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The shadow of World War II loomed long.
There was a desperate need to rebuild
bomb-damaged towns and cities
because, above all,
people wanted a safe place to live and to bring up their families.
In the 1950s, the government was under pressure to build new homes
and started an ambitious building programme.
The time to look forward had come at last,
and the British wanted everything around them
to reflect that sense of optimism.
Into the nation's living rooms and kitchens came bright new materials,
man-made fabrics and laboursaving devices.
For the post-war generation of homeowners,
domesticity had never been more comfortable.
But there were problems.
Some of the new products and innovations
they welcomed into the home were killers.
With the aid of modern science,
I'm going to search out these hidden assassins and reveal them.
It is unbelievable.
Just by burning that flame, we're going to produce a deadly gas?
Yes, we are.
The post-war home was the most dangerous place you could be.
Welcome to Hidden Killers Of The Post-War Home.
'It's a two-storey, three-bedroom £4,300 house,
'built in the modern manner.
'Doors slide or fold,
'there's underfloor electrical heating
'and many other bright ideas as well.'
Gosh, isn't this wonderful?
It looks so familiar, it reminds me of the houses of my grandparents.
So exuberant and optimistic.
At the time, it must have felt like living in the height of modernity.
Little did they know how dangerous it really was.
This was the age of boom and affluent revival,
especially for the middle classes,
who made up some 15 to 20 million of the population.
They were richer than they had ever been before
and they were spending more than they ever had before.
Macmillan was right in 1957 when he said they'd never had it so good.
What could be safer than a modern home?
I'm going upstairs to find our first hidden killer...
to the child's bedroom.
Children now had rooms of their own and all sorts of newfangled toys
that were designed to be educational
and to prepare them for their future careers.
So the girls had electric irons and ovens
and the boys had model aircraft and train sets and...
Although the odd girl did creep in.
Look, there's me.
Yeah, I had the chemistry set.
It came as a Christmas present,
and it was only literally an hour before I'd blown it up.
Chemistry sets throughout the years
have reflected many changes in science and society,
and never more so than after the Second World War.
Young would-be chemists,
inspired by the apocalyptic images in the comics of the day
and their soldier fathers, could not resist experimenting,
with terrifying consequences.
Well, this is the chemistry set.
I took my vintage chemistry set to Joy Ledger
at the Bristol Science Centre
to find out just how dangerous this box really was.
So, what's most alarming about it, I suppose?
Copper sulphate would definitely have a hazard warning on it today.
The test tubes are so flimsy.
They really are. You wouldn't use anything like this
in a lab at school these days.
These heated with a Bunsen burner wouldn't last very long,
they'd melt very quickly.
Gosh, it's tiny.
And this would go...
-..where? Into there?
-The gas supply.
It is unbelievable that they could actually have...
And there must be some sort of tap that turns the gas on and off.
So you've got the full force of the gas coming in
that would feed the whole cooker
-just going through that little flame.
-Oh, my goodness.
We decide to read the instruction booklet - always a good idea.
There is absolutely no diagrams at all
and actually I think it says up here that,
"You will see there are no diagrams
"so that you can be more liberal with your experiment.
"You can change the apparatus as you feel."
I'm just staggered at the lack of instructions.
The idea of quantities, concentrations,
there's no indication of how much solution to add to each one,
no mention of how to dispose of the chemicals at the end.
It's just frightening.
And there is absolutely no mention of parental supervision.
Still, at least they are clear
about what to do if your chemistry kit-loving chum has a problem.
It actually says here, "If the clothing of the person is on fire,
"pull the person down to the floor
"or strike them sharply behind the knees so they fall."
"Cover them with any materials you might have to hand,
"with rugs, cloth or carpet, etc." And then it says,
"You will have used your scientific knowledge in the noblest way.
"You will have applied science to the service of Man,"
with capital letters, "and probably saved life."
And it says underneath, "Science is never evil,
"except when wrongly used by Man."
Many of the chemicals in chemistry sets were caustic,
so they would burn the skin and irritate it,
which of course would be particularly dangerous
if it got into the eyes.
Part of the point of the chemistry sets was that they exploded.
They wanted to make these explosions and the bright colours to impress
friends and make it look like a magic trick.
Explosions could burn, set the hair on fire, set their clothes on fire,
damage the eyes, even blind a child.
