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When the first pylon of Britain's National Electricity Grid
was erected in 1928, it heralded the dawn of a new electrical age.
One lighter, brighter and infinitely better.
Electricity promised social liberation.
There would be this new robotic future where everything would get done for us.
That was going to be a quantum leap from the world,
the old coal world, where it was hard graft.
Through the National Grid,
electricity was to travel from power stations across the country...
..right into our lives.
I never realised when I bought my electric cooker
that those auto-timer things could give me so much more freedom.
Fancy being out for the whole Sunday morning!
As soon as we could, we started plugging in in our masses.
And we've been entwining ourselves in electrical cables ever since.
You can think of electrical systems as the heart and arteries serving the building.
Wherever you are, you're close to an electrical system.
But in our enthusiasm to power up,
just where has the Grid's energy propelled us?
I'm making the most of my electricity supply.
I have a lamp, another lamp, a lamp in the other room,
another lamp in the other room, my music supply,
and charging my phone.
By the late 1950s, homes from the humble terrace
to the stately half-timbered were connected to the Grid.
They were ready and waiting to be powered into the future.
What you had in those years
was a sudden, huge psychological uplift in this country,
a feeling that we were out
of the terrible economic problems of the '40s,
and into what Churchill once described as "the sunlit uplands".
History is made at Calder Hall, the first large-scale nuclear power station in the world,
when the Queen arrives to throw the switch
that will send its output flowing into the National Grid.
Britain's optimism was expressed through the National Grid.
Generating capacity had doubled in just ten years,
and her new nuclear power stations were symbols of electrical potential.
-All of us here know that we are present
at the making of history.
There was a sense that the world was going to get easier and cleaner.
It was the cleanliness of electricity which was really the big issue.
It was going to get rid of all this horrible smelly gas stuff.
The future was going to be bright, and the future was going to be electric.
And the portal to this brave new world was the humble socket.
Before the war, many homes had been wired just for light,
but now, most had the odd plug point, too.
I was brought up on a farm,
and my parents had one socket on the landing to serve three bedrooms.
When I started my apprenticeship,
I managed to fit one more socket to try and improve the job, one more.
The question was just what to plug into them.
The first thing I ever bought was an iron.
-Mmm. Electric iron.
Although my mum had an electric iron, my granny still used the flat iron.
By the mid-50s, there were over 10 million electric irons in use,
but for the Grid, a few low-current appliances wasn't enough.
It wanted us to plug in a whole lot more.
Wake with the comforting thought of a ready-cooked breakfast,
an electrically cooked, automatically cooked breakfast,
a breakfast that cooked while you slept.
Electric cooking is now auto time-controlled cooking,
and yours with a new, modern electric cooker.
Once you have a national grid,
you can really look at your load factors,
so you can look at what people are using electricity for
at different times of the day.
So if you have a purely electric lighting load,
you have a big peak in the morning, when it's dark,
and you have a big peak in the evening when everybody switches their electric light on.
Not a lot goes on during the day,
and this is a bad thing from the point of view of a large-scale electricity system.
What you want is people to be using electricity for different purposes throughout the day,
and preferably throughout the night as well.
Electricity is a highly capital-intensive industry -
building power stations and transmission lines.
You really do have to use them as much as you can.
So the electricity boards found it useful to get into the retailing industry.
Electricity showrooms were built,
and they spent a lot of time trying to push
the things which they felt had the best load characteristics,
the appliances which they wanted to encourage the use of.
You might have an electric washing machine...
A really large-size family washing machine.
Just put the washing in here, at least nine pounds of washing.
Very efficient, simple washing machine. Saves you hours of time.
It has got an automatic clock control.
You can go out to do your shopping, and come home to find a perfectly cooked meal.
What could be better than that?
As a demonstrator,
I started working in 1954, and I started working at Blackpool.
The aims of the demonstration, primarily,
were to get more people to use electricity,
particularly the larger appliances, like electric cookers.
And at least twice a week, when we had demonstrations,
we really used to get about 150 people.
I do wonder if some of them actually had come in
because they were likely to be offered a taste of whatever we had cooked.
But demonstrations were very, very popular in those days.
You always went to demonstrations
when they were introducing new things.
Oh, yes, of course you did.
They showed you completely how to use the thing, how much soap to put in.
Like, from start to finish. Everything was taught to you.
It will take exactly an hour and 20 minutes.
I am so sure because I follow the recipe exactly,
and my electric oven always gives the same reliable heat.
-Oh, she made it look so easy.
-The pastry, you mean?
No, using electricity.
And the Grid had another weapon in its bid to get us to plug in.
Many electrical appliances had been invented by the 1910s.
Although costs had dropped,
most ordinary households could never afford the full price,
but never say never...
Hire purchase is one of the greatest assets of the modern community.
