Andrew Marr looks at the seismic change British society has undergone since the Queen first ascended the throne in 1952, and profiles an extraordinary array of ‘New Elizabethans’ who have in some way shaped, reflected or driven that change.
In this first programme, Andrew examines the way Britain went from a rigid, deferential, hierarchical, patriarchal and class obsessed-society in the 1950s, toward a more liberal, inclusive, egalitarian society in the latter part of the Queen’s reign.
It is the story of the permissive society, of changing attitudes toward homosexuality, sexuality, gender and race, of a breaking down of class barriers and the growing equality won by women in the workplace.
But it isn’t an unfettered story of positivity and progress. Many liberties have been won at a cost, and in the face of fierce criticism. This programme takes in both sides of that debate: the liberal victories of the ‘permissive society’ as well as the ferocious backlash of middle England at the perceived erosion of family values.
It’s a film that delves into some unexpected stories, all of which shine a light on a society in flux. Andrew sees how Nancy Mitford’s lighthearted guide to the difference between ‘upper-class’ and ‘vulgar’ language sounded the death knell of an old world. He will see how a former cavalry officer, who reported the conquest of Everest by Hillary and Tenzing in 1953, proved a harbinger of perhaps the most radical change of the era - as James Morris became Jan Morris: historian, journalist and a pioneering transgender role model for the new Elizabethan age.
Andrew also looks at the divergent lives of two women who made us confront our attitudes to gender, sexuality and power: movie starlet Diana Dors and wannabe movie starlet Ruth Ellis, who achieved fame of a completely different kind. And he will see how social upheaval - breaking class barriers and social/sexual taboos alike - was championed in Westminster by the likes of Roy Jenkins, reflected on a our television screens and theatres by performers like Graham Chapman, and rejected in the heart of middle England by moral crusaders like Mary Whitehouse.