Britain On the Move Reel History of Britain


Britain On the Move

Melvyn Bragg reveals archive footage telling the history of modern Britain. A look back to the 1960s when dreams of the open road became real for millions.


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Transcript


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Just over a century ago, the motion camera was invented,

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and changed forever the way we recall our history.

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For the first time, we could see life

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through the eyes of ordinary people.

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Across the series, we'll bring these rare archive films back to life

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with the help of our vintage mobile cinema.

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We'll be inviting people with a story to tell to step on board

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and re-live moments they thought were gone forever.

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They'll see their relatives on screen for the first time,

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come face-to-face with their younger selves

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and celebrate our amazing 20th century past.

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This is the people's story.

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Our story.

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Our vintage mobile cinema was originally commissioned in 1967

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to show training films to workers.

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Today, it's been lovingly restored

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and loaded up with remarkable film footage preserved for us

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by the British Film Institute

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and other national and regional film archives.

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In this series, we'll be travelling to towns and cities

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across the country and showing films from the 20th century

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that give us the real history of Britain.

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Today, we're pulling up in the 1960s...

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..a time when Britain's clogged-up road network

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gave way to a new kid on the block, the motorway,

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and ushered in a new era of road travel.

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MUSIC: I Feel Free by Cream

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Today, we're at the Motor Museum in Sparkford in Somerset.

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Our mobile cinema has never felt as much at home.

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This has one of the biggest collections of motor cars

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and motor memorabilia in the United Kingdom.

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Coming up...

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The men who built the motorways...

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There was an abundance of work and especially as much of it

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had to be done by the pick and the shovel and the graft.

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..how car travel opened up new and exciting opportunities...

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Instead of marrying the guy next door

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or the chap in the village next door,

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people were starting to meet over much longer distances.

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..and a family that paid the price of progress.

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We heard a road was going through Willand and that was it.

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We never dreamt that it would interfere with us.

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Never ever.

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Reel History has come to The Haynes Motor Museum at Sparkford

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in Somerset because this place is a monument to an invention

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that revolutionised travel in this country, the motorcar.

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And the 1960s was a boom time for the industry.

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For the first time, ordinary people could afford a car

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and explore places beyond their front door like never before.

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After the Second World War, car ownership in Britain rocketed.

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By 1958, there were eight million cars on the roads -

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more than three times as many as in 1945.

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But mass car ownership meant hideous traffic jams

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and, by 1960, average speeds were lower than ever before.

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The only solution was a new type of road - the motorway.

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Without a doubt, Britain's motorways have taken a leading place

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amongst the fine highways of the modern world.

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But it was more than just a feat of engineering.

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It's hard to believe nowadays but when they first appeared,

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motorways brought almost unbridled joy.

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Suddenly, Britain became a smaller island

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and out-of-reach places were accessible.

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My guests today have memories of motoring in the '60s

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and have come from all over the country

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to share with us their personal stories.

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Many will be seeing the films we're about to screen for the first time.

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They'll be showing us photos of their younger selves

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and revealing how the birth of motorways

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changed their lives forever.

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Joan Wright has travelled here from Staffordshire.

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Her father, Samuel Cooper, was among the new mobile generation

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of the '60s, the decade in which he bought his first car.

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So in the '60s, the car your father had was a treasured object.

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It was a Morris Minor, a black Morris Minor, very shiny.

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And we'd go from Blackpool from Stoke-on-Trent or to Rhyl

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or the Wirral and we'd perhaps go on the beach,

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and they'd sit in deckchairs in three-piece suits

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and the hat and Sunday clothes on.

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It was all about getting dressed up

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and a big event, a big social event to be able to have the car.

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We're going to take Joan back more than 50 years,

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to her early childhood, to remember the days

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when a day out to the seaside, in the family car, was a big deal.

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We could never eat any food in the car lest the inside

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should be defiled by the remaining smell or any crumbs of anything.

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So if we went anywhere on a day trip, we took sandwiches

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in the sandwich box and coffee in a flask

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but we always had to get out of the car to eat them.