It enables us to fill our homes with beautiful things
we could never otherwise afford.
In 1954, a relaxation in hire purchase conditions
prompted the British to throw financial caution to the wind.
We encouraged people, then, to buy electric cookers,
and maybe to spread the payments over as long as four years,
and this was really very beneficial for people,
because they could pay a very small deposit,
and then the other instalments would come in on their electricity bill.
I think it was very beneficial to the electrical industry at that time.
one in three households were buying something on the never-never.
Mrs Rayner, why do you keep buying all these things
to put in your house?
Well, I know I shouldn't really say this,
but I like to see all the envious looks of my friends.
For my mother, the purchase of the latest electric cooker,
with timing mechanisms, was something which she brought into the kitchen,
and showed every single person who came through the house.
This was the time when people became electricity junkies.
Between 1957 and 1962, the number of households with fridges,
washing machines and TVs doubled.
I got an electric Hoover
and after that, well, it just went from one thing to another.
I became a connoisseur of vacuum cleaners.
The best thing you could get was the Hoover Senior.
Not the Hoover Junior, the Senior's much stronger.
It had a little searchlight on it, so you could see where the muck was.
We had electric cookers.
We had electric fires.
The Teasmade was a popular one in our house.
You needed a fridge.
You needed an electric washing machine, be it a twin tub or an automatic.
Well, I got a mixer recently,
and it's the grandest implement I have.
At the moment.
The Grid's promotion of appliances helped balance the load,
but they also had much wider social consequences.
In the 1930s, you might have had something between 20 and 30%
of women's employment actually in domestic service,
essentially, and by the mid to late '50s,
that had virtually disappeared, so what actually happened
over this period was that at the same time
as all households were acquiring domestic equipment,
so middle class households were losing their servants.
Middle class women ended up doing a lot more domestic work
than they had done previously.
Have you any idea the work there is to do in this house?
Stairs to sweep, hall to polish,
clothes to wash, and not even a daily.
Pushing the Hoover was harder than never lifting a finger,
but for working class women, it beat a dustpan and brush hands down.
I was very keen to help other people to lead a different type of life,
not so involved in drudgery in the home,
but rather giving them more freedom to choose whether they wanted to have leisure activities,
or whether they wanted to go out and pursue a career.
And they could do if they actually cut some of the jobs
that they'd had to do in the past.
By the 1960s, it was a much, much more egalitarian society.
Working class women and middle class women
were doing pretty much the same amount of core domestic work,
that's cooking and cleaning and laundry.
And by the 1990s, improvements in domestic equipment
had helped halve the time spent on household chores by women of all classes.
The washing machine, too, is a big saving, and I wouldn't be without it now.
Bob's never learnt to switch on...
-..and he's never learnt to iron either.
Gender equality happens much slower than class equality.
The difference between men's and women's unpaid work
has probably halved over the last 40 years,
and we're probably 40 years off - you know, two generations -
off full equality still.
There seem to be universal norms that prohibit male laundry.
But if some men were wary of domestic appliances,
then there was one electrical gadget that did hold an irresistible appeal.
I even had an electric drill,
thanks to my wife's insistence on home improvements.
Rising home ownership and a scarcity of tradesmen
kick-started a DIY epidemic.
Do It Yourself magazine, "for the practical man about the house",
was born in 1957, and the premier work tool was the electric drill.
On one occasion I actually did use a power drill, and go straight through an electric wire,
which caused mayhem, because it happened on Christmas Eve,
and led to a whole series of domestic problems which we hadn't anticipated.
Oh, Daddy, for Pete's sake, stop messing about.
Never mind, dear, we'll manage somehow.
If father wants to play about being an electrician,
we mustn't begrudge him a little clean fun.
They are the bane - DIYers.
I've seen sockets wired off lighting circuits,
and joints on cables that are buried
in the plasterwork with a bit of insulation tape round them.
You go down to your local hardware store,
where they have got sockets and cable,
and I guarantee there's always somebody down the aisle
looking at, picking things up and putting them back down again
thinking, "How can I wire a socket?"
and they don't know what they're doing but they're having a go.
More often than not, you can get a call on a Monday morning
or even late Sunday afternoon, when somebody's tried to put a light fitting up
they'd bought from the local store
and got all the cables and wiring mixed up and blown the fuses.
Usually when you get there, the wife says,
"I told him to leave it alone, we should have phoned an electrician,"
but of course, men being men, they never listen. They always like to have a go.
The worse case of DIY and electricity
is they plaster the wall all round the light switch
and the water gets through to the light switch.
Water's a conductor to a certain extent
and it can short from the power, obviously, to the water.
And you have a whole electrified wall because the wall
has got wet plaster, so it's wet and 240 volts.