And of course, children wanted to share these with their friends
and they'd think nothing of putting some of the chemicals
in their pockets when they went out.
And of course that could burn holes in the material
and then in the skin, or even catch fire spontaneously.
Today, health and safety regulations are more stringent
than they were in 1950s cinemas,
so we are wearing goggles to do an experiment to illustrate
how lethal this kit could be.
Right, now, in here we have the permanganate,
which is the chemical we saw in the...
the purple chemical that was in the kit.
Nerys Shah, our lab technician, is going to add glycerol -
a clear, odourless liquid that might have been found
in the home medicine cabinet
as it was used to treat constipation and sore throats.
What we're going to do is make a little pile
of the potassium permanganate in the middle
and then I am just going to pour a couple of drops
of the glycerol on top.
So it sort of looks like nothing is happening.
-There we go.
Oh, my goodness.
It's not necessarily child's play.
So it makes quite a lot of smoke and some beautiful purple flames.
-And quite a smell!
-Yeah, a little bit of a smell.
Oh, my word. And that hesitation,
that moment of it looking like nothing is going to happen,
is the most dangerous thing of all, isn't it?
Well, if I was a child, I'd have moved on to something else by then.
Nerys only used a small amount of potassium permanganate
and a drop of glycerol.
Imagine if we'd been more liberal in the amounts we used.
Unsurprisingly, the American chemistry kits
were even more spectacular.
There was even an American chemistry set that included uranium dust
and a mini-Geiger counter
so that children could do experiments
and measure the radiation.
The company didn't stop making it because of the dangers of the dust,
it just didn't sell very well.
Uranium really actually wasn't very exciting.
It didn't explode and have puffs of smoke and nobody wanted to buy it.
Eventually, new laws came in
which required the kits to be non-explosive and non-toxic.
But it's worth remembering what the chemistry set manufacturers
used to say -
"Experimenter today, scientist tomorrow."
I think the really interesting thing about chemistry sets,
if you interview eminent scientists nowadays,
many of them will actually say it was having a chemistry set
as a child that sparked their interest in the science.
I'm in search of our next hidden killer.
The 1950s home had benefited
from the technological developments of the war.
There was a belief suffusing the age
that science could transform everything.
And it did.
In the 1950s, there was a significant development
in the understanding of the science of plastics and polymers.
A Nobel Prize was awarded for
advances in macromolecular chemistry.
Suddenly, all of these things that weren't possible before
Cheap, pliable, easily made.
For better or worse, this was when our love affair with plastics began.
So you have the hard and transparent plastic
in the eyeholes of the gas masks,
and then you have these flexible foam toys,
and then you had so many other different plastic objects.
Plastics are made of polymers.
The breakthrough was understanding
that polymers are very large molecules.
What's special about them is different types of polymers
can make hard or soft, flexible or rigid forms,
so they can be manufactured into a range of products,
from furniture to clothing.
These objects that would previously have been luxury items
now began to be mass-produced objects
and available to ordinary people.
There was, I suppose, a democratisation.
It just made things possible for the ordinary person.
And they're looking forward to a brighter future
and the future of plastics.
One of the things plastics could make
were comfortable new polyurethane sofas.
The perfect setting for the 1950s family to relax with a cigarette.
These were the days when smoking
was part of the background of everyday life.
A combination which would prove to be particularly problematic.
So, Emma, we're not just hanging out in these lovely chairs in this yard
for no reason. What are these about?
These are an example of post-war 1950s-style furniture.
In the post-war period we began to use polyurethane foams.
Polyurethane foams are semi-rigid foams that allow a level of comfort
without being permanently compressed, without being very hard.
And they allow for a number of different shapes and styles.
So we needed this development
-in order to have this kind of change in design?
Yes, we did. Polyurethane foam sofas are much more comfortable
than the early horsehair type
and the hardback chairs that we used to have.
So there was a big change at that point in time,
but that big change came at a cost.
That cost was realised by one unlucky couple.
Plastic itself, as a singular form it is flammable,
but it's not overly flammable.
You have to really hold a light under it to get it going.
It's the additive that you put with the plastic
to turn it into like a polystyrene, or into a foam for a mattress,
or foam for your settee.
So it was usually the additive that was put into it
which was the flammable piece.