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It didn't matter what the weather was like.

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Like many first-time car owners, Joan's parents had to scrimp

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and save to keep their Morris Minor on the road.

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It was just good that we were able to just afford it. You know,

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it was only just by careful manoeuvring of the household money

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that we were able to sort of keep this car going.

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And if perchance it should break down or need new tyres,

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that was fairly catastrophic because it was very much,

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"How much will it be? Can we manage it?

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"Other things may have to give to do that."

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Today, we think of a car as a sort of a workhorse where you jump in,

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you put your garden rubble, you take your rubbish to the tip.

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We wouldn't have done anything like that

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because the car itself was cherished and looked after.

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Watching these films reminds Joan how the private car

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opened up new places for people to explore.

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Suddenly, they could go anywhere.

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My mum and dad had always gone to Blackpool for their holidays.

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Well, then when they got a car they went to Ilfracombe in Devon,

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which would have been a whole new vista of opportunity.

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To go to Ilfracombe in Devon,

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you might as well have been going to the Moon

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because it was such a long way, you know, on old roads.

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In the '60s, Joan's family car

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was just one in over 12 million other cars on the road.

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They were the first to experience the downside of the boom

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in car ownership, the traffic jam.

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Mr Mayor, here in Stamford you must have about the worst

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traffic bottleneck in the whole of Britain.

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I'll say we have a traffic jam here. In fact, it's a traffic problem.

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Considering we've 6,000 vehicles rather a day going through here,

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it's more than a problem - it's chaos.

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But Joan's parents were undaunted.

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It was a new thing. Cars were to the '60s what airline travel is today

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and just liberating people to go off

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and you could go where you wanted to go.

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It seems like yesterday, or at least last week or last month,

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not 40 or 50 years ago.

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The motorways would never have been built without the help

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of men like Joe Moran from Manchester.

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Joe was one of 500,000 Irishmen who came to Britain in the early '60s

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to work in the construction industry.

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Now, you were one of the people who actually built the motorways.

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I was one of many thousands that worked on the motorway.

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Yeah, but you built it and you were one of those that built it.

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How old were you when you came across from Ireland?

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I was just 19 years when I came from Ireland.

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-Were there quite a lot of you that came across?

-Thousands.

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Most of my generation came here.

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Either to Manchester, Birmingham, London.

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What made you want to come across?

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Well, I was brought up on a small farm in Ireland,

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as many of thousands of lads of my age in the west of Ireland.

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There wasn't work for us all or a place on the farm for us all,

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and I was the eldest of four

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so I wanted to branch out

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and see what the world was like and, of course, Britain was very popular.

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That's where most of my generation were coming to, like, you know.

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Coming to Manchester was like coming home again

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because there were that many Irish around, you know.

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We're going to transport Joe back to a time

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when he earned £11 a week building motorways.

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The colour film Joe is about to watch is called Motorway.

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It was made in 1959 to highlight the monumental effort it took

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to construct the M1, Britain's first long-distance motorway.

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The film was shot by the lead contractors on the job,

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John Laing and Son.

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Surprisingly, Laing had its own company film unit

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and produced numerous movies about the construction industry.

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With all this mechanisation, a labour force of 4,000 men

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was all that was necessary.

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Mostly skilled men to operate the machines.

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An average of just over 70 men per mile.

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What memories will this film bring back for 70-year-old Joe?

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There was an abundance of work, and especially for so much of it

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had to be done by the pick and the shovel and the graft.

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55 miles of pipe sewers ranging from 6 to 48-inch diameter

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and 50 miles of porous pipes and French drains were used

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in the verges, central reserves and embankments.

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My major work on the motorways was pipe laying.

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I went in for pipe laying. You know, at least you got a bit more money.

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And it was better, like. It was classified as a semi-skilled job.

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With deadlines to meet, life for the workers was hard...

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and there was no room for slackers.