You may just feel it and jump and
that'll teach you a sharp lesson not to do it again,
but if it's a fairly big shock
and you hold something that's live, we call it,
it makes the muscles of the hand contract so you can't let go,
and that is a real problem because it's not just the hand that's getting the electricity,
it travels right through the body and that will stop the heart beat.
And you don't even need to be
a DIYer to feel the full force of the Grid.
HE SINGS Brrrr!
So the government and other bodies produce
a lot of literature and films and so on, describing how to use
electricity appliances safely and what might happen if you didn't.
-Use electricity wisely or it may kill you.
You only need one little arc to spark, you can generate
a fire from there and the whole building can be destroyed
and that's not unusual at all.
I've been investigating fire for something like 40 years.
There's no such thing as an easy fire investigation. It all has to be done
carefully and methodically, very much like archaeology.
You work your way through, narrowing it down until you find out
sometimes the particular appliance or wire that's been damaged.
Every year there's about 40,000 accidental fires in the home
and 60% of these involve electricity in some form or other.
The potential for the British to blow themselves up with
their own appliances didn't escape the attention of the authorities.
In an attempt to improve safety,
in 1947 the British standard plug had been introduced.
The British standard plug is a sort of bulldog of a design.
It's a big stubborn chunky thing
that's not going to go anywhere in a hurry.
It's very different from those nasty cheap continental plugs
which flop around and wobble in the wall.
What made a British standard plug distinctive is several things.
First, it was a three-pin plug. Secondly, the earth pin was slightly longer,
so that would actually go into the socket first,
and also it had a fuse inside it,
so that if there was a problem then the fuse would cut the current out.
All you do is just put in the appropriate fuse,
to suit the appliance to which this plug is connected.
Of course, the first thing the public does when new features
are introduced is they find a way of getting round it,
and they find adaptors and they find other things to do
that actually circumvent the safety procedures.
Sockets and plugs just seem to have a life of their own.
They seem to breed.
If you look behind sofas, behind desks and tables at home,
you'll find they've been growing because gradually,
over a year, you keep getting another thing that needs
powering up and charging up, and in the end you get this superstructure of plugs
and it's just a little bit frightening because you think,
how much electricity can this stuff take before it all goes bang?
You should have one plug, one socket, that's the golden rule.
I hate to confess this, but there's
one place, perhaps in this room, where you could find one adaptor.
I'm not going to tell you where it is.
One adaptor is fine
but never piggyback adaptors or daisy chain extension leads.
-There are more fire risks than you think.
Your potted plants dripping water into the television set.
After a while, as a fire investigator, you go to a shop,
you see a new appliance, and start wondering if it will be
a problem in the future, and maybe you have a more vivid imagination
than some other people of how you could use it to start a fire.
Yes, it would. Yeah.
Aren't they beautiful?
He just wants the artistic look.
Oh, that's nice.
-Gorgeous, isn't it?
Our homes weren't the only places being transformed by electricity
flowing from the Grid.
Department stores spotted its potential to do more than simply
expand their product range.
MAN: Regarding the electrical installation,
this runs into between £1,100 and £1,200 per month.
From the 1950s onwards, department stores certainly utilised
electricity much more than they had in the past.
They also become more modern.
They want to, in a sense, develop their place in the market.
They can no longer behave like Grace Brothers.
Variety stores are grabbing much of the market.
They have to have their own unique selling point
and electricity and modernism is one of the ways they exploit it.
Outside London, people's first experience of an escalator
is in a department store.
You'd have to go to Birmingham to try an escalator,
you did have to be Lewis' and Rackhams.
Those were the first people to have them.
It was a new thing to do to go up an escalator.
I mean, that was a wonderful sensation
and of course, it was all a fun thing in those days.
But I mean, they got lifts anyway.
But it was always more fun to wander up an escalator, wasn't it,
-so you could go up onto the next floor. It was lovely.
It was just a form of entertainment and fun, but of course,
it was also a way of making those buildings animated
for people using them and to make them feel that they were
not just machines for selling you things
but they were like theatres for shopping in.
Entrancing us with their electrical spectacle, department stores rapidly
increased their numbers throughout the 1950s to over 500,
cementing their place on the British High Street.
Beattie shop windows were absolutely fabulous.
In fact, people in the evenings
used to go to Wolverhampton because they were all lit up.
Oh, yes, yes. They were fabulous, especially at Christmas.
Christmas was wonderful.
They did them really beautifully.
There's a kind of democratic luxury about window shopping.
Everybody can do it. Everybody can look at these goods.
You don't need an admittance ticket.
So that whole process of dreaming of ownership
which is central to the modern consumer experience often begins
on the High Street in the '60s and '70s looking at the windows.
Christmas lights must make a difference to the Grid
because you seen so many of them.
