Archive for the ‘women’ Category

50 objects for 50 years. No 28. Educating Rita.

Monday, October 29th, 2018

In the 1980 play (and 1983 film) Educating Rita the OU was portrayed as a force not only for education, but for profound personal transformation of the eponymous student, who in turn changes the lives of those around her, including that of her tutor. Following a student from the time she overcomes the difficulty of entry to higher education – she is literally impeded, as she cannot open the door at the start of the play – to her final entrance and scene when she is calm and confident about her ability to succeed within the conventional academy, the emphasis was on personal liberation through learning. It positioned the OU as part of a long tradition of motivating forces within tales of women who through their own transformations transform others. Russell’s conventionally structured play echoes the tale (recounted by Ovid in the eighth century CE) of the sculptor Pygmalion, who fell in love with a statue he had carved. It also may have been inspired by the 1912 play by G. B. Shaw and a film, My Fair Lady, 1964. Russell did some of his research for the play at the OU and in the film course materials appear and are discussed.  OU academic Gill Kirkup noted that while the play ‘purports to show the change in a mature women student who takes an Open University course’ it revealed (if it was ‘indicative of common beliefs’ about the OU) that the OU’s teaching system ‘seems to be widely misunderstood’.  The OU’s pedagogy appeared to mimic that of the one-to-one Oxford college tutorial. Rita gains cultural capital through her trips to the theatre, does not mention watching the OU’s BBC broadcasts and is dismissive of the possibilities of learning through television. Nevertheless, the text was used to illuminate and support the OU’s mission. According to OU staff tutor Paula James, when students studied Pygmalion on the level one Arts Foundation course, A103 (which was presented 1998 to 2008), an Educating Liza sketch was presented for the arts event evening during the residential school week. ‘So Rita in one version or another has long been part of the OU fabric and culture!’

To celebrate forty years of the OU, in 2009, real-life Tutor David Heley and OU student Lisa Hubbard played Rita and Frank in a production of Educating Rita presented by the Open University in the South East with Pitchy Breath Theatre. This was part of the celebrations of The Open University’s fortieth birthday. The production toured the UK, playing in theatres, schools, community centres and prisons. In the written programme to accompany it there was information about the OU and links to the website. The Regional Director explained that although ‘Willy Russell’s play is not a very accurate presentation of Open University tutorials it does capture the excitement of learning with the Open University and the life changing experience which our courses can bring.’ Director and Actor David Heley said of a performance in HMP Swaleside that the audience there was ‘totally engaged’ and that ‘many of the prisoners said how they recognised themselves within the play’s action and meaning’.

In 1983 the play was deployed for marketing by the OU, which produced a flyer to accompany a professional performance.

Part of an advertisement in the Educating Rita programme, Derby Playhouse, 7 September – 8 October 1983

EDUCATING RITA. YOU COULD BE A RITA TOO!

As you watch Rita’s intellect developing throughout the play you might be tempted to ask ‘Could this really happen in everyday life?’ The answer is ‘Most definitely yes’ as thousands of adults have proved during the last thirteen years of The Open University. So far more than 57,000 have graduated with a BA degree and very many more have taken single one-year courses. There are no educational qualifications for The Open University, admission is on a rst-come, rst- served basis, and study mainly involves working at home. Of 5,945 students who graduated last year 17 per cent are housewives, 8 per cent are clerical and office staff and 8 per cent are technicians. 9 per cent had left school at 15. Nearly half of the graduates were women.

In Educating Rita, as the play’s title implies, Rita is both being educated and educating others. Throughout the play there is a debate about the nature of learning and knowledge and the extent to which she is transformed by her own efforts compared to the influence of her tutor, Frank. Initially Rita feels that her mind is ‘full of junk’ and that a ‘good clearing out’ is required and that what she learns from Frank ‘feeds me inside’. She admits that she nearly wrote ‘Frank knows all the answers’ across her exam paper. In addition, she dismisses as ‘crap’ Howards End, a novel which involves co-operative learning between practical people and intellectuals. She expresses scepticism of the approach favoured by theorist Jean Piaget. She describes how at school the pupils would be having ‘a great time talkin’ about somethin’ and the next thing [the teachers] wanna do is to turn it into a lesson’.