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In the morning, there, the foreman would step out so many yards,

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and you had to start digging,

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and if you weren't able to keep up with the rest,

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the weakling would go, like.

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I've seen them sack lads at ten o'clock in the morning, you know.

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It was harsh. You had no employment rights, really, then.

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That was the way it was.

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Building the motorways was also fraught with danger.

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Some men even lost their lives.

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A lad who got trapped, he was down about 12-foot or 14-foot trench

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and there was a big collapse,

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earth collapse, and of course, he got trapped, poor fella.

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He lived a day in hospital, like.

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He didn't make it. I knew two that that happened to, like.

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By 1972, over 1,000 miles of motorways had been built

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by men like Joe and watching this film takes him back to those days.

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Brought back many memories.

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Brought back many memories and I'm proud of what I done,

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what I contributed and I'm proud of all the people that worked

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and sad when I look back

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and think so many are dead and no longer with us.

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It was a privilege to have met Joe.

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He and his fellow Irishmen

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were among men from across the UK and Ireland

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who built our motorways.

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We owe them a lot.

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And my next guest is the former Top Gear presenter Sue Baker.

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She's come along to The Haynes Motor Museum here at Sparkford in Somerset

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to tell me about the impact motorways have had on all our lives.

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So what did you think when the motorways came in?

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What was your view of that?

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I think we were all just blown away by the idea that suddenly,

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instead of having to plan a tortuous route through little villages

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and country lanes, you had these extraordinarily efficient roads.

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I think we were all quite amazed by that.

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They were quite sort of windswept, extraordinary places to be

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and they just had this futuristic feel about them.

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It's a brilliant bit of engineering, this intersection,

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but it can be a daunting prospect

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for the motorist approaching it for the first time.

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If you make a mistake, you may drive some miles out of your way

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before you can rectify it. Going north...

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Do you think the motorways encouraged people to buy cars

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because they could go to Scotland, to see their relatives, from London

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and it wouldn't take two days and a hamper?

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It really opened up motoring to the masses because suddenly,

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people found that they could travel longer distances,

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and just opened people's horizons.

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I think it also had a huge social effect in that

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instead of marrying the guy next door

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or the chap in the village next door, people were starting to meet

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over much longer distances and it opened society, really.

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So going back to summarise the '60s, the motorways, the expansion

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of the ownership of cars, what would your reflections be on that?

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I think when we were living through it, we were aware

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that Carnaby Street and all these things were happening,

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and the supermodels and the pop-stars,

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and there was just a whole buoyant feeling.

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The country had come out of the end of the war

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and suddenly we felt as if the world was lifting

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and it was our oyster again and I think the cars of the time,

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like the Mini and the arrival of motorways, were all part of that.

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On Reel History today,

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we're at the Motor Museum at Sparkford in Somerset,

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hearing some remarkable stories of how motoring in the '60s

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changed all our lives forever.

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Liz Perks from Northampton has come along

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to tell us about her glory days as a teenage motorbiker.

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-You were a rocker in the '60s with your motorbike.

-Yes.

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-So it was Freedom Hall when you saw a motorway.

-Yeah, it was.

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That was the freedom. We loved it to bits. Especially being a girl.

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Did you take risks

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just because you had so much open space and big roads?

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Um, I suppose you're a bit cautious.

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You know your limits. I don't think you...

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I mean, you wanted to survive.

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Well, there wasn't crash helmets to be worn

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when we first had motorbikes

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and there wasn't much rules at all.

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Now Liz is about to travel back down the motorways of her youth.

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I suppose 1964, I was 16, so I was allowed to ride a motorbike

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and often we would go from Rugby, up the car park,

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have a chat with the lads and different people.

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We'd say, "Right, we're going to go off somewhere."

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Pop down to the Blue Boar cafe on the motorway.

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The birth of motorways and a boom in car ownership

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brought another exciting development -

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the motorway service station.

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At these service areas, you'll find petrols of various brands.

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There are usually snack bars, restaurants,

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with speedy service and a first-class meal.