We assume a fixed level of about 300 megawatts which is
maybe a quarter of a power station.
London's Regent Street
first switched on its Christmas lights to attract shoppers in 1954.
Other parts of Britain followed suit.
And it wasn't just at Christmas that the country was getting brighter.
Britain really lit up at the end of the age of austerity in the mid-50s
and you could see that, not just in city centres but on the fringes
of cities too, where whole suburbs had been lit up into the early '60s
with gas lights and then they were transformed into electric lights.
-Central London's remaining gas lamps
are being replaced at the rate of 400 a year.
Progress has no place for sentimentality.
The old gas mantle can't compete with the new sodium lamp
whose illumination can be up to 20 times as great.
Imagine a dark, grimy, sooty world, an almost Dickensian world.
Once electric light came,
gosh, people felt safer, the city was more pleasant, it was brighter.
You just felt you could walk the streets at night.
It seems to me that there are two sides to electricity in the city in terms of lighting.
There's the functional side which is the street lighting,
and then there's more of an aesthetic side.
There's flood lighting of grand buildings
and the sort of joie de vivre that's in the streets.
Piccadilly Circus is a celebratory idea.
Obviously advertising's included in that, but if you like,
there's the frothy joy of electricity.
Drawn like moths to the flame,
we flock to city centres to trip the light fantastic together.
The Grid even registers this, ironically, with a dip in demand.
Both Friday and Saturday night, the demand is suppressed.
It's lower than it would be any time
during the Monday to Thursday period. People are out.
They're not sitting at home.
They're clubbing or they've gone to the pub
or maybe the dogs or something, but they're not sitting at home
doing what they would do during the rest of the week.
We'd all go down into the centre of town into Sheffield
and it was usually places like, you know, a Wimpy bar, a coffee bar.
And you were so excited if it was somewhere
that music was available too, cos that was the whole point.
The jukebox was like a magic creature in the corner
that held the secrets of our entertainment.
It was vibrant, it was alive and it was all new.
In the '50s, the Grid enabled the explosion of a new music culture.
In 1945, there were less than 100 jukeboxes in Britain.
By 1958, there were over 13,000 plugged in.
In one of the larger machines, which offers a choice of 160
different tunes, there is no less than 1,000 feet of wire,
used mainly for the complicated selector button system.
Whichever town you've come from,
some place, a coffee bar,
had a jukebox and it's just a fantastic sound.
And that noise, you hear that sort of...
HE MAKES A CLICKING SOUND
..the arm with the record in it comes up,
goes down and then the little scratchy bit starts.
HE IMITATES A SCRATCHY RECORD And then it's...
# One, two, three o'clock Four o'clock rock... #
Whatever it is on that record, and you go, "Whoa!"
And you're 14-years-old, or 15-years-old,
as Hank and I were at Newcastle at school.
Amazing. Just amazing.
-You can't get through your plate of egg and chips before
some music lover with a pocketful of thrupenny bits arrives
to share the moment with you.
How else did you access music?
BBC Billy Cotton Band Show on a Sunday, all that stuff? No.
You've got the jukebox and you could control what you wanted.
It's what one commentator has called the people's music,
the way we take control of music by electricity.
RECORD SCRATCHES One, two, three, four, five,
six, seven, eight, nine, ten,
11, 12... Twist around the clock!
# Come on everybody, let's twist Hey hey... #
Dancing changed totally,
absolutely, because everybody could do their own thing.
You weren't restricted to - this is what you have to do for a waltz
or a two-step or a foxtrot.
You just did your own thing and the wilder you were the better.
I absolutely loved the twist.
Of course I danced the twist. Everybody was dancing the twist.
Oh, you should have seen me a few years ago.
I was an expert at doing the twist.
# Everybody comes around and they jam the door... #
A bit of that, a couple of brandy and ginger ales and you're away.
Now, the music was the same whether you were at the Club a'Gogo
in Percy Street, Newcastle, or the Flamingo, on Wardour Street, London,
or in the Scene in Ham Yard. Wherever you went,
it'd be the same sort of music and the same sort of dancing that was taking place.
Through the power of the Grid,
a national rather than local culture was emerging.
But electricity wasn't simply a way of distributing this new music,
it was its very life blood.
Having an electric guitar at your fingertips
gave you, it felt like more power, you had more power.
Where would we be if there was a power cut?
We've actually had power cuts on stage in the early days.
Now, if you're playing something like this...
and you can't hear it, and the power goes off,
you are absolutely...buggered, as we say up north.
While The Shadows' red Stratocasters
stole the limelight it was the amplifier that mediated
between guitar and Grid and in it, new sounds were born.
You could develop your own sound when you plugged in.
On the AC30s you had obviously a tone control, a treble, and a bass,
you had vib trem, they called it - tremolo, or vibrato...
