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on 20 October 2010
Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Must admit, I'm not a Radio 4 listener, more of a Radio 7 fan as I find it a little less high-brow and generally more fun, but if A History of Private Life is typical of the average R4 offering, then I've obviously been missing out. This is a generous set to enjoy - 6 discs covering 30 fifteen minute episodes, starting from the early 16th century and reaching right up to the present day. At first I found the quarter hour format rather piecemealish and snippety, it would feel as if the episode was just starting to take off when suddenly it drew to a close. But it's like reading a well written story with very concise chapters - you finish one and you're itching to turn the page and find out what happens next.

Amanda Vickery is a very engaging companion on the journey, she has a soft northern accent and a warm, enthusiastic style. She shares her discoveries with contagious relish and you feel like a co-conspirator on a sometimes scandalous quest to uncover the deepest secrets, ambitions, disappointments and dreams of a series of compelling characters. Vickery presents a wealth of primary accounts from journal entries, housekeeping notes, letters, memoirs, folk songs, newspapers and contemporary literature and poetry, and the individual stories are brought to life by a number of talented actors, including John Sessions. I particularly enjoyed the music she included in every episode (great performances of the songs of the day from Gwyneth Herbert and Thomas Guthrie) - they really conjured up the atmosphere of each era and the songs ranged from the hilariously bawdy to the heartwrenchingly poignant.

It's the little details that will grip you, tiny pieces of the private lifes of the very ordinary folk who are so often overlooked in most dry history texts, and on a personal note I found the entire series especially illuminating on the plight of the working 'underclass,' particularly women, disenfranchised and denied education, entirely at the mercy of an often unscrupulous and demanding employer. Maybe that's why the songs add so much to the series - many of the most fascinating people had no other way of leaving their mark on history as they couldn't read or write, couldn't leave letters or even the simplest records, so their stories are often just secondhand accounts pieced together or read from between the lines of the literate middle or upper classes' lives.

I think there's something here for everyone - it's a wonderfully colourful and richly detailed tapestry of our history as a nation, and the ambitious span of the centuries leaves you with the warmest feeling of the universality of the human experience, how no matter what the age or decade, people endure the same struggles and dream the same basic dreams, they love and loathe, grieve and rejoice in the same way. You're also struck by the resilience of the human spirit even in the most trying of times, and the ability to create beauty, often out of chaos and ugliness, through music and poetry. As a series, this is wholly addictive and a great companion to have in the car with you on long journeys. Most highly recommended!
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VINE VOICEon 8 September 2010
Most histories concern themselves with Royalty, battles and famous people. This is different as it concerns the ordinary people of Britain. The source material for the presentation is a wealth of documents researched over a number of years by historian Amanda Vickery. It does mean that it is heavily skewed towards the more privileged classes, particularly in the earlier years, as the lower classes would not have so much written documentation by or about them.

The six CDs are split into 30 smallish programmes each covering a different subject area. In fact each disc is dedicated to one major subject such as running the home, visitors at home and showing off. There are then 5 programmes per disc covering individual aspects of the major subject area.

The presentation is very entertaining and humourous (without being laugh out loud funny, it is a serious though light hearted programme). The songs are interesting. Ms Vickery has unearthed rarely heard songs (as well as more well known themes that run throughout e.g. Dashing Away With The Smoothing Iron). These are entertaining and interesting and sometimes rude! It isn't just lectures either. All of the programmes contain readings and short dramatic sequences by a small group of accomplished actors.

Although the programmes cover the last 500 years or so, they mainly cover the 18th and 19th centuries. It would be interesting to hear a similar type of programme describing how life changed from the beginning to the end of the 20th century but there is plenty of dosumentary evidence available to cover this period. The discs here cover a period where such documentation is rare and has taken painstaking research to uncover.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to these discs. Although over 6½ hours in length, I listened to it all in two sessions without becoming bored.
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VINE VOICEon 6 October 2010
Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I found it hard not to judge this presentation by the audio book "At Home, A short history of Private Life" By Bill Bryson. Where as the Bill Bryson book/audio book is about the evolution of home and hearth, it spreads further to changes across the pond too. A History of Private Life is more about the evolution of the home in England.

It is interspersed with poems, songs and diary entries of people of the times. Much focus is made on the plight of the woman in history too, and is illustrated with the lovely song "The Housewife's Lament." I would have liked to hear the song in its entirety rather than just bits of it through out the discs, it is by far the best rendition I have heard of it.

There are amusing anecdotes in the section about home remedies, one of the worst was a cure for a certain ailment was to put a chicken on your head or chest (not a live one)There is a section devoted to adultery and its consequences and how the servants knew everything of a household. The various voice actors bring the stories to life and make for an interesting listen. You will probably have to listen to it more than once to glean all the information from it, and many of the tales of the misuse of women at the hands of mankind will surely swell the sisterly compassion for the suffering of your fellow females! LOL

Actually to be honest it did give me more of an appreciation for the changes in society towards women and their rights when listening to the woes of the woman in times past and not so long ago.

Amanda Vickery gives an interesting narration and insight to the private life of the British home. It was well done, not better than Bill Bryson's version, but good on its own merits as it tackles the subject from a slightly different angle.
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on 17 September 2010
This is a 30 episode series giving over 6 hours of listening on 6 CDs. I ordered this because I enjoy just about everything on Radio 4 but for series such as this rarely get to follow them all the way through. It was excellent to be able to listen to one episode after the other in the car.