That means that those foams
and the materials that cover the chairs can be
ignited by a cigarette or a match, if you were to drop one,
and then they can burn very quickly and very freely.
However, it's not just the fact that these materials caught fire easily
but how they burned that was the problem.
The way that the polyurethane burns
is actually in and of itself dangerous.
So the foam forms a liquid and it runs down the material
to form a pool underneath, and that pool becomes ignited.
So you can have a flowing pool of burning liquid.
It's almost like having a flammable liquid fire,
like petrol, underneath your sofa. That's how bad it can be.
But that wasn't the only issue.
These substances can give off very toxic fumes.
And, in fact, if you're in a room with foam that was burning,
the cyanide gas that was given off
would kill you long before the flames or the heat would.
It wasn't only the new plastic furniture
that could cause a problem.
Cheap and easy to wash plastic clothing
caused a sensation when it burst into our wardrobes in the 1950s.
Not dangerous in its own right, but in the post-war home environment
it could be lethal.
There will have been open fires,
there may have been electric fires, probably without guards on them.
Some little one-bar fires didn't have guards at all for a while.
So certainly there was a lot of different opportunities
to get yourself burnt.
Synthetic clothing, for example,
when it starts to burn, very dangerously, it melts.
And so it's often the melting drops of plastic
onto the skin that can cause really severe and deep burns.
The January 1955 issue of Picture Post highlighted the dangers.
There was a serious problem with youngsters,
particularly little girls,
in front of the fire wearing lovely frilly nighties,
looking ever so sweet.
Trouble was, a spark might come out of the fire
or they might lean a little bit too close and - whoosh! -
the nylon nightie would just go up in flames,
leaving horrendous burns or maybe even killing the child.
300 children and old people died each year
from burns due to flammable materials,
which is something we would just not tolerate today.
The Royal Society For The Prevention Of Accidents
had a campaign to raise awareness.
They'd noticed the significant difference
in the number of incidents between boys and girls.
They had a suggestion.
We wanted people to go over to wear pyjamas,
which were much neater and tidier around the body,
and of course to guard the fire.
In October 1954,
an Act of Parliament decreed gas and electric fires must be manufactured
with a secure guard.
And while furniture today is protected by a fire retardant,
there are no such rules for pyjamas.
Now I'm going to the living room to find our next hidden killer.
One of the luxury items that made its way into the house
in the early 1950s was the television.
The Coronation in June 1953
was one of the first events to challenge the supremacy of radio.
It turned a fledgling service
into the beginning of the mass medium it is today.
By 1956, there was a television in every second house.
It was designed to fit into the room like a piece of furniture,
and the family gathered around it.
It's a cosy scene, but one that sometimes had deadly consequences.
Some television models had not taken into account
just how dangerous the combination of electrical wiring, wood,
poor insulation and ventilation could be.
The Home Secretary was forced to address the subject,
Public enthusiasm, though, went from strength to strength.
In 1959, ten million television licences were issued.
The mass medium was here to stay.
That's the TV sorted.
Our next hidden killer could be anywhere in the house.
Before the war, most people rented their homes.
But during the 1950s, more people were able to buy
as wages grew at a faster rate than house prices.
Many were in need of modernisation.
And it was almost impossible to get hold of tradesmen
because most were tied up with reconstructing war-torn Britain.
The only option was to do it yourself,
and so an epidemic of home improvement gripped the nation.
This was really the DIY generation.
Dulux paint went on sale from 1953.
Black & Decker started selling to the general public in 1954,
and Practical Householder magazine went on sale from October 1955.
For the happy householder with time and money on their hands
and new materials and technologies at their fingertips,
domestic utopia was within reach.
The public were increasingly being exposed
to all these wonderful things
through new magazines and the magic of television.
It was encouraged, as a family, to get involved.
It was like going for a walk in a park.
You know, we'll redecorate the bathroom, or the lounge,
or we'll cut this door, or we'll knock this down.
You were encouraged as a family to do it, as a family event.
And why not? The family that DIYs together stays together.
This is the first edition of Practical Householder
and if we take a look at an index,
we'll see the range of things
people could be doing at home by themselves.
So you've got paper hanging, making rugs, concrete paths and floors.
So there's an enormous range.
Building your own bungalow.