You could get that effect and you'd go, "Whoa!
"This is really exciting," you know, especially when you're so young.
What does that knob do? You know... Doing-g-g-g-g-g-!
That gave us The Shadows sound,
and the rest is history as they say.
Today, no note of recorded music
is left untouched by the power of electricity.
The ability to capture sound waves and convert them into electrical
impulses gives you then the ability to change the sound waves
with all this electrical equipment that we've got now,
whether it be tone controls down to the reverb.
# So when the curtain falls...#
So, if I play a vocal here.
OK, so that is just completely dry.
-# Tell your hangman to be still... #
This is a sort of a hall sound.
You can imagine him singing in a hall.
And I can make that now,
I could make it into a much bigger hall.
# Mmmm, but you've not yet worked it out... #
You can hear it now sounds like it's in a really...
It's got a really, really long decay.
-# Oh, when you know me... #
-And that sounds like, you know,
if you're in a big cathedral and you're talking to somebody...
So, there it is without it again.
# Cos all you people come and go... #
The sound wave has become an electrical impulse
and it stays that way all the way until it comes out of your headphones,
or your loudspeakers at home. It's incredible.
# I keep watching till the sky turns white
# I keep fighting till the end of my day
# But I won't let No, won't let you take away
# I keep watching till the sky turns white
# I keep fighting till the end of my day. #
You have a period, really, between the immediate post-war period and certainly in the mid-60s, when
the most magical thing people are in contact with in their daily lives
is electricity in that way and its uses seem to be legion,
its use in industry is massively increasing, and all these things
conspire, although I think at quite an ulterior level,
you could argue that Britain kind of WAS the Grid at that point.
By the early '60s, electricity sales
had doubled on the previous decade and the largest user was industry.
Most of the total of 162,500 million kilowatt hours per quarter
comes from the Central Electricity Authority.
More work for more people.
In the post-war period,
up until the early 1970s,
we still have a position where manufacturing industry
is accounting for getting on for 40% of gross domestic product.
It is a major source of wealth creation in the British economy,
built around the use of electricity
in developing mass production technologies.
Without electricity, you don't get modern mass production.
There's no question about that. Henry Ford was, of course, the first
master of modern mass production and his assembly lines relied on
electricity to make them work.
Steam power, gas power, cannot be moved around, whereas electricity
by definition can be moved around through cables so that designers were
able to break down each individual component and place it accurately
on a flow line production system with workers working on either side
of a production line.
Britain's most famous ones were the car production lines in Birmingham.
I started at Longbridge in April 1957
and it takes your breath away to see things going on.
I mean, there's 26,000 men
approximately, working at Longbridge
and it was worth just standing there
and looking at how everything fitted, from an empty painted shell
to the finished job going off the end of the line.
And my first job was fitting the passenger side seat brackets for
the seats and my colleague was fitting the driving side brackets.
Here all the latest tools for speedy assembly are in use, and time means money.
Men worked on a track and that was the main boss.
The tracks were moving at 22 cars an hour.
There was no official breaks at all.
The track ran and we ran.
My job took me under three minutes.
Men did have nervous breakdowns.
The cars never stopped.
82,000 people are at work on the assembly lines and in the offices
of BMC each day, producing 17 times as many vehicles per man
as their grandfathers did 50 years ago
and drawing £50 million in wages and salaries every year.
This was creating an economy which had unprecedentedly
low levels of unemployment, less than two per cent of the working population.
Full employment fuels the growth
in real wages and what we see is a four-fold increase in real wages.
Work is a lot easier, but I would say this, when you've finished your turn's work, you're all in.
-Even a day.
-Even a day.
But you're earning more money.
Well, yes, you're earning more money, but we're spending more.
The very way that Henry Ford set up his production lines,
his electrically-driven production lines, was to create a consumer society
so people work hard for Ford, get well paid
and they'd have enough money to buy a Model T Ford.
There was more brand-new cars bought by car workers, which set the standard for the rest of the public.
First car I had was an Austin Cambridge.
It was tartan red and farina grey.
The farina grey was more of a white.
My second car was an Austin Maxi.
After I finished with the Maxi, I bought a silver metallic Metro.
Traded it in for another Austin.
A Rover 200. And then I decided to buy a 400, that's a blue 400.
They gave me my living - you've got to be loyal, haven't you?
I was able to live with a decent standard of living on a single wage and enjoyed my free time.
We'd see for the first time, the establishment of the weekend.
The concept of the weekend emerged
in association with a full-employment age of affluence.
An age of leisure supposedly beckoned.
The idea was abroad that somehow robots would do everything for us
and it was a sort of Jetson world in the cartoon in the 1960s
where you could do everything at the press of a button.
Machinery could just do anything
and in fact that was, you know, became a deep-seated belief,
I think, and people were quite looking forward to that era.