As noted here perhaps one reason she changes is to fit into the academic world. She alters her accent from Scouse to that which the stage directions call a ‘peculiar voice’ but is then dismayed that she has become, in her words, a ‘freak’ and a ‘half-caste’. Echoing this, Frank refers to himself as Mary Shelley, author of a novel about the creation of a man-made person, Frankenstein. Having assessed the notion of learning as transmission, she then takes control of her own learning and makes only the changes that she requires. In addition, she is able to teach her tutor as well. Just as he asks questions, so does she. Asked why she did not attend a conventional university following her compulsory education she answers with a question: ‘What? After goin’ to the school I went to?’ Once Frank has suggested to her that ‘you’ll have a much better understanding of something if you discover it in your own terms’, she claims to have ‘begun to find me’ and she reverts to her previous name. She changes, but not into a typical student, at Frank’s ‘Victorian-built university’.

For her last appearance she does not, as she did before, unpack her notebook and pen. Instead she picks up some scissors and draws on her own skills, which she employs within the learning environment. She starts to cut hair. Neither Delilah nor Sweeney Todd, when Rita returns to hairdressing she wields the scissors in a more knowing fashion than at the beginning. This framing device indicates Rita’s circular route, her return to her roots, offering reassurance that, while learning changes people, the effects are likely to be positive. Rita, by taking flight from the humdrum, paradoxically took the university from where Geoffrey Crowther had placed it in his speech at its foundation, as ‘disembodied and airborne’, and brought it down to earth. In summarising its activities as ‘degrees for dishwashers’ Russell’s character domesticated the OU and placed it, reassuringly, if counter-intuitively, in front of the kitchen sink.

 

50 objects for 50 years. No. 17. Jennie Lee Buildings

Monday, August 13th, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are two buildings which have been named after Jennie Lee on the Walton Hall campus. A library which she opened, now demolished and a building which is the home of the educational technologists at the OU. Jennie Lee House, Edinburgh, is where the OU in Scotland is based. Despite this recognition by the OU itself, sometimes Jennie Lee has been eclipsed. A recent article by Pete Dorey, Vol 29, no 2 2015, in the journal Contemporary British History about the foundation of the OU was entitled ‘”Well, Harold insists on having it!”The political struggle to establish the Open University, 1965-67’. The first line of the abstract reads ‘The establishment of The Open University has been widely lauded as Harold Wilson’s most successful policy achievement and his enduring legacy, a view with which Wilson himself concurred’.

One of the myths about the OU is that it has a single founding father, Harold Wilson. Promoted by Wilson himself who told a story, many times, of jotting down the idea just before settling down to that Great British institution, Sunday lunch in East 1963. The dominant narrative is of the Great Man and his swift creation, between 1963 when he penned the idea and its opening in 1969. There are precedents for such myths in many origins stories. It was clothed in classical garb by David Sewart, onetime Director of Student Services and Professor in Distance Education at the OU. He felt that the OU was ‘like Athena springing fully grown and fully armed from the head of Zeus’; it ‘appeared to have no mother and never to have had the opportunity to have been an adolescent, let alone a child’.

This categorisation of the OU as Harold Wilson’s ‘pet scheme’ (as The Times called it) marginalises the depth of its roots in the traditions of part-time education for adults, developed from the eighteenth century, correspondence courses, associated with the rapid industrialisation of the nineteenth century and on university extension initiatives, which started in the 1870s. It has also developed ideas derived from sandwich courses, summer schools, radio and television broadcasts, for which there were precedents in the twentieth century. It also marginalises the role of Jennie Lee, the OU’s ‘midwife’, to use a term employed by MSP Claire Baker. The sentence in Contemporary British History written by Pete Dorey and quoted above, goes on to say that the policy of having an Open University was ‘was mostly drafted and developed by Jennie Lee’. Dorey also adds that ‘The Open University only became established due to Lee’s dogged determination and tenacity’

In 1963, Wilson then Leader of the Labour Party, in opposition called for a university of the air. He didn’t fill in the details and, after the General Election of 1964, he was busy being Prime Minister. He handed the brief to a Labour MP who had over 20 years of experience of the Commons: Jennie Lee.