-That is incredible.
-They're pretty ambitious, aren't they?
They certainly were. People believed
they could instil new life into their homes
without professional help for a fraction of the price.
But they were seemingly oblivious to the perils.
The doyen of DIY, Barry Bucknell, was after all a reassuring presence.
His television programmes on doing it yourself attracted
at their peak over seven million viewers.
He had the best TV show on in the 1950s, most watched.
He was getting something in the region of 35,000 letters a week.
He had six or eight secretaries working for him,
just going through the envelopes. That is phenomenal.
I don't know whether you've got a problem like this,
a rather ugly old panel door.
It's one that can be solved.
Quite simply, you can make it look like this.
You know, he was almost like a hero then.
To get people into DIY, get up, get going, change your house,
get the light in, get the colour on the walls
and board up your staircase and paint it,
or pull that Victorian fireplace out and board it up.
Cover that Victorian door up with plywood and paint it
and transform your house to that one that you might have seen advertised,
that brand-new one.
It's looking, already, very much smoother.
But he later became known to some as "Bodger" Bucknell.
They saw his desire to strip out what he called "clutter"
as the wilful destruction of original features.
So he was the driving force behind DIY,
but also, he caused great problems.
I heard stories that they reckon he destroyed more houses
than the Luftwaffe because of his changes,
his radical changes that he wanted to do in homes.
And that, I think, has certainly
changed the appearance of the door, but...
But Barry was a professional. He knew what he was doing.
His disciples, however,
didn't necessarily have the experience or the skills.
Lots of them feature DIY happening high up on ladders.
-Oh, gosh, yes.
-These look incredibly precarious.
This man is holding something very heavy.
So it's all a bit of a disaster waiting to happen, isn't it?
Although the magazines don't address health and safety,
I think they must definitely,
definitely have been aware of the dangers.
So this is a comic strip that appears in a lot of them.
And you can see he's on a set of ladders, painting,
but then manages to fall through.
But everyone knows that ladders can be treacherous.
What they didn't know was that some of these products were toxic.
Asbestos was used around the house and garage...
..with lasting and hideous consequences.
New, extra-strong adhesives could be harmful if inhaled.
This contact adhesive was pretty nasty stuff.
I remember using it as a young apprentice.
First time I used it,
I think I spent most of the day
floating about a foot off the floor.
The next day, I spent most of the time drinking water
and trying to get my throat to calm down
and my nostrils to calm down,
because I had burnt all the inside of my nostrils and my throat.
It was horrendous stuff.
Manufacturers, realising the public's interest,
produced a range of power tools for the DIY enthusiast.
A potentially huge market compared to the professional trade.
Electric drills were on sale for £5,
available to buy in monthly instalments
and advertised as "The Family Favourite".
The king of power tools was, indeed, "a must for your home".
But these boy toys could be dangerous.
They were selling power pools which professionals were used to using
but that you, as a DIY expert, has no training in whatsoever
but were expected to use.
Not all power tools used the safety features we know today.
If you're cutting something
and, perhaps, you've gone into your own leg
or you've cut your fingers or whatever you've done,
it doesn't automatically cut off.
You've got to look for the switch to turn it off.
The longer you're looking for it, the more damage it's doing to you.
Nothing, it seemed, was out of bounds for the do-it-yourselfers.
Perhaps installing your own electric towel rail
should not have been on the DIY list
of jobs to do in the home.
It was a bit of a problem
because people were not necessarily very familiar with wiring,
so you would get problems with things badly wired.
Plugs badly screwed in
so that there were bits of wire hanging out of the bottom
and they weren't properly held
so they would work free and then they could short or catch fire.
So there were some problems with electrocution and fire.
The public were advised,
when it came to electrics, don't do it yourself,
use a professional.
They were a lot smarter in those days.
I can't imagine any electrician turning up looking like that now.
I think I'd probably wonder if he was an electrician if he did.
But our passion for DIY has never waned.
Our desire to restore and revitalise marches on,
thanks to bank holidays, and Barry.
I'm going to the kitchen now
to find out how one apparently innocuous item of food
caused mayhem in the post-war home.
The kitchen became so important in this age
because it moved from being a private space into a public one.
It became a place to entertain guests
and so attention was paid
to what this previously hidden room looked like
and, of course, it was the woman's place in the home.