It is 08:30 hours, September 14th 1988.
These are children of our time.
They should live to be 100.
They will not toil, they need never be unhappy,
but this morning, as every morning, there is a problem.
How to spend a golden lifetime, what to do with so much time.
The age of leisure never came.
Faced with a choice of even shorter working hours or fatter pay packets,
the British took the money,
but that could only mean one thing.
If you keep hours of work constant, and you've got increasing
productivity, then you have to consume more and more
per hour in order to keep the economy ticking over.
Consumptivity has to increase
alongside productivity, so we're busier, therefore,
not just in our work lives, but in our leisure time also.
Your leisure is other people's work.
Electrification has spun not just the wheels of industry,
but the wheels of the entire economy faster.
To this day, a nation's economic performance
can be tracked by how much electricity we draw from the Grid.
Electricity demand tracks very well the overall state of the economy.
Our demand figures are published every day and although you can't
just take a totally short-term view, you can see as soon as anywhere else
what's happening to the overall economy by looking
at trends and the demand figures over a suitable period of time.
And there's one sector of the economy that was practically unheard of
before the Grid powered up our work places and took the labour out of labour.
Electricity is vital for the gym.
Without it you couldn't use half the equipment in here, especially the cardio equipment.
During the busy times, it's hot, it's sticky,
especially on the treadmills, there's sweat flying everywhere and
there's queues as well. There's queues of people waiting.
It gets pretty full on in the cardio room.
Today, 90% of the population
are within two miles of a health club or leisure centre.
You're not looking at professional athletes there,
you're looking at everyday people.
They come in literally on their own time, whenever they can grab an hour
they come in, they pound on the treadmill, they go in the weights room,
definitely to replace the fact
that we have no manual labour any more, especially in this area.
Well, I sit all day at a desk in front of a computer,
so I feel like I need to do some exercise to make up for that.
This is a step machine and this is basically replicating climbing a set of stairs.
It's quite interesting the number of people who do stand on an escalator on their way to the gym.
The way our lives are constructed, it's going to lead to
long-term problems. Your muscles are going to waste away. You're going to
pile on extra calories, so you have to get out and do something.
The Grid can help raise our heart rate, but if all else fails,
it's able to go one step further.
In 1962, I hadn't been at the hospital very long when I heard
that a patient had been resuscitated
with a defibrillator and we were all very excited.
At the start of the '60s, an extraordinary new piece
of equipment called a defibrillator was appearing in British hospitals.
Its origins lay in studies into how electricity could kill rather than cure at the end of the 19th century.
One of the really important groups of researchers were a team called
Prevost and Batelli, physiologists working in Geneva.
They did a number of explorations on animal hearts and they discovered
in the process that a low current applied to the heart
could cause it to fibrillate, in other words to twitch
randomly without pumping blood. Now, of course, this will cause death.
However, they also discovered that a stronger shock applied to the heart
in fibrillation could allow the heart to stop fibrillating and to
begin its normal activity again.
In other words, a dying heart could be brought back to life.
Now, when you give a shock like that, what it does is it makes
all the heart which is beating chaotically, it makes it all
contract at the same time and then there's that little resting period
you get and during that resting period, the ordinary proper control
of the heart, the electrical control of the heart, can take over again.
That's what happens in defibrillation.
It took some 50 more years before
this electrifying discovery was applied to the human heart
and the first hospital defibrillators were in use.
My first experience was 1962.
I was on a ward round as a junior doctor with the chief
and he approached one lady in her bed and she gave a strange look
and fell back dead.
And the chief turned to me and said "You deal with it," so I sent for
the defibrillator but there was a problem, because it had come from the
newly-built block that had new-fangled square-type plugs.
We were in an old building that still had round plugs so we couldn't plug it in.
I got my pen knife. I cut the
plug off the end, bared the wires, two medical students, one each, I said
"Each of you push that wire into those two holes"
and I fiddled with the defibrillator and pushed the button.
And after a while, the patient had a heartbeat and very quickly she began to come round.
We got her back into the bed and then I pulled the curtains aside
and the other patients in the ward who had been all too aware of what had happened, they applauded.
I can't remember whether I bowed or not, but it was a very special moment
and do you know, she lived for over 11 years after that and I had
a Christmas card every year for 11 years.
These men can be said to be living proof of the argument.
A few days ago, they were on the brink of becoming victims of the
biggest single killer of middle-aged men, the heart attack.
I don't know how many thousands of volts he got, but he got quite a lot.
He got a big number and then suddenly there was a great commotion and they said
"His heart's starting."
Electricity is a part of life.
We wouldn't exist for half a second without electricity travelling
this direction and that and charges positive charges and negative charges.
We are very much a part-electrical package.