On the campaign trail in Bristol in 1943, where Jennie Lee was defeated, and Cannock which she represented 1945-70.

She became Britain’s first Arts Minister in the Labour government of 1964. She was 60, widowed for four years and fearless. She seized responsibility of making an idea of ‘a university of the air’ into a reality. Keeping well clear of the civil servants who dealt with other universities, it was she who decided on the form the new institution would take. In the face of opposition she developed a tiny sketch into a complete university. As she said to her senior civil servant, Ralph Toomey, in 1967, before the OU had opened, when its future was uncertain: ‘that little bastard that I have hugged to my bosom and cherished, that all the others have tried to kill off,will thrive’. She was able to do this because she had a clear idea of what she wanted – a ‘great independent university’ based on something like the Scottish system of higher education. A coalminer’s daughter who had received a bursary to study at Edinburgh University during the 1926 strike which impoverished her community she determined to beat the established order at its own game, to ‘outsnob the snobs’, as she put it. Her late spouse, Aneurin Bevan, had become a miner on leaving elementary school and had received little formal education, though he noted in 1952 how he valued ‘superior educational opportunities’. She mentioned him when she spoke of the origins of the Open University, recalling how they both knew ‘that there were people in the mining villages who left school at 14 or 15 who had first-class intellects’. This may have led her to create an advisory committee which did not include representatives from the principal university providers of adult education. In addition, she maintained control. She not only created but chaired the committee.

There were plenty of sceptics. Many Conservatives largely hated it. The BBC had long produced educational materials and was unimpressed by this upstart. Whitehall was also snooty and the press largely agreed. Within the Higher Education sector several critics argued that the money should be spent elsewhere. Jennie Lee produced a White Paper before the 1966 general election. Wilson recalled her contribution when the Cabinet met at Chequers 50 years ago just prior to March 1966 election. He said:

At the end of the afternoon anybody was free to speak on anything. Jennie got up and made a passionate speech about the University of the Air. She said the greatest creation of the previous Labour government was Nye’s National Health Service but that now we were engaged on an operation which would make just as much difference to the country. We were all impressed. She was a tigress.

Her Feb 1966 White Paper, ‘A University of the Air’ made it clear that “There can be no question of offering to students a makeshift project inferior in quality to other universities. That would defeat its whole purpose”. She got it into the manifesto, Labour won the election in March and, returned to office, she steered the proposed OU past the sterling crisis, past tax increases, past credit restraints & the prices and incomes standstill and towards her friend, Lord Goodman. He produced a set of figures for the cost of the OU which were a massive underestimate. The OU’s first Vice Chancellor called it ‘perhaps a fortunate accident’. Perhaps. Or perhaps it was an astute political move.

What today would derail a Minister – rudeness to colleagues, indifference to her Secretary of State, visible contempt for the department in which she was located – were her strengths. She didn’t care if civil servants, or colleagues, were offended, or wouldn’t work with her or didn’t trust her. She wasn’t building a career. She wanted an Open University. It was Jennie who decided that the OU would offer degrees, would be open to all, even the unqualified and would operate independently, separately, and with the highest academic standards. Adult education should be more than what she called ‘dowdy and mouldy… old-fashioned night schools … hard benches’. She knew that Adult Education was, as the OU’s first Vice-Chancellor, another Scot called Walter Perry, put it, ‘the patch on the backside of our educational trousers’. In 1965 she told the Commons: ’I am not interested in having a poor man’s university of the air, which is the sort of thing which one gets if nothing else is within our reach. We should set our sights higher than that.’

