BBC’s ‘Today’ programme celebrates Christmas with Mass Observation diaries
An archive of diaries and observations by ordinary people held at the University of Sussex is to be the “guest editor” of the BBC’s ‘Today’ programme on Boxing Day this year to celebrate Christmases past.
Since 1937, contributors to Mass Observation (MO) have frequently been asked to write about the holiday season – from the effects of wartime rationing to general attitudes on gift-buying and family get-togethers.
On 26 December listeners to BBC Radio 4’s flagship news programme will be treated to a festive feast of excerpts, as sourced by MO curator Fiona Courage, archivist Jessica Scantlebury and Sussex historian Dr Claire Langhamer. The programme will also feature recorded interviews with Fiona and Claire and a live panel discussion.
Fiona says: “It’s a real honour for MO to be chosen as guest editor and for us to be able to share with others these personal, often poignant, thoughts and observations.
“As we looked through reports hammered out on wartime typewriters and handwritten accounts of card writing and poultry cooking, the sense of Christmases past came flowing through the pages to us.”
One of the diaries from 1942 mentions the “quiet determined, atmosphere of Christmas” with the “extravagant” lunch achieved by “weeks of saving up good things to eat”.
A more recent observation from the 1980s describes “the abysmal tedium of post-Christmas thank you letters to relatives”.
Fiona adds: “Reading through these accounts I can empathise with shared values and compare differing opinions, while at the same time recognising how time and circumstances have allowed our society to change over the decades.”
Mass Observation will be in the company of Nobel Prize winner (and former Sussex research fellow) Sir Paul Nurse, foreign correspondent Dame Ann Leslie, poet Benjamin Zephaniah, comedian Al Murray and businesswoman and philanthropist Melinda Gates in guest editing the ‘Today’ programme between Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.