History doc A House Through Time should serve as a timely lesson for the occupants of No.10

There was a programme on this week about the occupants of No.10, and the way they dissemble, evade and use other, less powerful people for their own ends.

By Phil Cunnington
Friday, 29th May 2020, 3:45 pm

It wasn’t Emily Maitlis going off on one on Newsnight, it was the new series of historian David Olusoga’s enlightening A House Through Time (BBC2, Tuesday, 9pm). The premise is simple – by looking at the history of one house and its occupants, you can tell the story of a city, and even a nation.

This series studies a solid-looking 18th century home in the Redcliffe area of Bristol, built by a sea captain, Capt Edmund Saunders.

No.10 Guinea Street is a solid, white-washed home with a fluted, pineapple-topped facade, set over three stories with a massive basement. So far, so Rightmove, but this first programme uncovered foundling children, piracy and the 18th century equivalent of Nigel Farage.

Historian David Olusoga presented A House Through Time, focusing on No.10 Guinea Street, Bristol

John Shebbeare was a political essayist, who railed against continental incomers – not, in this case, Polish builders, but the Hanoverians from Germany who had taken the throne. Shebbeare sounds like an awful man, who, much like Farage, is featured in satirical cartoons and, according to diarist and Renaissance woman Fanny Burney, “aims for wit, but stops short at rudeness”.

Hanging over all this knockabout fun, however, is the spectre of slavery and Olusoga rightly never lets you forget the house, its city and the country were built on the backs of thousands, kidnapped and set to work for the Empire.

It’s a timely reminder that, through history, ruling classes have never shied away from sacrificing others in pursuit of power, or money. And it’s something the occupant of another No.10 should be reminded of.

Men at The Barre (BBC4, Weds, 9pm) was a great doc about grown-up Billy Elliotts, showcasing the incredible athleticism, grace and dedication of male ballet dancers. Worth a watch.

An original drama lower down the programme guide, We Hunt Together (Alibi, Weds/Thurs, 10pm) was definitely a curate’s egg. Blackly comic in parts, it still feels like it’s yet to get going after two episodes.