In Walton Hall there is a painting of Jennie Lee. She is portrayed as being in many places at once, including in the Commons, at the hustings and attending a degree ceremony. This is how it should be for, as the Founding Chancellor said when opening the OU, ‘This University has no cloisters – a word meaning closed. Hardly even shall we have a campus… the University will be disembodied’. The OU is everywhere around us and, being without its own body, it needs our bodies.

Not merely to conceive, but actually to make happen a university which sought to match the standards of the best in the sector but had no admission requirements, which attempted to employ print, correspondence and television in a way which transcended the potential of each, which made a reality of reaching every kind of learner in every corner of the United Kingdom, required a vast act of faith and a bloody-minded determination.

50 objects for 50 years No 8. The Wilson Building

Monday, June 11th, 2018

As Mary Wilson died a few days ago on June 6 2018, this week’s object commemorates her family’s contribution to OU by considering the Wilson Building on the Walton Hall campus, seen on this video.

It is here that Harold’s role is outlined. He had a vision of a university of the air and, as Prime Minister, he had the clout, to ensure that his idea, voiced in 1963, was developed by Jennie Lee and others and implemented by 1969.

Mary and Harold married in 1940 and had two sons. One son, Giles, became a teacher and later a train driver. The other, Robin (born in 1943) taught at the OU. After a difficult start, as the interview panel was anxious not to be seen to favour the son of a Prime Minister, Robin was appointed. His significant academic qualifications and huge enthusiasm were soon demonstrated. He became a Professor, the Head of the Mathematics Department and a Dean of his Faculty. Despite the supercilious portrayal of an OU mathematics don called Robin by Cambridge graduate Hugh Laurie in A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Robin Wilson’s innovative and supportive teaching of mathematics (he is pictured above) has been fondly remembered by many students. Numerous OU learners have memories of the frightening and incomprehensible world of school maths dispelled by Robin’s engaging ability to teach.

The Wilsons were able to see beyond party politics. Robin graciously recognised the role of Margaret Thatcher in the development of the OU, calling her its ‘stepmother’. Her role at the OU has been assessed elsewhere.  Mary Wilson attended Thatcher’s funeral. She was also present at one of Harold’s last public engagement’s, the opening of the OU building named in his honour.

Wilson’s press secretary called the OU Wilson’s ‘monument’.  The description is an apt one if the reference is to the words written for Christopher Wren, lector si monumentum requiris circumspice (‘Reader, if you seek his monument – look around you’).

The story of the Wilsons is reminder that for many families once one person becomes involved with the OU other family members become entangled. Couples married after meeting at residential schools, there are many staff who have spouses, and offspring working for the OU and many students swear that it was the support of family members which got them through their degrees. If you visit the OU’s Milton Keynes campus, when you next pass the Wilson building, give it a second glance and maybe give a nod to Harold.

50 objects for 50 years. No 6

Monday, May 28th, 2018

‘I’m the self inflicted, mind detonator…I’m a Firestarter’

Each Monday I present a new object. In this weather those not frantically revising may well be enjoying barbeques. So I’ve selected an appropriate element as my object of the week. As a clue to what it is, I’ve turned to an OU module so fresh that it hasn’t even been presented. Environment and Society, DD213, is due for release in October 2018. Here is a sneak preview of the opening sentence:

Fire is both a naturally occurred chemical reaction on Earth and a tool adapted by humans. It can modify environments and serve to shape social interactions between individuals, groups of humans and the places in which they live.

The idea of something which is essential, which can modify environments and shape social relations can be applied to education.When, at its opening on 24th April 1969, the OU’s first Chancellor Lord Crowther sought an image for the human mind he compared it ‘to a fire
which can be set alight and blown with the divine afflatus’.

Crowther contrasted this idea of an inspiration, which comes from the word inspire, meaning to breathe or blow onto, with the image of the mind as a vessel into which one could pour knowledge. The OU, by providing intellectual tinder and matches, could inspire learners to light the fire in their bellies, or minds. Moreover, they were encouraged to seek out tutors and fire questions at them. It also brings to mind the legend of the phoenix, a bird which regenerates through fire. The distinctive avian pops up in the series of stories about a character who appears to have limited opportunities until his life is transformed when he attends an educational establishment, Harry Potter.

