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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Just over a century ago, the motion camera was invented,
and changed forever the way we recall our history.
For the first time, we could see life
through the eyes of ordinary people.
Across the series, we'll bring these rare archive films back to life
with the help of our vintage mobile cinema.
We'll be inviting people with a story to tell to step on board
and re-live moments they thought were gone forever.
They'll see their relatives on screen for the first time,
come face-to-face with their younger selves
and celebrate our amazing 20th century past.
This is the people's story.
Our vintage mobile cinema was originally commissioned in 1967
to show training films to workers.
Today, it's been lovingly restored
and loaded up with remarkable film footage preserved for us
by the British Film Institute
and other national and regional film archives.
In this series, we'll be travelling to towns and cities
across the country and showing films from the 20th century
that give us the real history of Britain.
Today, we're pulling up in the 1960s...
..a time when Britain's clogged-up road network
gave way to a new kid on the block, the motorway,
and ushered in a new era of road travel.
MUSIC: I Feel Free by Cream
Today, we're at the Motor Museum in Sparkford in Somerset.
Our mobile cinema has never felt as much at home.
This has one of the biggest collections of motor cars
and motor memorabilia in the United Kingdom.
The men who built the motorways...
There was an abundance of work and especially as much of it
had to be done by the pick and the shovel and the graft.
..how car travel opened up new and exciting opportunities...
Instead of marrying the guy next door
or the chap in the village next door,
people were starting to meet over much longer distances.
..and a family that paid the price of progress.
We heard a road was going through Willand and that was it.
We never dreamt that it would interfere with us.
Reel History has come to The Haynes Motor Museum at Sparkford
in Somerset because this place is a monument to an invention
that revolutionised travel in this country, the motorcar.
And the 1960s was a boom time for the industry.
For the first time, ordinary people could afford a car
and explore places beyond their front door like never before.
After the Second World War, car ownership in Britain rocketed.
By 1958, there were eight million cars on the roads -
more than three times as many as in 1945.
But mass car ownership meant hideous traffic jams
and, by 1960, average speeds were lower than ever before.
The only solution was a new type of road - the motorway.
Without a doubt, Britain's motorways have taken a leading place
amongst the fine highways of the modern world.
But it was more than just a feat of engineering.
It's hard to believe nowadays but when they first appeared,
motorways brought almost unbridled joy.
Suddenly, Britain became a smaller island
and out-of-reach places were accessible.
My guests today have memories of motoring in the '60s
and have come from all over the country
to share with us their personal stories.
Many will be seeing the films we're about to screen for the first time.
They'll be showing us photos of their younger selves
and revealing how the birth of motorways
changed their lives forever.
Joan Wright has travelled here from Staffordshire.
Her father, Samuel Cooper, was among the new mobile generation
of the '60s, the decade in which he bought his first car.
So in the '60s, the car your father had was a treasured object.
It was a Morris Minor, a black Morris Minor, very shiny.
And we'd go from Blackpool from Stoke-on-Trent or to Rhyl
or the Wirral and we'd perhaps go on the beach,
and they'd sit in deckchairs in three-piece suits
and the hat and Sunday clothes on.
It was all about getting dressed up
and a big event, a big social event to be able to have the car.
We're going to take Joan back more than 50 years,
to her early childhood, to remember the days
when a day out to the seaside, in the family car, was a big deal.
We could never eat any food in the car lest the inside
should be defiled by the remaining smell or any crumbs of anything.
So if we went anywhere on a day trip, we took sandwiches
in the sandwich box and coffee in a flask
but we always had to get out of the car to eat them.
It didn't matter what the weather was like.
Like many first-time car owners, Joan's parents had to scrimp
and save to keep their Morris Minor on the road.
It was just good that we were able to just afford it. You know,
it was only just by careful manoeuvring of the household money
that we were able to sort of keep this car going.
And if perchance it should break down or need new tyres,
that was fairly catastrophic because it was very much,
"How much will it be? Can we manage it?
"Other things may have to give to do that."
Today, we think of a car as a sort of a workhorse where you jump in,
you put your garden rubble, you take your rubbish to the tip.
We wouldn't have done anything like that
because the car itself was cherished and looked after.
Watching these films reminds Joan how the private car
opened up new places for people to explore.
Suddenly, they could go anywhere.
My mum and dad had always gone to Blackpool for their holidays.
Well, then when they got a car they went to Ilfracombe in Devon,
which would have been a whole new vista of opportunity.