In October 1955, in Woman's Own, it described the kitchen as
"the heart and centre of the meaning of home,
"the place where, day after day,
"you make with your hands the gifts of love."
14 years of food rationing finally came to an end on July 4th 1954,
when restrictions on meat and bacon were lifted.
life in the kitchen suddenly became a whole lot more fun
and gifts of love abounded.
It means, of course, that people are able to get more foodstuffs,
a wider range of things, and they're able, freely,
to go out and buy as much as they want.
So they can really indulge, if you like,
on buying as much butter as they want to,
after having really, sort of, had to live by their ration books
for a very long time.
People were excited about the new possibilities with food,
and into this gap came cookery writers.
Writers like Elizabeth David and Marguerite Patten
infused food with passion.
Tastes were changing, quite literally,
and demand for meat, in particular, went through the roof.
The ideal for the British family is to have a roast Sunday joint
of beef or, possibly, lamb.
But what happens after 1955 or so is that, you know, gradually
chicken is brought into the British diet to a much greater extent.
Livestock like cattle could simply not be reared quickly enough
in the numbers needed to satisfy demand.
Chickens, however, could.
Chickens had accounted for only 1% of British meat consumption in 1950.
But now its moment had arrived,
thanks to a revolution in modern British agriculture.
Intensive rearing and factory farming were introduced
and the resulting cheap chicken meat transformed the British diet.
So, in 1954,
five million table chickens
were available for consumption in this country
and by 1959, it's 75 million.
Feeding an extra 70 million birds was a colossal undertaking,
and one that could only be achieved
by importing grain from other countries.
Problem solved, then. Wasn't it?
In the process of feeding birds and, indeed, livestock,
we are also bringing in imported artificial feeds like ground meat,
and these come carrying already a bacterial load.
So what you see is that these birds and indeed livestock
are being fed salmonella-contaminated food.
So the chickens were affected by what they were eating.
And the intensive conditions in which they were kept,
processed, and packaged aggravated the matter.
And then they landed in the post-war kitchen,
bred, dead and ready to be roasted.
Why was this?
The post-war period is the time at which domestic service
really disappears from middle-class homes,
so middle-class women sometimes feel rather hard done by
because they're having to fend for themselves
and do most of the household work and labour for themselves.
And, of course, this might create more problems
in the kitchen because, of course,
they would have been obliged to take primary responsibility
for cooking and feeding the family, which they may have found difficult
if they'd been brought up in a home
where all that work had been done by servants.
The housewife plays a cardinal role in this story,
partly because she is the person who handles
the chicken in the house.
The hapless housewife - 'twas ever thus -
tasked with putting food in the mouths of her family,
not realising that tonight's supper
is already a heaving mass of bacteria,
then inadvertently upped the ante even further.
Well into the '50s, you can still buy chicken...
Sometimes they are what's called "New York dressed",
which means they've got all their guts left in intact.
They quite often come still with heads attached
and the housewife would expect to deal with that at home.
She might, or might not, wash the chicken when she gets it home
and she might well not wash her own hands
once she'd finished handling the bird.
And, as such, she was accidentally spreading
this hidden killer throughout the home.
I've come to Matthew Avison's laboratory
to find out what the post-war chicken-cooking housewife
didn't know about salmonella.
Because salmonella is too deadly to use in this experiment,
Matthew has contaminated some chicken with a similar,
though, thankfully for me, less lethal bacteria.
I'm going to show four different ways of cleaning my hands
after handling the chicken
so we can demonstrate just how pernicious this bacteria was.
So, what I want you to do is just touch the chicken,
and then we're going to make an imprint of your fingers
-on this indicator plate.
The first time, I don't clean my hands at all.
Then I'll just lift the lid
and you just put your fingers onto the surface.
After the second time of handling the chicken,
I wipe my hands with a paper towel.
Not sure this will do the trick.
It makes it feel less slimy, but actually, practically...
Yes, so when you are touching the meat it feels slimy,
but that's not actually the bacteria, that's just the meat.
You don't feel the bacteria.
After the third time of touching the chicken,
I wash my hands in lovely, clean water.
And, lastly, I touch the chicken
then wash thoroughly with soap and water.
