University of Leicester eBulletin

University of Leicester Academic 
Leads the History Detectives

September 2003
No 215

University of Leicester historian Jo Story turns detective for a six-part TV series she is presenting.

The series, made by Carlton TV for ITV1 Central England, is currently being shown on Sundays. Jo is the main presenter / narrator of the series.

In the programme on Sunday September 7th there is also a Leicester theme -the team are looking at St Mark's church in Belgrave. 

The team explores the abandoned Anglican church and finds out the story behind the altar paintings depicting the struggle of the city’s workers, which were commissioned in 1915 by Canon Frederick Donaldson, a passionate Christian socialist. 

Dr Story said: “Donaldson was a radical social reformer whose soap-box sermons in Leicester's market square attracted audiences numbering thousands; he also organised one of the earliest marches protesting about the conditions of the unemployed to London. 

“His vision of the release of the working class from the oppression of poverty and the bonds of labour through education, culture, and faith is depicted in the remarkable altar piece by the important early 20th-century artist James Eadie Reade; a memorial window to the fallen of WW1 by Eadie Reade in St Mark's records the motto that 'History is the struggle of man to be free'. 

“St Mark's is a treasure of Victorian and Edwardian Leicester, of both the idealism of the age and of the reality of working class poverty in the city.”

The History Detectives also find out the truth behind the dramatic story of the biggest non-nuclear explosion of World War Two. Not in Dresden or Coventry, but at an underground munitions dump at Fauld, in Staffordshire. 

Other local topics in the series include the visit of Malcom X to Smethwick, Pugin at Alton Towers, lost castles in Herefordshire, a civil-war decapitated corpse; the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403 and a neolithic axe from Leicestershire.

Jo Story presents the programme with archaeologist John Samuels and historic building specialist John Yates. They investigate the historical queries sent in by viewers in the region and provide some answers about our local past.

Jo said: “History on TV is very popular, but few programmes engage with the questions and experiences of the everyday, ordinary member of the public. One of the objectives of this series is to show that History is for everyone, it’s not just something to be studied in the ivory (or should that be 'concrete') towers of universities, you don't have to be a trained historian to ask questions or to find out answers about the past around you - though the more that want to be trained, the better for us!” 

"This is a very good way for the School of Historical Studies at Leicester to reach the broader community of our own region; it is easy to preach to the converted about the importance of the past in our everyday existence but it is much more difficult to reach those who feel that History is distant or irrelevant to their own lives. Programmes like the History Detectives can go a long way towards re-engaging people with the history of the places and communities in which they live.” 

The History Detectives is a Carlton production for ITV1 Central England. The executive producer is Duncan Rycroft and the series producer is Andrew Fox. The next episode is screened on Sunday 7 September 2003 5.45 to 6.15 pm ITV1 Central England.

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Information supplied by: Barbara Whiteman
Last updated: September 2003
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