To go to Ilfracombe in Devon,
you might as well have been going to the Moon
because it was such a long way, you know, on old roads.
In the '60s, Joan's family car
was just one in over 12 million other cars on the road.
They were the first to experience the downside of the boom
in car ownership, the traffic jam.
Mr Mayor, here in Stamford you must have about the worst
traffic bottleneck in the whole of Britain.
I'll say we have a traffic jam here. In fact, it's a traffic problem.
Considering we've 6,000 vehicles rather a day going through here,
it's more than a problem - it's chaos.
But Joan's parents were undaunted.
It was a new thing. Cars were to the '60s what airline travel is today
and just liberating people to go off
and you could go where you wanted to go.
It seems like yesterday, or at least last week or last month,
not 40 or 50 years ago.
The motorways would never have been built without the help
of men like Joe Moran from Manchester.
Joe was one of 500,000 Irishmen who came to Britain in the early '60s
to work in the construction industry.
Now, you were one of the people who actually built the motorways.
I was one of many thousands that worked on the motorway.
Yeah, but you built it and you were one of those that built it.
How old were you when you came across from Ireland?
I was just 19 years when I came from Ireland.
-Were there quite a lot of you that came across?
Most of my generation came here.
Either to Manchester, Birmingham, London.
What made you want to come across?
Well, I was brought up on a small farm in Ireland,
as many of thousands of lads of my age in the west of Ireland.
There wasn't work for us all or a place on the farm for us all,
and I was the eldest of four
so I wanted to branch out
and see what the world was like and, of course, Britain was very popular.
That's where most of my generation were coming to, like, you know.
Coming to Manchester was like coming home again
because there were that many Irish around, you know.
We're going to transport Joe back to a time
when he earned £11 a week building motorways.
The colour film Joe is about to watch is called Motorway.
It was made in 1959 to highlight the monumental effort it took
to construct the M1, Britain's first long-distance motorway.
The film was shot by the lead contractors on the job,
John Laing and Son.
Surprisingly, Laing had its own company film unit
and produced numerous movies about the construction industry.
With all this mechanisation, a labour force of 4,000 men
was all that was necessary.
Mostly skilled men to operate the machines.
An average of just over 70 men per mile.
What memories will this film bring back for 70-year-old Joe?
There was an abundance of work, and especially for so much of it
had to be done by the pick and the shovel and the graft.
55 miles of pipe sewers ranging from 6 to 48-inch diameter
and 50 miles of porous pipes and French drains were used
in the verges, central reserves and embankments.
My major work on the motorways was pipe laying.
I went in for pipe laying. You know, at least you got a bit more money.
And it was better, like. It was classified as a semi-skilled job.
With deadlines to meet, life for the workers was hard...
and there was no room for slackers.
In the morning, there, the foreman would step out so many yards,
and you had to start digging,
and if you weren't able to keep up with the rest,
the weakling would go, like.
I've seen them sack lads at ten o'clock in the morning, you know.
It was harsh. You had no employment rights, really, then.
That was the way it was.
Building the motorways was also fraught with danger.
Some men even lost their lives.
A lad who got trapped, he was down about 12-foot or 14-foot trench
and there was a big collapse,
earth collapse, and of course, he got trapped, poor fella.
He lived a day in hospital, like.
He didn't make it. I knew two that that happened to, like.
By 1972, over 1,000 miles of motorways had been built
by men like Joe and watching this film takes him back to those days.
Brought back many memories.
Brought back many memories and I'm proud of what I done,
what I contributed and I'm proud of all the people that worked
and sad when I look back
and think so many are dead and no longer with us.
It was a privilege to have met Joe.
He and his fellow Irishmen
were among men from across the UK and Ireland
who built our motorways.
We owe them a lot.
And my next guest is the former Top Gear presenter Sue Baker.
She's come along to The Haynes Motor Museum here at Sparkford in Somerset
to tell me about the impact motorways have had on all our lives.
So what did you think when the motorways came in?
What was your view of that?
I think we were all just blown away by the idea that suddenly,
instead of having to plan a tortuous route through little villages
and country lanes, you had these extraordinarily efficient roads.
I think we were all quite amazed by that.
They were quite sort of windswept, extraordinary places to be
and they just had this futuristic feel about them.
It's a brilliant bit of engineering, this intersection,
but it can be a daunting prospect
for the motorist approaching it for the first time.
If you make a mistake, you may drive some miles out of your way
before you can rectify it. Going north...