It actually takes a huge number of bacteria to infect somebody,
particularly if you're healthy -
between about a million and a billion bacteria.
But you can't see them and so the food that you're eating
may look, smell, and taste completely normal.
OK, Matthew, let's see some results, then.
OK, so these are some plates that have been incubated overnight
and this is the first one.
So this is with the unwashed hands.
So this is just after touching the bacteria.
The darker colours are the bacteria.
There are so many bacteria on here
you can't see individual colonies, individual spots.
There are literally thousands and thousands
of bacteria on each finger.
After rinsing your hands under the tap, though,
that's just simply the act of washing the bacteria down the sink.
We're not killing the bacteria at all.
You're actually making some significant strides
to reduce the numbers.
There is still quite a few bacteria, but you can see individual colonies.
The biggest difference of all, though, comes from using soap,
which doesn't kill the bacteria.
What soap does is it just improves the ability of us
to wash away the bacteria from our skin.
So there are still some bacteria.
Matthew estimates that simply wiping your hands
reduces the level of contamination by maybe ten times,
while washing your hands with soap reduces contamination
by probably 100,000 times.
So, in short, if they brought meat into the house that had been
contaminated in this way and did anything with it
and then didn't wash their hands really thoroughly,
it could get everywhere.
Yes, absolutely. Not only into your mouth,
but also onto the other food that you're preparing,
onto the surfaces around you, your utensils.
-Onto your children?
-Onto your children. Absolutely.
If somebody eats salmonella-infected food,
between a day and two days after eating it
you'll start to develop symptoms,
and those are likely to be things like diarrhoea,
abdominal pain and cramps, and, possibly, vomiting.
Most people who develop salmonella food poisoning
would recover within five to seven days.
It would be unpleasant,
but they wouldn't need any particular treatment.
But if you're particularly young, so babies and young children,
or old, or if your immune system is suppressed for any other reason -
perhaps you've got cancer or some other disease -
then you're much more susceptible to really severe infection.
And in that case,
it's possible that the bacterium could get into the bloodstream
and then spread around the body
and then it could affect other areas, such as the brain,
and cause meningitis, which could be fatal,
or septicaemia, a blood poisoning.
Today, 60 years later, intensive farming conditions have improved
and successive public health campaigns have resulted in
a better understanding of food hygiene in the home.
There's no reason why you should be at risk
from this particular hidden killer nowadays.
I'm off to find our next hidden killer, in the bathroom.
Amazingly, in 1950, half of all homes had no indoor bathroom.
So one of the pivotal changes of this decade
was the introduction of this luxurious new room.
For the first time,
people of all classes were able to have an indoor bathroom,
and a surge of interest in bathroom furnishings
reflected this rapidly expanding market.
This new attitude was summarised
in House And Garden magazine at the time.
Bathing became an enjoyable experience,
and one to be taken in pleasant,
rather than Spartan, surroundings.
It was a far cry from the old tin bath in front of the fire.
But why was it not all that it seemed?
In order to understand this,
we have to go outside the home and look at an unrelated killer.
Air pollution was responsible for an unforgettable event
in the early '50s,
which led to a major change in how our homes were heated.
We've always had environmental pollution
but it particularly became important in December of 1952,
when we had the Great Smog in London.
It was said that you couldn't see your feet
because the smoke was so thick
and it would have been not like the sort of fog that we all understand.
It would have been a thick, yellowy-brown, smelly,
horrible sort of fog.
It would make it very difficult for you to breathe,
and the egg smell is from sulphur dioxide,
which would combine with water to form sulphuric acid.
The rise in deaths was greater
than in the worst week of the cholera epidemic in 1866.
Records show that about 4,000 people died from the smog,
although more recently calculations made that up to 12,000.
And about 100,000 became ill because of it.
This nightmarish episode produced more civilian casualties in Britain
than any single event of the entire Second World War
and was the catalyst for replacing coal fires in the home.
And here's the rub.
It had been a very cold winter
and there was lots of snow on the ground,
and so people were burning coal in their homes to try to keep warm.
But the weather conditions at the time
meant that there was an anticyclone,
and that pushed air back down towards the Earth
and so the smoke was trapped.
Legislation was introduced
to prevent the murderous coal fumes and...
As homes became less reliant on coal fires,
gas appliances were introduced
and into the bathroom came gas boilers and heaters.
