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Last Updated: Friday, 18 May 2007, 08:57 GMT 09:57 UK
When history gets personal
Left to right: mobile phone, Angel of the North, woman from the 50s, Mini and a punk

Andrew Marr
Post-War Britain is about to come dramatically to life in a major TV history by Andrew Marr. The Magazine is teaming up with him to compile a users' history - written, photographed and filmed by you. To kick off this five-week journey, Andrew explains why personal history matters.

There is no unbiased history; or at least no history that is both unbiased and interesting. History is always written, or filmed, from a standpoint.

Any historian is affected by their time of birth, geography, education, political prejudices and temperament. This is particularly true for a contemporary history, such as my new History of Modern Britain, the BBC series and the fat book with it.

Send your memories, in text, pictures or short videos, to help create a Users' History of Modern Britain to be built up over the next five weeks. We start with the 1950s.

E-mail pics to:

(subject "modern Britain")

From next week, you will be able to send in video via YouTube

I'm a BBC voice and I try very hard, therefore, to avoid party political bias. More than that, I wanted to tell the story of this country since 1945 in a way that was open to as many viewers as possible - asking questions, reminding, provoking, rather than laying down the law.

This is history, but it's only just history. I was acutely conscious that almost everything I talk about was lived through, up close, by people who will be watching or reading. It's their story.

My job was to weave countless "theirs" into one "our story", which is bound to be contentious, and should be.

So, to take some examples, I talk about the disgust many people felt for the post-war diet, particularly the unpopular imported tinned fish snoek; yet there will probably be people still alive who thought that actually, snoek was rather nice.

I talk about a country brimming with hope in 1945, which seems to me a reasonable summary of all of I've read. But lots of people will have been grimly pessimistic.

The nearer you come in time, the more contested every statement is bound to seem.

Children after the war
This isn't medieval history, or Tudor history. It's us

Who was really to blame at the Orgreave confrontation between police and miners?

My take on the Bloody Sunday shootings will inevitably infuriate some people, including people who were there, either in the army or on the streets.

Then there are the less thunderous questions. Was David Bowie really a gender-bending revolutionary, or do I treat him too seriously?

And is it fair to mock Eighties big-hair music quite as aggressively?

Everywhere I go to film, from the awful murder of James Bulger in Bootle, to the ships of the Falklands task force, or the control room from where the 7/7 London bombings were dealt with, or Alexandra Palace, where the 14-hour technicolour rave erupted, I'm stepping on people's memories and lives.

This isn't medieval history, or Tudor history. It's us.

My history

That means, surely, there are countless other views which have the authenticity of - "I was there. I know."

Yet the historian has to select - history is selection, and no more brutally than in television, which needs time to tell stories.

Margaret Thatcher in 1979
Thatcher: the bravest and luckiest?

Plenty of events haven't made it to air, that I desperately wish I'd found a way to fit in, though in the end I think we made a fair selection. And the historian has to interpret, to assert meaning.

Overall, I found the story of the British in the past 60 years to be not only more turbulent than perhaps we think, but also to have an over-arching moral, which I call the defeat of politics by shopping.

I'm looking forward to arguing about that. But what was my standpoint?

It's only fair to say, up front, that I am a privately-educated expatriate Scot, adoptive Londoner, ex-leftie from a Tory family, with libertarian leanings. A walking confusion, you could say.

I've covered Westminster politics, for a range of newspapers as well as the BBC, for more than 20 years.

So it was inevitable, probably, that the inside story of politics features a lot.

I really think the question of who was prime minister has mattered, even when the quality of leadership was poor and the government of the day deluded.

Muffin the Mule
Memories make up the big picture
I lived through the great battles between CND and the political establishment. I reported on the miners' strike as a young journalist in Scotland.

As a business reporter, I covered the great heroic early years of North Sea oil. There was no way that those issues would be missed out, given my background.

I was a typical anti-Thatcher young hack who has come to see that she was the most important, and bravest, as well as luckiest, prime minister in the whole post-war period.

In the Blair years, I too was yelled at by Alastair Campbell. In fact he tried to get me sacked once. I raised money for a dot-com, I once considered emigrating to Canada. So all those things affect how I see things.

Better still if this was the start of a process, a great national heckle and ruckus about what means what

Temperamentally, I'm unconfrontational, optimistic, thin-skinned, self-doubting and far too easily bored. I've been luckier than most, so many people will find parts of the history a little too sunny. They will want to tell darker and angrier stories.

Once upon a time, the historian simply plonked down the book, or the television series, and said, in effect, here it is, take it or leave it.

If the age of the internet means anything, it means that those days are over. I want people to like the series, and the book, of course. It's taken a long while and I'm only human.

But better still if this was the start of a process, a great national heckle and ruckus about what means what, and what is overplayed. For it's only that way that we inch towards a more truthful story.

Andrew Marr's History of Modern Britain is on BBC Two on Tuesday, 22 May, at 2100 BST.

It was the decade of the Coronation, the end of food rationing and the birth of the teenager. Tell us your memories of the 1950s, using the form below.

Your e-mail address
Town/city and country
Your memories of the 1950s

The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.


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