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And all modern conveniences. Even a shop.

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Service stations may have had unglamorous names

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like Newport Pagnell and Watford Gap's Blue Boar,

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which was Liz's choice,

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but they were popular hang-outs for celebrities.

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It was a motorway service, you know, cafe, but in those days

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there were no restrictions of staying

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so you could actually stay there and park up

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and stay there all night.

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If you stayed in the cafe,

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they'd probably want you to buy a few mugs of tea

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but you can wander outside, look at all the bikes.

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For drivers and for bikers like Liz,

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the motorway was a chance to show off.

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It was all so very free.

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There was no speed limit so you could get down on your bike

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and see if you could get some speed out of it!

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It was pretty wild if you wanted to be that way.

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Obviously, some of our bikes were not very good or fast

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but you'd get the other people that's got a better bike

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and they'd be faster and have races and things.

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Yeah, and it was just a lovely time to...

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Well, just lucky really to be involved in it.

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My next guest knows all about danger on the roads.

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63-year-old Rex Patterson from Hampshire

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was a traffic cop in the '60s

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and his car of choice back then was the Mini.

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We're about to wind the clock back 50 years for Rex.

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He's set to watch a rarely seen government information film

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designed to educate the public

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about the do's and don'ts of motorway driving.

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As well as approaching the service areas, notice the 300-yard,

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200-yard and 100-yard warnings.

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So there's never any need to brake hard

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even if you've been travelling at 100mph.

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And remember, if you miss your exit,

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you must carry on until you reach the next exit.

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You just had someone thinking, "Oh, I've missed my turn," you know,

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"Oh," you know, "there's a thing coming up here, I'll turn there."

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And they'd actually go to the outside lane,

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slow in the fast lane, to turn.

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They'd drive through the collapsible bollards, of course, to turn round.

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Absolutely appalling, appalling driving.

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As a traffic cop, Rex was delighted

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when drink-driving laws came into force in the late '60s.

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As he's about to see in this Westward TV report,

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some people found curious ways of complying with the new law.

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Ah, nice and cool. Just the job. Thank you very much, cheers.

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I had you picked for a brown-ale merchant.

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Well, no, I've gone on milk these days, you know,

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with this drink and driving business. I like a milk

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and it's very nourishing, you know, so I just stick to milk now.

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But road safety was no laughing matter.

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Before seatbelts and the 70mph speed limit became law in 1967,

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almost 1,000 people in the '60s were injured on the roads,

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many of them killed every day, as Rex knows well.

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I got called to an accident in Pompey

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and it was on the dual carriageway

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before they started making it really safe,

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and it was a 70mph dual carriageway,

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nothing up the middle,

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and a driving instructor car

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was coming into Portsmouth and a Mini was going out of Portsmouth

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and somehow they wandered across the road and they collided head-on,

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and I never want to see an accident like that again.

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We were having to decide, with the ambulance crew,

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which ones have got a chance of surviving.

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And I never want to see an accident like that again.

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Some lives were shattered in different ways

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by the march of the motor car.

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Homes had to be sacrificed to make way for progress.

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Here in the West Country, houses were swept aside

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when the M5 between Birmingham and Exeter was built.

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It was a controversial route.

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Anna Purkiss and her family used to live near Lloyd Maunders Road

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at Willand in Devon, slap bang in the middle of it.

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She's come along today to see her parents describing,

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in a 1971 news film, how their family home

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was to be sacrificed for the motorway.

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Mum always said, "It's just as if they put a pen through Devon

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"and said, 'That's where the motorway's going to go.

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" 'To hell with everybody.' "

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And if only Lloyd Maunders Road had gone the other side

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of the railway lines, we could have all still been there.

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Anna is about to see her mother Bet and her father Bert,

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now both sadly passed away.

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This row of houses is where Anna once lived.

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We heard a road was going through Willand and that was it.

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We didn't know where it was going, what was happening.

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We never dreamt that it would interfere with us. Never ever.