In the early 1950s, they brought it into the bathroom
to produce hot water for your bath.
It was a self-contained boiler.
Turn the little tap on and it would empty into your bath
and, obviously, jump in and enjoy it.
What could be more pleasurable?
But there's a problem when you bring a gas boiler
into a small, enclosed space.
To burn one cubic metre of gas,
you need around ten cubic metres of fresh air full of oxygen.
The problem occurs when you haven't got enough oxygen.
So if you're in a cramped place,
the windows are sealed to try and keep the heat in,
then the gas will burn to form carbon monoxide
and this is very toxic.
Carbon monoxide is produced by the incomplete burning of fossil fuels.
It is dangerous when the boiler is insufficiently sealed
and the toxic gases are allowed back into the room
rather than exhausted to the atmosphere.
You were in that nice new shiny fitted bathroom.
You'd got your door shut, your window shut to keep the drafts out,
and you're just sitting there absorbing all this carbon monoxide.
You think you're getting nice and relaxed because of the hot water,
and it's not, it's the carbon monoxide
which is slowly putting you to sleep.
Forensics fire expert Emma Wilson
has designed an experiment to show me
just how quickly this silent, deadly gas
can be produced in a sealed environment.
She will use butane gas in a sealed tank
to simulate a bathroom with a gas boiler in it.
In the corner of the tank,
there's a modern-day carbon monoxide detector alarm
that we use in our homes today.
Now, if you will help me pop this on the top
so that we can seal the gas in.
-As if we're closing the door on our bathroom?
OK. I can do that.
Just by burning that flame in a sealed environment,
we're going to produce a deadly gas.
Yes, we are. As the combustion of the gas becomes less efficient
because there's less oxygen,
we produce more and more carbon monoxide.
When gas burns normally, two oxygen molecules attach to it,
making carbon dioxide.
When there is less oxygen available,
the gas can only attach to one molecule, making carbon monoxide,
a toxic gas.
In addition, the steam from the hot bath
interferes with the ability of the flame to burn correctly.
And in a sealed room,
once the oxygen is used up, it is not replaced.
It took just three minutes for the carbon monoxide detector alarm
to be activated. BEEPING
The sealed tank is now full of poisonous gas.
That's the detector sounding to let us know that carbon monoxide
in that compartment is now at a dangerous level.
Right, so, nowadays,
you can put in a detector and you can know about it.
-And it's pretty...shrieking.
But apart from the sound that's telling us it's there,
we haven't got any smell, we haven't got any obvious signs of it.
Gosh, so you could be sitting there in that bath, in your lovely bath,
and you shut the doors and windows, you're having time to yourself,
your boiler's going,
and it's producing this gas that can make you sick
-and could kill you.
I'm slightly blown away by the fact that it's just completely invisible.
When it's inhaled, our haemoglobin,
which is the substance in the blood that carries oxygen from our lungs
to all of our tissues where it's needed,
the affinity for carbon monoxide
is over 200 times more than the affinity for oxygen,
which is what that haemoglobin should be carrying.
So it means if there is carbon monoxide
in the air that you breathe in, it will bind to the haemoglobin.
When that haemoglobin passes round to the tissues,
it doesn't release any oxygen present
and it doesn't release the carbon monoxide,
and so your tissues start to be starved of oxygen.
And it's really like suffocating the body from the inside.
It was colourless, tasteless, and odourless.
The absolute definition of a hidden killer.
At low doses, carbon monoxide can cause headaches, flu-like symptoms,
confusion and dizziness.
But if you have a lot of carbon monoxide,
it can be rapidly fatal and stop the heart
because your entire body is starved of oxygen.
Over the decades gas appliances have improved,
and it is understood that if they are incorrectly installed
or not regularly serviced there can be fatal consequences.
Still today, legislation only governs landlords.
Homeowners themselves are responsible
for keeping their houses safe from this toxic gas.
Gas safe regulations cover the installation
of boilers in bathrooms,
but even so, there are still around
4,000 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning
and 40 deaths every year in Britain.
My school friend was one of them.
My final hidden killer can be found all over the house,
but I'm going in search of the kitchen variety,
into the heart of the woman's domain.
We have seen how men and their power tools came a cropper,
now we see how the newly on-tap electricity
brought considerable danger into the shiny world of appliances.