At the time of the OU’s opening a popular educationalist was Paulo Freire. Freire argued that much of what was called education amounted to ‘educational banking’. Teachers filled the heads of learners with their narratives, even if these narratives were not relevant to the learners. Treating learners as ‘‘receiving objects’, reinforced existing social relations and impeded the development of a student’s critical consciousness. It required students to be passive and did not encourage dialogue. Transmission-focused teaching prevented students from renewing cultural knowledge through thoughtful conversations. However, Freire argued, this was not the only way to proceed. If learning involved the learners and encouraged activity and non-hierarchical, dialogue, then, through that learning, people could ‘make and remake themselves’. Learners, could make their own meanings with the new knowledge they constructed being based on what they already knew and what they were trying to achieve. This idea of learning, not as pouring cold water, but lighting fires, was perhaps in Crowther’s mind when he spoke back in 1969. At the OU’s first degree ceremony, in 1973, an honorary doctorate was presented Freire.

Crowther’s image might have reminded listeners of the importance of air for combustion, how the circulation of air can ensure that thinking is not congested, how the airwaves could be used to deliver the materials and support the interactions necessary for learning. Yet, while OU broadcasts travelled through the ether, the university did not emerge out of thin air, nor were its subsequent achievements confined to the realm of the abstract.

Crowther’s image of fire may also have built on associations of fire with truth, sometimes a rather painful disruptive truth. While fire serves many other functions in stories and songs there are plenty of literary reminders of this role. These include the Biblical account of Moses who rather unwillingly received Divine Instruction from a fire, a burning bush in a desert of ignorance. Luke cites Jesus as  holding the revolutionary and disruptive view that ‘I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!’ When exiled Russian revolutionaries established, in 1900, what became the most successful underground Russian newspaper in 50 years, they called it Iskra (Spark). The name was later adopted by the OU branch of the University and College Union for its newsletter.

Fire’s association with truth was perhaps reinforced by the comic inversion of this in Hillaire Belloc’s 1907 poem Matilda Who told Lies, and was Burned to Death which [plot spoiler alert] concludes as below:

For every time she shouted ‘Fire!’
They only answered ‘Little Liar!’
And therefore when her Aunt returned,
Matilda, and the House, were Burned.

While for students, education can be the lighting of a fire which provides warmth, they are also entangled in their societies, communities, families. Others around them, witnesses to the changes, can feel burned. In a play, later film, about an OU student, Educating Rita, Rita’s husband resents the time she spends studying. A genuine student, interviewed in an early study of the OU, captured the sense of the challenges provided by learning through the OU when she summarised her experience thus: ‘It messes up your whole life, but it’s worth it.’

A century before the OU Louisa May Alcott wrote her novel Little Women. In this she sets out some of the emotions you might associate with writing a TMA which can involve both inspiration and perspiration:

She did not think herself a genius by any means; but when the writing fit came on, she gave herself up to it with entire abandon….The divine afflatus usually lasted a week or two, and then she emerged from her “vortex,” hungry, sleepy, cross, or despondent.

Having started with the Prodigy, I’ll conclude with Elvis Costello, who reminded us that indoor fireworks while they can ‘dazzle or delight or bring a tear’ can also ‘still burn your fingers’. Education, sociable, collaborative engagement which enables you to see things in a different light, can be edgy, risky, can throw your preconceptions over a cliff or into a furnace. But that is also its pleasure.