Do you think the motorways encouraged people to buy cars
because they could go to Scotland, to see their relatives, from London
and it wouldn't take two days and a hamper?
It really opened up motoring to the masses because suddenly,
people found that they could travel longer distances,
and just opened people's horizons.
I think it also had a huge social effect in that
instead of marrying the guy next door
or the chap in the village next door, people were starting to meet
over much longer distances and it opened society, really.
So going back to summarise the '60s, the motorways, the expansion
of the ownership of cars, what would your reflections be on that?
I think when we were living through it, we were aware
that Carnaby Street and all these things were happening,
and the supermodels and the pop-stars,
and there was just a whole buoyant feeling.
The country had come out of the end of the war
and suddenly we felt as if the world was lifting
and it was our oyster again and I think the cars of the time,
like the Mini and the arrival of motorways, were all part of that.
On Reel History today,
we're at the Motor Museum at Sparkford in Somerset,
hearing some remarkable stories of how motoring in the '60s
changed all our lives forever.
Liz Perks from Northampton has come along
to tell us about her glory days as a teenage motorbiker.
-You were a rocker in the '60s with your motorbike.
-So it was Freedom Hall when you saw a motorway.
-Yeah, it was.
That was the freedom. We loved it to bits. Especially being a girl.
Did you take risks
just because you had so much open space and big roads?
Um, I suppose you're a bit cautious.
You know your limits. I don't think you...
I mean, you wanted to survive.
Well, there wasn't crash helmets to be worn
when we first had motorbikes
and there wasn't much rules at all.
Now Liz is about to travel back down the motorways of her youth.
I suppose 1964, I was 16, so I was allowed to ride a motorbike
and often we would go from Rugby, up the car park,
have a chat with the lads and different people.
We'd say, "Right, we're going to go off somewhere."
Pop down to the Blue Boar cafe on the motorway.
The birth of motorways and a boom in car ownership
brought another exciting development -
the motorway service station.
At these service areas, you'll find petrols of various brands.
There are usually snack bars, restaurants,
with speedy service and a first-class meal.
And all modern conveniences. Even a shop.
Service stations may have had unglamorous names
like Newport Pagnell and Watford Gap's Blue Boar,
which was Liz's choice,
but they were popular hang-outs for celebrities.
It was a motorway service, you know, cafe, but in those days
there were no restrictions of staying
so you could actually stay there and park up
and stay there all night.
If you stayed in the cafe,
they'd probably want you to buy a few mugs of tea
but you can wander outside, look at all the bikes.
For drivers and for bikers like Liz,
the motorway was a chance to show off.
It was all so very free.
There was no speed limit so you could get down on your bike
and see if you could get some speed out of it!
It was pretty wild if you wanted to be that way.
Obviously, some of our bikes were not very good or fast
but you'd get the other people that's got a better bike
and they'd be faster and have races and things.
Yeah, and it was just a lovely time to...
Well, just lucky really to be involved in it.
My next guest knows all about danger on the roads.
63-year-old Rex Patterson from Hampshire
was a traffic cop in the '60s
and his car of choice back then was the Mini.
We're about to wind the clock back 50 years for Rex.
He's set to watch a rarely seen government information film
designed to educate the public
about the do's and don'ts of motorway driving.
As well as approaching the service areas, notice the 300-yard,
200-yard and 100-yard warnings.
So there's never any need to brake hard
even if you've been travelling at 100mph.
And remember, if you miss your exit,
you must carry on until you reach the next exit.
You just had someone thinking, "Oh, I've missed my turn," you know,
"Oh," you know, "there's a thing coming up here, I'll turn there."
And they'd actually go to the outside lane,
slow in the fast lane, to turn.
They'd drive through the collapsible bollards, of course, to turn round.
Absolutely appalling, appalling driving.
As a traffic cop, Rex was delighted
when drink-driving laws came into force in the late '60s.
As he's about to see in this Westward TV report,
some people found curious ways of complying with the new law.
Ah, nice and cool. Just the job. Thank you very much, cheers.
I had you picked for a brown-ale merchant.
Well, no, I've gone on milk these days, you know,
with this drink and driving business. I like a milk
and it's very nourishing, you know, so I just stick to milk now.
But road safety was no laughing matter.
Before seatbelts and the 70mph speed limit became law in 1967,
almost 1,000 people in the '60s were injured on the roads,
many of them killed every day, as Rex knows well.