The magazines are full of adverts
showing women breezily vacuuming their houses in high heels.
One article is even entitled
Cinderella Would Have Stayed At Home If Her Fairy Godmother
Had First Conjured Up All This Kitchen Equipment.
After the Second World War,
the main technology that people have in their kitchens is the gas cooker.
But we start to get the fridge,
we get the vacuum cleaner coming in,
also washing machines and eventually freezers.
And these technologies really do make quite a difference
to women's everyday lives.
Electrical gadgets had previously been expensive luxuries.
Now there was an explosion of new affordable brands,
all marketed as taking the drudgery out of housework.
This is an article by Jane Storey,
titled What Electric Living Means To A Woman.
And she says, "For people like myself who have a full-time job
"plus a home and family to look after,
"such laboursaving automatic service is a tremendous boon."
If you think about the domestic labour involved, for example,
in the weekly washing day.
If you've got, say, a family with a large number of children
and you have to wash all of their clothes and dry them by hand,
you can imagine just how much difference
something like a washing machine
really would have made to women's lives.
So this booklet talks about what your Monday to Friday routine
of cleaning should be.
Oh, gosh! That's quite a heavy workload.
Here we've got "vacuum all carpets.
"A thorough once-a-week clean with your Hoover
"will clear away any embedded grit".
Yes, that's on Wednesdays
after you've cleaned all the floors and polished where necessary.
So actually it is a four-week schedule, isn't it?
-For the housewife who is also going out to work, of course.
But these laboursaving devices,
welcomed with open arms by the housewife,
sometimes resulted in undesirable consequences.
Unscrupulous manufacturers produced goods that were shoddily made,
badly designed, even downright dangerous.
Things like kettles.
Somebody came up with a wonderful idea of making a kettle.
You plug the lead in, when it got to a certain temperature,
it spat the electric lead out.
Now, I don't think you need to be a scientist to work this out.
There's not that many kettle points in the kitchen.
There's obviously one straight by the side of the sink.
You're doing your dishes, your kettle's plugged in,
it shoots the power supply straight out, lands in the sink.
People often didn't really understand electricity,
or their appliances,
which led to some horrendous accidents.
The trouble is, people don't bother to read the instructions,
so often they think, "This doesn't work properly,
"I'll stick a knife in and have a poke about."
People were electrocuted through toasters,
or toasters caught fire because they probably didn't use them
as they'd been instructed,
if they'd ever bothered to read the instructions.
The Courier newspaper in Dundee consulted a local electrician
as to the safest way of handling appliances.
He told them...
Another solution came from the Electrical Association For Women,
who urged that girls should be educated.
Education would surely help,
but some products were overused and poorly maintained.
They would have dodgy connections,
they might spark a bit when you used them.
But, you know, "It'll be all right.
"I'll get one next week, or when payday comes."
But obviously you really did need to keep them maintained and changed
and make sure that you only buy them from a proper electrical retailer.
There could be a high price to pay if you didn't.
The Electrical Trade Union reported that...
In October 1954, in a debate
in the House of Lords on safety in the home,
Lord Crook complained of the constant sale
of very cheap electrical goods,
the use of which is not always understood by the purchaser.
Lord Mancroft, though, felt the government had done what it could,
and that the final responsibility rests with the individual,
the person in the home.
Consumers, though, had had enough.
They decided that they needed more information
in order to look after their own interests.
"Which?" magazine was set up in 1957
to provide an independent review of products for consumers.
By the time this one was published in 1959,
the Consumers' Association which produced it had 150,000 members.
And this represents a sense that nowadays it wasn't enough
to trust manufacturers' claims.
Not everything could be taken at face value,
and consumers needed someone on their side.
Consumer power had its roots in the post-war era and continues today.
The post-war years were a period of affluence,
euphoria and optimism that led to unprecedented experimentation
and development in science and technology.
And the home was the crucible of the changes.
Such innovation made great breakthroughs
in the lives of the post-war generation,
but also brought profound and invisible dangers.
As consumers became more aware and began to stand up for themselves,
manufacturers were increasingly called to account,
but such was the faith in science to solve the problems of the future
that many of the killers remained undetected for decades.
At least we've identified them today,
but who knows what we've missed?