The OU in fifty objects: some suggestions made by staff and students

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

Reminder of the 2018 strike by UCU members at the OU

People have proposed objects which tell a story about the distinctiveness of the OU and its approach to learning and teaching and have also suggested personal narratives. Alison sent a picture of a mug onto which had been printed a photo of University and College Union strikers from the OU in the Spring of 2018. Margaret (Mags) suggested the repurposed kitchen table or cupboard. One of the distinctive impacts of the POU has been to take higher education off the campus and put it into kitchens and onto buses and into prisons. It is often while at home that students receive both their first parcel of OU materials and, after they have completed an assignment have sat awaiting the results. Jon thought of both of those occasions when he proposed that ‘It had to be the fabled brown box that materials turned up in that caused equal fear and excitement (and latterly the frustration when I couldn’t find scissors fast enough to cut the plastic strapping!)’ He then added ‘Surely the F5 key has to get its own entry as well (as any student that has ever waited for results will tell you)’. Here is a blog from another student posted in 2011:

I always stress about test results; not so much before the test, but while I’m waiting to find out how I did. You’re alerted by the OU Student site when results are in.

<F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5>

I’ve worn the letters off my F5 key.

Anyway – results are in. For TMA01, the assessment for Book 1 – Global Warming, I achieved…

*drum roll*

96 per cent!

*thud*

That was the sound of my jaw dropping. I’m absolutely delighted, to be honest.

The Open University does not just exist in people’s homes. It has also made use of university premises, for tutorials and summer schools. For his object Chris proposed ‘Residential school crates! Fanfold computer paper! Green pens! Yellow special circa folders!’. For those who have ever attended or indeed packed for, residential schools, and I have done both, this may help you recall the excitement, the enthusiasm, the learning, the discos of summer schools. Typically students would be in residence for typically one week. They would attend lecturers and seminars, work in the laboratories or go on field or gallery or museum trips. Here is Sally Ford’s recollection of her experiences of a residential school on the Nottingham University site. She studied SXR205, Exploring the molecular world:

The first day of activities was so hectic, I thought I would be left behind at times, but on voicing my worries to my fellow students I realised that everyone was in the same boat, and more importantly, we were all helping each other and working as a team instinctively. Over five- and-a-half days, I had written over 80 pages in my lab notebook. More importantly, I had put an awful lot of theory into practice, and got vital laboratory experience that I would not have been able to gain other- wise.

Looking forward to further ideas.

Midnight oil on filtered water – unusual connections

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

In 1960 work began on the Aswan High Dam. Built in Egypt with the support of the 800 Russian engineers it became an emblem of the Cold War as the West focused on saving the colossal 12th century BCE sandstone figures which were going to be submerged in a new lake unless action was taken. A film producer who had helped to found the company Ulster Television and expert scuba diver William MacQuitty (1905 –2004) proposed to save the temple by building a dam around the complex. This would be filled with clear, filtered water. Architect Jane Drew developed plans which imagined visitors taking a lift down from a restaurant at the top of the dam to curved pathways with circular windows and bubbles of glass. Encased in bubbles, tunnels, and shafts they would be able to view the temple structures which would be preserved by being under water.

MacQuitty went on to work with Queen’s University, Belfast to make an early example of late night adult education Midnight Oil while Jane Drew went on to design many of the buildings for the OU’s Walton Hall site. She was made an honorary Doctor of the University at the first degree ceremony.

Ode to Joy

Thursday, February 9th, 2012
Is this part of the secret history of the OU? Did Garry B Trudeau’s character Duke (based on Hunter S Thompson) invent the idea of teaching via the tele? Well, the cartoon dates from the wrong millennium so it is unlikely. However, it does foreground that technologies have often been seen as the cheap and efficient way to deliver education as if it was another commodity which could be pumped out down the cathode tubes.  For a more sophisticated understanding of the history of the OU try the website.
 
And here is a genuine bit of history which ought to be less secret: the website owes much to the work of Rachel Garnham the Senior Project Manager who is leaving the project today in order to have a baby. Project minding a baby should be easy after making sure that things here run to time and budget.
  
Another secret (possibly) is that she will select a name for the forthcoming youth based on your votes. Top of the polls at the moment? Walter Perry II. 
 
Bye bye, au revoir really, Rachel, many thanks for all the work and we look forward to meeting Walter Junior.
 

