queens”


Also as with Helen, you get the impression she’s conscious of being a woman in front of a public camera, as well as being an academic. Unlike her though, Bettany originally gave me the impression (though obviously she’s adapted her presentation over time), of having said to herself: “Well, I may be an academic, but since I’ve got to make the programme popular, and I’ve got it and the camera likes it, I’m jolly well going to flaunt it!” 🙂

I daresay it’s useful, and I’m not complaining, though some viewers might need it more than me. I’m not sure it helps me, because I find history programmes presented by men just as interesting, and I find distractions, well, distracting. But as they say… when in ITV…!

But the exact style is not my message here. Rather, I’m pointing out the dual identity I think I can sense in both of them:

1: The academic and presenter
2: The woman

And the inescapable consciousness of the second has doubtless been caused by idiotic bad behaviour of one form or another in the past.

I remember meeting an unfamiliar fencer the last time I was at the Birmingham, who I knew just could not be British. Sometimes, as with even the French and the Germans say, it’s some subtle, or wistful, fairly artistic facial expression which prevents them from being British, and which you know would have attracted jeering and bad behaviour while they were passing through a certain age-group in Britain. In this case, it was just the stance. She seemed to be totally at ease with herself in her skin, and you just know that wouldn’t have survived if she’d been brought up in the UK. (Turned out she was Yugoslavian as it happens.)

I think I’m beginning to see this kind of un-self-consciousness appearing in British women. [Ghod did I write this?!]

When you watch Janina Ramirez,

From the start of her BBC Joan of Arc prog: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01582ks

From the start of her BBC Joan of Arc prog:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01582ks


or Lucy Worsley,
From a recent BBC prog: Proud to be twee!  Lucy Worsley, or Linsey Woolsey as I like to think of her (and that's by no means a comment on quality - just to do with the sound!).  Currently "Head Of Palaces" or something.  I've reached the state now where I often find myself thinking "If I had a daughter I'd want her to be just like that!" :-S

From a recent BBC prog: Proud to be twee! Lucy Worsley, or Linsey Woolsey as I like to think of her (and that’s by no means a comment on quality – just to do with the sound!). Currently “Head Of Palaces” or something. I’ve reached the state now where I often find myself thinking “If I had a daughter I’d want her to be just like that!” :-S


you just see a person “going for it”. [Do you think this frieze outside the Follies Bergeres (seen in James Fox’s “Three cities” on Paris.) looks a bit like her?] They don’t seem to be thinking: “I’ll do this… oh, but what will I look like if I do?”. I suspect it’s because they’ve been somewhat spared the repeated experience of having some idiot make a stupid comment every time they’ve done something unusual, which would have happened with earlier generations. Of course I may be doing particular instances a disservice; Janina for example, ox-eyed [albeit eyes completely the wrong colour, obviously 🙂 ] like Hera, and like her, I suspect quite likely to chin you if you cheeked her any time, any place, anywhere in history, might be one. [Martini! You’ve been selling us a tautology all these years!] Bettany as well, do you think ? 🙂 [Update: JR – now “Nina” – seems to have moved slightly towards the “TV-soothing” style recently, which is nice, but hopefully will remain her old self off screen.]

The story of how it happened is well known, of course. Certainly suffragettes had done their bit here, but the process had stalled. The crucial development was racist politicians in the USA trying to stop one of LJB’s civil rights bills, by tagging anti-sexist clauses onto it, thinking no-one in their right mind would ever let that pass… but discovering to their horror when the bill actually went through, that they’d institutionalised anti-sexism as well as anti-racism!

Poor buggers. And then, once laws were being passed in the US, it helped them pass in the UK. And once the issue was recognised legally, the mores changed both in public and in private.

Here’s another from the new generation who far from merely giving a good impression of total confidence in her role, clearly has never had any fear of unjustifyable back-biting enter her head for one moment. Dr Olivia Horsfall Turner, seen here in “Dreaming the Impossible”,

From her Dreaming the Impossible - Modern Buildings BBC prog.

From her Dreaming the Impossible – Modern Buildings BBC prog.


is, like the others, fun to watch, and reminds one, in merely stepping off an underground train, of that (UK) advert “a few years ago” where some striking figure strode out of a hotel and turned sharp right, causing the two bell boys on either side of her, each with a ghetto blaster on their shoulder as her stereo service, to scramble madly to keep up. But I particularly like this shot of her watching the traffic like… well, it reminded me of my cat watching a piece of wiggling string, in the moments before she pounced. This is someone who doesn’t think twice about being herself, or being in charge.

Some of today’s girls have got that monkey off their shoulder. I’ll leave you to work out the years when it happened. It must have taken several cycles, because I remember girls my age having massive arguments about equal pay as I left shcool, yet the full change in manner only seems to me to have started to appear in girls and women quite a bit younger than me. OK – let’s say only in those actually born after the sexual politics arguments had become well established. But they are showing a real benefit. The feminist machinations, and the endless asking of “but why does it have to be like this?” have worked, at long last, or at least started to.

[Update Oct 2014: This posting and the previous one started out because I was going to post on a conference largely accessible via the web, on human evolution, and what chimp behaviour might teach us. (It’s mainly female chimps who spear bush-babies sleeping in hollow trees, etc.) I then decided to include in that, a comment on Alice Robert’s persistently unbalanced coverage of evolutionary science, ignoring everything that’s happened in recent years, and, on evolutionary topics, presenting as news only ideas that are out-dated or ill-informed or both. (That one WILL still appear.) But to forfend any suspicion of misogynism people might get from that, I thought I’d start off by being nice in that direction. I also thought it might be a pleasant contrast to things sometimes aimed at women on the net.

So far though, these are the only bits I’ve written. I was surprised at how much fun they were to write, and peeved that they soon became my most visited postings after the one on Quentin Cooper. I also have no idea what people thought of them, though I fear the worst, and I feel very uncomfortable whenever I see anyone I mentioned, on TV! I won’t write anything like this again. I’m also not at all sure any of the wordage linking the “Hooray for A!”, “Hooray for B!” elements, made any sense, though “making sense” doesn’t always seem to be a requirement!]

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