And when our own electrical systems let us down,
or our bodies are simply too immature to function by themselves,
increasingly, current from the Grid has been able to carry us through.
As you can see here, we have
the monitoring of a patient
within our neonatal unit.
It shows us the heart beat,
also respiration rates
and that's picked up by the wires that are attached to the baby's chest.
We've also got a selection of various pumps
which provide nutritional support for premature babies and each one of
the plugs is actually on all the time, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year
and they're all colour-coded as high priority as well, so that they
don't get disconnected, so when the cleaner comes in to clean the floor
she knows that she can use another plug socket and we are very careful
that we keep extra sockets available in case we need any other support
for this baby. Because we work in an environment that requires
things to be plugged in very quickly, we do have them on her at all times.
Plug in and go, we do.
I don't think there are many places in our daily lives when we would welcome
a resonant repetitive beep,
your neighbour's alarm clock, the sound of a car alarm from
a long distance away,
but in a hospital that all changes.
When you walk into a hospital, you're standing by a bedside
and all you long for is that repetitive beep
that means my mother, my grandmother, my children are still alive.
It seems to me that electricity itself has become the kind of fluid,
a kind of amniotic fluid that we swim in, that almost permanently
infantalises us in that way, that we remain embryonic in our culture
because of its ubiquity and its presence in every area of our lives.
In a way, you can read the whole history of post-war Britain through
electricity and when everybody's got electricity and they've become blase
about it that everybody's got their washing machine
spinning and has got their Hoover moaning away in the background,
then where do you go from there?
The only way was up.
Having shaped our lives,
the Grid set about transforming the very nature of our buildings
and embedding itself in the heart of their structures.
Many more people are going up in the world these days.
They've no alternative if they work or live in the tall buildings
which are now transforming the face of the cities of Britain.
Until 1962, the tallest buildings in Britain were the Blackpool Tower,
Salisbury Cathedral and St Paul's.
Reaching for the skies was for special occasions only.
The electrically-powered lift was to change all that,
when it relieved us of having to climb the stairs.
That electric lift
allowed the skyscrapers to develop, along with new steel technology, but
the two went hand in hand, but once you had the lift, once you had the
new steel, you could build a building basically as high as you like.
For decades, conservative building
regulations had kept a lid on Britain's skyline, but the pressures
of a rising population were to release architects' fantasies.
It was to be a new urban landscape
and it expressed a kind of new...
collectivism and also a new sense of a modern city.
Huge-scale estates are changing the face of the country,
maybe a bit barrack-like but pretty impressive.
You have to recall something
that's difficult to recall today, which was the literally appalling
conditions in which a large part of the British population lived.
In the mid-50s, they found that two in five
of all the homes in Liverpool were unfit for human habitation
and in Glasgow, it was even worse, and these had to be swept away.
A wave of high-rise social housing erupted across Britain,
piercing the sky from Alton West in London to Hutchie C in Glasgow.
There was a profound vision
at this time of a modern architecture, and that meant more than just style.
It meant technologically driven architecture
that was to be an ideal set of units stuffed with technology
for a new lifestyle made possible by electricity.
A golden future beckoned,
but there was one spanner in the works.
When the plumbers of this world designed high-rise flat blocks,
the people living at the top depended on one thing, that the lifts worked.
For the past three weeks, the lifts haven't moved
in this 16-storey block in West Acton.
There's nothing fundamentally wrong with the idea of
high-rise housing in Britain.
It's just that things were done so crudely and done so badly,
ill thought-out in terms of pure function.
I mean, it's one thing styling it up on a drawing board, it's another
thing getting the plumbing to work and in particular getting the lifts
and famously, British lifts tended to get stuck in high-rise towers,
there's no getting away from it.
I think these lifts should be made to work
so that people who have angina and babies to carry up and prams
should not have to climb the stairs.
I have angina.
Has it stopped you going out then when the lift's not been?
Oh, yes. I've been out three times in a fortnight.
And I like to get out a little way most days.
By the 1980s, the dream of high-rise social housing was disappearing
in a cloud of dust.
But there was a second wave of vertical building
determined not to be caught electrically short.
The brutal truth of lift services generally, it's about money.
In an office building, if the lifts aren't working, you can't operate.
It's an office, you can't make money,
you can't provide the services that you provide.
I think people assume that little old ladies
with their shopping can hang around, whereas busy bankers can't.
In the same year that the notorious tower block
Ronan Point was demolished in East London, just a few miles away in the City,
the Lloyd's building opened.
Over 80% of us in the whole country
work in what we today call the knowledge economy, jobs where
you can't drop anything on your toe or perhaps you
can drop a stapler on your toe, but nothing much more serious,
we work shifting paper or now, increasingly, electronic paper
and this requires, very often, a lot of people to work together.
So the pressure has always been to build higher and to build closer.