Cawdor Kiss

Monday, September 12th, 2011

Amanda Wrigley has contributed another account of an OU play. This Macbeth was made in 1977 as ‘a shortened version concentrating on the main characters and line of action’ as the OU notes put it. Information as to the scenes cut or telescoped was provided in the printed students’ ‘Supplementary Material’. The notes for viewers explain about how the actors sought to achieve particular effects. Highlighting that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth kiss twice, briefly, the ‘television notes’ explain: ‘we tried to convey that they loved each other securely and maturely, not obsessively’. Although there is a large cast for some scenes mostly there was a simple set for this production and often a black background. Perhaps this was due to budgetary constraints, or for artistic reasons or in order to foreground the plot and the words. Unlike the OU’s Oedipus this play foregrounded that it was made for television. When the witches gather round a cauldron there are close ups of images overlaid on the bubbling liquid. This may owe something to Roman Polanski’s 1971 film Macbeth in which the Thane of Cawdor gazes into the witches’ cauldron and sees a montage of images. In the film Francesca Annis played Lady Macbeth. In the OU’s version it was Ann Bell. During a scene between Macbeth, Banquo and King Duncan when Duncan announces that his elder son Malcolm is to be the Prince of Cumberland the camera cuts to him, and then to a petulant-looking Macbeth, who later speaks directly to camera. Towards the end a sword fight is shown in slow motion. The medium was being used to convey the text in ways that the author (c1564-1616) may have found difficult to envisage. (more…)

Women viewers sought

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

Are you female? Do you have memories of watching OU programmes? If so then Warwick and the OU would like to hear from you. Please send us your recollections, and pass then onto Warwick as well. Rachel Moseley of the University of Warwick is working on a project on the history of television for women in Britain. Others involved are Dr Helen Wheatley (University of Warwick), Dr Helen Wood (De Montfort University, Leicester); Postdoctoral Research Fellow: Dr. Mary Irwin (University of Warwick; Doctoral Researcher: Ms. Hazel Collie (De Montfort University). The project brings together archival and audience research methods in order to map this untold history and explore women viewers’ memories of the television that has been addressed to them. On the project see here.

A307 drama: from the complexities of Oedipus to Balcony baloney

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

That a drama can reflect and illuminate the period in which it is produced and the pedagogy of the OU can be seen through an examination of the 1977 BBC/OU production of Oedipus the King for A307.

The seventies were a time when nostalgia became marketed with large sales of Small is Beautiful (1973) and The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady (1977). In The heritage industry: Britain in a climate of decline (Methuen, London, 1987) Hewison claimed that half of Britain’s museums had been founded since 1971. It was also a period when, to some, it appeared as if the state and society were under threat. In 1976 the government was forced to request a$3.9 billion loan (the largest ever made by that institution) from the IMF. The titles of some of the books published in the period reflect a sense of disruption: Is Britain Dying?, Britain against itself (two American studies), Britain’s Economic Problem, The Breakup of Britain, Policing the Crisis, The End of Britain. There was another perceived threat as well. Men’s status appeared to be undermined by equal opportunities legislation (notably the Equal Pay Act 1970) and more women were attending universities. Perhaps this is why the theme of the inevitability of male entrapment was a source of humour within popular situation comedies of the period including The Likely Lads and Rising Damp. In another tale of men fated to struggle, Steptoe and Son (a sixties TV series revived between 1970 and 1974) although Albert had a far larger role that Laius and there was no Jocasta in Oil Drum Lane and Harold Steptoe did not actually kill his father Albert, he did threaten him in many episodes. On the stages of the UK there was a rise in radical theatre. Both Gay Sweatshop  and Monstrous Regiment were formed in 1975. Perhaps more directly related to the original tale, challenging interpretations of classic plays were being promoted, such as Dennis Potter’s critique of suburban life Schmoedipus which was broadcast as a ‘Play for Today’ in 1974 and repeated by the BBC in 1975. (more…)