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When the plans were announced,

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Westward TV visited the proposed route of the new M5

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to talk to people who were going to be affected.

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Anna's parents were among those interviewed.

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Couple of months after we moved in, I went up the shop

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and on the way up there, somebody told me that there was going

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to be a road, only a road, go through where the market is.

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But we never dreamed it'd be a motorway.

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Mum said, "It's got to be said because if we don't say our piece

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"other people are going to be affected." And they were.

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The Purkisses run their own business,

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a mobile fish and chip shop.

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The business, they say, will be threatened when they're moved out.

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Why will it not be possible for you to carry on your present business?

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The prices that's being asked,

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of course, is sky-high.

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In some cases, much more than the value of this property.

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Their plans had been shattered.

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Um...they didn't believe it was going to happen.

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My mum and dad had put all that hard work into everything

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and that day became...

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It was terrible, absolutely terrible.

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Of course, you will be getting compensation.

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Compensation for a house

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but not for a home.

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They were walking away from something that they knew

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they were never ever going to see again.

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And those memories... We had an awful lot of memories

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but it was that final goodbye...

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..that was... It was horrible for all of us.

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It was tearful, very tearful.

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Watching this film and seeing her late parents

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brings back strong emotions for Anna.

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The day I saw it, years ago, I felt angry.

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Proud of my parents.

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Today I saw it... Yeah, still angry, still proud of my parents...

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..and it's nice to think I can pass that on to mine, really,

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and highlight that progress...

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motorways, um, are needed

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but should be given a lot more thought.

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Today on Reel History, we've been hearing stories

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about motoring in the '60s and we couldn't go without mentioning

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the star of our show, the vintage mobile cinema.

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Originally, there were seven of these cinemas built in 1967

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but now only this one remains.

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Thanks to the hard work and dedication of its owners,

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Olly Halls and Emma Gifford,

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we now have this stunning example of our British transport heritage.

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Emma, Olly, to you we owe the mobile cinema.

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What was it like when you found it?

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Rough. It was painted green still,

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fairly flaky and it didn't work at all.

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There was no engine that worked, no brakes. It was a derelict vehicle.

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What was it originally used for?

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It was the whole white heat of technology era

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and they were commissioned by the Ministry of Technology,

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which was headed up by Tony Benn at the time,

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and they used to go round factories and they would show

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films about engineering, about modernising production techniques.

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And it was all about trying to bring British production

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to the forefront of the world.

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The Ministry of Technology has spent £1 million

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on seven mobile lecture theatres.

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These caravans visit works and factories and, among other things,

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give basic instruction in value analysis principles

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to groups of engineers.

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This kind of thing can provide

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a very effective introduction to the technique.

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And, thanks to Emma and Olly, this old girl can once again perform

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her original duty to show films all round Britain.

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It's been a funny day.

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People so passionate about their cars, especially the Mini,

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and passionate about motorways, even building motorways.

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Behind me, the number of different cars, British cars,

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in the '60s, touched by genius, and that variety.

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What I should do is put my foot down and zoom off into the sunset...

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but I don't drive.

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Maybe if I'm lucky, I can hitch a lift in this historic mobile cinema.

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Next time on Reel History, we're in Great Yarmouth,

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remembering the brave herring fishermen of the 1930s...

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God, they were wooden ships and iron men. That was colossal.

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..and I'll be learning about the heyday of herring,

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before the fish finger got us hooked.

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Melvyn Bragg, accompanied by a vintage mobile cinema, travels across the country, to show incredible footage preserved by the British Film Institute and other national and regional film archives, and tell the history of modern Britain.

This episode comes from the Haynes International Motor Museum in Somerset, and looks back to the 1960s when dreams of the open road became a reality for the first time for millions of people.

Joan Wright remembers the impact on her family when her father acquired his first car, and Joe Moran talks about being one of the thousands of men who travelled from Ireland to build Britain's motorways. And Anna Purkiss sees footage of her parents that evokes emotional memories of the time they were forced to make way for the motorway.