US mini logoHome | A-Z Index | People | Reference | Contact us

Press release

  • 4 October 2005
  • University archive inspires BBC’s ‘Lost Decade’ season

    From left: Sandra Koa-Wing, Richard Briers, Simon Garfield and Dorothy

    Sandra Koa-Wing, Richard Briers, Simon Garfield and Dorothy Sheridan

    The secret lives, loves and vices of post-war Britain come under the spotlight on television this week, inspired by real-life stories that form the Mass-Observation Archive at the University of Sussex.

    The Lost Decade, a week-long season of programmes on BBC Four, focuses on 1945-55 - an era of change and social uncertainty following the end of the Second World War.

    The Mass-Observation Archive at Sussex is the inspiration behind two of the main programmes featured - Our Hidden Lives (Mon 3 October 9pm-10.15pm and Tues 4 October, 10.30pm-11.45pm) and Little Kinsey (Weds 5 Oct, 10pm-11pm).

    The drama Our Hidden Lives, starring household names Richard Briers, Sarah Parish, Ian McDiarmid and Lesley Sharp, is based on the bestselling book of the same name by Simon Garfield. The book weaves together the diaries of four ordinary people to provide a vivid portrait of a nation coming to terms with the end of the war and a changing world.

    Garfield researched diaries of real people from the Mass-Observation Archive, part of the University library's Special Collections. Begun in the 1930s, it contains diaries, responses and questionnaires written by members of the public, collected and analysed by the Mass-Observation Project, the aim of which was to produce an "anthropology of ourselves". Donated to the University in 1970, the Archive now serves as a rich source of material for writers, historians and researchers.

    Simon Garfield's latest book, We Are At War, is the second in a triology based on the Mass-Observation diaries and follows the diarists from the days before the outbreak of the Second World War to the end of the Battle of Britain.

    The Archive was also the source for an even more revealing examination of the nation's sexual habits and attitudes. Britain's first sex survey, conducted by Mass-Observation for a Sunday newspaper, revealed a secret world of premarital sex, homosexual experience and infidelity shockingly at odds with the supposedly strict moral code of the day and deemed too explosive to publish.

    Little Kinsey tells the story of the eponymous survey, so named because it followed in the wake of America's own sex survey, the Kinsey Report. The candid responses of hundreds of men and women provide an eye-opening alternative vision of British sexual behaviour before the "Permissive" Society.

    Little Kinsey director Steve Humphries, who came across the survey while studying for a doctorate at Sussex, says: "The Mass-Observation Archive is a national treasure, providing a unique insight into the lives of ordinary British people."

    Dorothy Sheridan, Head of Special Collections at Sussex, says: "Once again it's a delight to see the Mass-Observation material reaching a wider audience."


    Notes for editors 

    For more information about the Lost Decade season, see

    For more information about the Mass-Observation Archive, see

    University of Sussex Press office: Contact Maggie Clune on 01273 678 88 or email



    Useful links

    Information for Journalists   Previous press releases

    Site maintained by: Web team Disclaimer | Feedback