Wednesday, 15 October 2008

1929 and all that

“It’s not that we’ve run out of money. Rather, we’ve run out of confidence” (the Times) - and without confidence, it all goes to pieces.

Here’s another clip from my series "American Voices", describing the crisis of confidence that followed the banking collapse of 1929, and the effect on one American town:

(And today we read unemployment in the UK is back to two million. The only solution? Spend spend spend! - that new handbag, the new iPod - do it for your country!)

Friday, 3 October 2008

peterloo massacre memorial

Plans are afoot (or should that be ahoof?) to create a fitting memorial in Manchester to the victims of the Peterloo Massacre. The idea is to create a series of granite bricks in the pavement, representing horses’ hooves converging on the hustings.

I think it’s a great idea. We were filming in Manchester for Timelines a couple of years ago, and the site of the massacre, St Peter’s Fields, is so ruthlessly modern: it’s a broad swathe of brick pavement under the looming arch of the GMex – it has lost all sense of the past – I think a subtle reminder underfoot of that memorable day would be brilliant. Watch the clip to get an idea of St Peter’s Fields today:

(To watch the whole of my Timelines report on the Peterloo Massacre, click on this link to Timelines TV).

The group behind for the new memorial are meeting at Manchester Town Hall on Saturday October 18th. It’s an open meeting to raise support – more info here. There’s lots of interesting material on their website, including different suggestions for the style of memorial (a lesson’s worth of resources there for interprations of Peterloo). Oh, and a great story about how they got Manchester City Council to change the wording (and the colour) of old blue plaque, from this:

To this:

Interesting, no? Radically different interpretations. (Although don’t read too much into the colour change – red is apparently used to commemorate events, blue to commemorate people).

Final note – a letter in The Times a couple of days ago:
“Whether the masses at Peterloo were ready for the vote is, of course, a matter of opinion”.
Good old Thunderer. Two hundred years on, and plus ├ža change.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

a run on the bank

In a week of financial turmoil, here's a reminder of what happened last time - a clip from my series "American Voices", describing a run on a bank in small town America, in the aftermath of the Crash of 1929...

The words of Raymond Tarver used in the clip come from the files of the Federal Writers' Project, an oral history project funded by the US Government in the mid to late 1930s. You can access the full transcript on the American Life Histories pages of the Library of Congress.
"There were thousands who went down during the panic - lost fortunes, homes, business. Some have survived; many never will. A great many were too old to begin building up again."
Tarver was a bank clerk who lost everything - his job, his savings. He got a job at an ice plant, then quit when he realised they were keeping him on out of charity. He only survived because his wife grew cabbages. Scary stuff.

Eventually he got a job in Washington, working for the Treasury. That's where the Federal Writers' Project caught up with him, in 1940 - by which time the Depression was all but over. Tarver recorded his debt of gratitude to FDR:
"I think our present administration the finest and most far reaching we have ever had. A tremendous lot has been done to help the country recover from the depression, and here in Washington we feel very keenly any harsh criticism of those in power."
What we've witnessed in the past couple of days - the Democrats in Congress throwing out Bush's bailout plan - is a strange reversal of the history of the New Deal years. Back then it was the Republicans who sniped at Roosevelt for his profligate abuse of taxpayers' money, buying his way out of the Depression by establishing work programmes like the Federal Writers' Project. Now, it's the Democrats defending the taxpayer - and another Depression looms. Tarver would be turning in his grave.