I got called to an accident in Pompey
and it was on the dual carriageway
before they started making it really safe,
and it was a 70mph dual carriageway,
nothing up the middle,
and a driving instructor car
was coming into Portsmouth and a Mini was going out of Portsmouth
and somehow they wandered across the road and they collided head-on,
and I never want to see an accident like that again.
We were having to decide, with the ambulance crew,
which ones have got a chance of surviving.
And I never want to see an accident like that again.
Some lives were shattered in different ways
by the march of the motor car.
Homes had to be sacrificed to make way for progress.
Here in the West Country, houses were swept aside
when the M5 between Birmingham and Exeter was built.
It was a controversial route.
Anna Purkiss and her family used to live near Lloyd Maunders Road
at Willand in Devon, slap bang in the middle of it.
She's come along today to see her parents describing,
in a 1971 news film, how their family home
was to be sacrificed for the motorway.
Mum always said, "It's just as if they put a pen through Devon
"and said, 'That's where the motorway's going to go.
" 'To hell with everybody.' "
And if only Lloyd Maunders Road had gone the other side
of the railway lines, we could have all still been there.
Anna is about to see her mother Bet and her father Bert,
now both sadly passed away.
This row of houses is where Anna once lived.
We heard a road was going through Willand and that was it.
We didn't know where it was going, what was happening.
We never dreamt that it would interfere with us. Never ever.
When the plans were announced,
Westward TV visited the proposed route of the new M5
to talk to people who were going to be affected.
Anna's parents were among those interviewed.
Couple of months after we moved in, I went up the shop
and on the way up there, somebody told me that there was going
to be a road, only a road, go through where the market is.
But we never dreamed it'd be a motorway.
Mum said, "It's got to be said because if we don't say our piece
"other people are going to be affected." And they were.
The Purkisses run their own business,
a mobile fish and chip shop.
The business, they say, will be threatened when they're moved out.
Why will it not be possible for you to carry on your present business?
The prices that's being asked,
of course, is sky-high.
In some cases, much more than the value of this property.
Their plans had been shattered.
Um...they didn't believe it was going to happen.
My mum and dad had put all that hard work into everything
and that day became...
It was terrible, absolutely terrible.
Of course, you will be getting compensation.
Compensation for a house
but not for a home.
They were walking away from something that they knew
they were never ever going to see again.
And those memories... We had an awful lot of memories
but it was that final goodbye...
..that was... It was horrible for all of us.
It was tearful, very tearful.
Watching this film and seeing her late parents
brings back strong emotions for Anna.
The day I saw it, years ago, I felt angry.
Proud of my parents.
Today I saw it... Yeah, still angry, still proud of my parents...
..and it's nice to think I can pass that on to mine, really,
and highlight that progress...
motorways, um, are needed
but should be given a lot more thought.
Today on Reel History, we've been hearing stories
about motoring in the '60s and we couldn't go without mentioning
the star of our show, the vintage mobile cinema.
Originally, there were seven of these cinemas built in 1967
but now only this one remains.
Thanks to the hard work and dedication of its owners,
Olly Halls and Emma Gifford,
we now have this stunning example of our British transport heritage.
Emma, Olly, to you we owe the mobile cinema.
What was it like when you found it?
Rough. It was painted green still,
fairly flaky and it didn't work at all.
There was no engine that worked, no brakes. It was a derelict vehicle.
What was it originally used for?
It was the whole white heat of technology era
and they were commissioned by the Ministry of Technology,
which was headed up by Tony Benn at the time,
and they used to go round factories and they would show
films about engineering, about modernising production techniques.
And it was all about trying to bring British production
to the forefront of the world.
The Ministry of Technology has spent £1 million
on seven mobile lecture theatres.
These caravans visit works and factories and, among other things,
give basic instruction in value analysis principles
to groups of engineers.
This kind of thing can provide
a very effective introduction to the technique.
And, thanks to Emma and Olly, this old girl can once again perform
her original duty to show films all round Britain.
It's been a funny day.
People so passionate about their cars, especially the Mini,
and passionate about motorways, even building motorways.
Behind me, the number of different cars, British cars,
in the '60s, touched by genius, and that variety.
What I should do is put my foot down and zoom off into the sunset...
but I don't drive.
Maybe if I'm lucky, I can hitch a lift in this historic mobile cinema.
Next time on Reel History, we're in Great Yarmouth,
remembering the brave herring fishermen of the 1930s...
God, they were wooden ships and iron men. That was colossal.
..and I'll be learning about the heyday of herring,
before the fish finger got us hooked.
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.