It's interesting that the British city today
looks very different even from the way it looked 25 years ago.
The National Grid has made our,
if you like, 24-hour working offices possible.
The modern workplace is defined by electricity.
The electrics are absolutely everywhere and they help light every part of it,
transport systems in the building, plant, air conditioning.
Wherever you are, you're close to an electrical system.
This is the underfloor power system.
It brings the Grid to your desk, essentially.
A track system, plug into it
and it takes power straight to your computer, laptop, whatever, on your desk.
The computing revolution brought with it a building revolution.
The computer floor in this building is absolutely full of wires.
They even extend to the ceremonial space and flow underneath a Carrera marble computer floor,
as far as I know, the only one in London.
Most modern office buildings are dealing with data.
The loss of that data is disastrous, therefore uninterrupted power supply
If you lose your electricity, you're pretty much dead in the water.
These generators, they are the beasts in the basement.
If the Grid goes down outside the building, the engines will start
immediately and within a minute or so are generating power and supplying
the building, all the cooling and computers and so forth.
Now, some things would notice that gap and to fill the gap,
we have battery systems that will give a seamless changeover, so as part of
your working day, you may not notice there's been a total Grid failure.
You see the people running around doing their daily things,
but underneath it all is a big dragon.
It's the technical systems grinding away that keep
that building in operation, powered by the Grid and in an emergency,
powered by their own generators.
Big buildings now have 10,000 people or more in them.
They're towns. They're vertical towns.
They need all that system, so they are mini-Grids in themselves.
Electricity is an intensifier for our lives.
It means we can live in cities, we can live in tall buildings,
we can have Blackberries, we can be as intense as we choose to be,
and for me that's a decision. How intense do we want to be?
Electricity can take us there.
The greatest demands are in the cities, so when we come to model how much the national demand is,
we take greatest note of what is going over the cities
because that's where most of it is going to be used.
Not just individual buildings, but our entire city system hangs on the Grid.
The Grid was there from the 1950s, but the points on the Grid
were quite widely separated.
If you like, as we go on the Grid becomes a mesh, it becomes finer
and finer and it contours itself around our lives more and more
and what that means is we become more and more effectively divorced
from how we heat and power our domestic and our working lives.
We're more and more disconnected
by the fact of our massive levels of connectivity
even though we have a city like London where
nothing is generated in it and yet it depends absolutely upon electricity.
If we were to suddenly stop the power stations, through
some catastrophe or through some terrorist attack, we'd soon realise
that life as we know it comes to a complete end.
Not only would we not be able to eat because the very way we store food depends on
electricity, we would have all our information systems knocked out,
so we wouldn't be able to communicate, we wouldn't be able to bank,
we wouldn't be able to do any business, so the whole structure of our lives,
both our working lives and
our non-working, our leisure lives, is so totally dependent on
electricity that it's become almost a part of us.
When you plug into the Grid you plug into that 50 hertz, that
50 cycles per second.
The speed of the system is something that's happening
everywhere throughout the entire country at the same time.
All the generators are running at the same speed. All the motors
are running at the same speed so if the frequency falls or speeds up,
everything in the country slows down or speeds up in sympathy.
We're all in tune with the Grid.
Living by myself for several years,
a microwave oven I couldn't do without.
My Kenwood mixer.
I baked every day and I still wouldn't part with my Kenwood.
My La Pavoni espresso machine.
It has a charm and a personality which one wouldn't normally expect
electrical appliances to have.
What would I be able to do without?
I'm tempted to say very little actually. My clock radio that
wakes me up, no, my electric kettle that makes my coffee, no,
my computer which gets switched on unless I leave it on overnight, no.
I think I'd pretty soon come to a total standstill.
I could not do without a hairdryer.
My hair has become a bit of a trademark somehow cos I spend so much
time on it so I couldn't go out the door without having had a hairdryer.
The one electrical appliance
I couldn't do without is the light bulb.
That's the most basic one, that's the one that
I, like millions of other people, switch on every dark morning,
every dark evening and I just couldn't live without it.
But what would happen if someone pulled the plug?
In the next programme, find out the lengths we've gone to to keep the lights on.
And just what price we're ultimately prepared to pay to keep powering our electric dreams.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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From hoovers to hi-fis, from electric lifts to intensive care units - where would we be if we couldn't plug in to the national electricity grid? The second part of this history of the grid explores how switching on has transformed every part of our lives over the last 60 years.
Colour archive reveals a time when having an electric cooker was a status symbol and 'plugged in' music was revolutionary. But the grid didn't just mean gadgets - it has been central to creating a consumer society and shaping the contemporary city.
Contributors include The Shadows' guitarist Bruce Welch, author Will Self and architect Mike Davies, all talking about how electrification has sparked modern Britain into life.