In this series Amanda Vickery gives a history of private, domestic life over the centuries as captured through real diaries, letters, court reports and in the popular songs and poetry of the day. A series of actors speak for the characters and I always lit up to hear John Sessions' melodious tones! The songs were good also and some were even a bit saucy! Personally I found Amanda a teensy bit grating sounding a bit like an enthusiastic Blue Peter presenter, however she is clearly fascinated with social history, and was at her best when genuinely moved by the experiences of her subjects.

As most history taught is concerned with major events I found it really interesting to hear about how people lived and loved over the centuries; what caused them delight or distress; their aspirations, snobberies and fears. Each episode covers a specific topic, for example the bedroom, kitchen physic, pots and pans, marriage, divorce, batchelors, spinsters, widows, good taste, science in the home, suburbia. The gossipy style made it interesting and in places really funny. There are plenty of serious issues discussed too. The lack of rights, formal education or property in the past for women was illustrated particularly poignantly in a number of stories.

Anyhow it is very good and I recommend buying it if you enjoy those odd snippets you catch on the radio and wish you'd caught other episodes.
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VINE VOICEon 7 December 2010
Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a CD issue of Radio 4's `A History of Private Life' programme, researched and narrated by Amanda Vickery [and not to be confused with Bill Bryson's At Home: A short history of private life]. The series was originally broadcast in 30 episodes September-November 2009, with each episode lasting approximately 15 minutes.

This release is split across six CD's, with five of the original radio episodes to each disc, giving a rather lengthy total running time of just over six and a half hours. Each episode attempts to address a theme within private life, from the importance of the home, through discussions of centrepieces (`The Bed', for example), and development of the notion of `privacy' over time - particularly as the British interacted with other cultures during their imperial expansions and contractions.

Each episode `theme' is approached by the narrator with obvious affection, the common threads for each set of ideas bound together through contemporary anecdotes, diary entries, and songs. This is an interesting idea, and listening to the songs of each period is quite interesting, and a feat one could probably only really do in audio form. However, some of the songs are used through various episodes, and so there is the risk that they begin to sound repetitious - the `Housewives lament', for example, surfaces in the first few episodes, and a snatch of it turns up in several episodes thereafter.

The subject matter can also become a little difficult to appreciate if one listens to several episodes back to back; on the radio, the series was broadcast daily, and the 15-minute timeslot seemed perfect. Listening to a 5 episode CD, depending on mood, can strain the patience a little. However, Vickery approaches her various themes with verve and panache, drawing the reader into an intimate portrait of British homes, which she has obviously researched closely - and passing that research on to the listener in a (mostly) interesting and accessible form.

A large part of the series focuses on the 16th through 19th centuries; I would have liked to have seen a little more of the twentieth century, and a series on the idea of home and privacy in Antiquity and the Middle Ages surely beckons?

Overall, each episode is just enough to get your teeth into, and makes for a pleasant, interesting and enjoyable listening experience.
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VINE VOICEon 2 October 2010
Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A radio series that combines social history with forgotten songs and poems, delicious extracts from private diaries and letters and all presented by the delightfully engaging Amanda Vikery is bound to be a treat, and this is!

There are six CD's each containing five, 15-minute 'episodes' of the series, presumably originally broadcast daily. Most of the series focuses on the 17th 18th and 19th Centuries, although the last one fast-tracks through the Victorians up to the present day. It's the information about 'ordinary' people's lives that I found so utterly addictive, to the point where I would sit in the car outside the house so as to finish an episode.

What surprised me was how similar the people of the 1600's are to the people of today. Husbands and wives bickered, but many loved one another deeply and passionately. Some of the extracts from letters between spouses are deeply moving. Of course not all were happy, and you have to feel desperately sorry for the poor women who ended up shackled for life with bullying, psychotic and adulterous husbands. I particularly enjoyed extracts from the diaries of one poor Yorkshire woman - I don't want to spoil it but her life is a source of constant disappointment!

Women felt burdened by the need to keep their houses clean and tidy then, just as they do today. A housewive's lament is sung which had me nodding along in recognition of the sentiments.

Another enjoyable theme was disappointment with servants. It seemed you really couldn't get the staff, with employers grumbling constantly at being 'let down' by servants they'd trusted and favoured. Servants were inclined to not turn up, to thieve, to gossip (and some of the gossip will raise your eyebrows!) and to go off and work for someone else. These snippets of information are thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable. I thoroughly recommend this series.
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VINE VOICEon 6 March 2011
Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
If you liked Amanda Vickery's BBC2 series "At Home with the Georgians" from 2010, then odds are you'll like this.
"A History of Private Life" came in 2009 and aired in 30 parts on Radio 4.
It is split over six discs here, and is a stunningly-well researched piece of radio that combines meticulous academia with doses of theatre which make its message accessible to a layman.
The well-gauged use of song, sound effects and actors really pulls the listener into the period, while Vickery's dulcet tones slip in between the "illustrations" to provide insight, introduction and summary.
The only criticism is that I found there was quite a lot to get through here, and feel it would've been perhaps better if compressed onto three discs. Still, the standards are high throughout, and none of it is filler - it is just that as someone without a particularly burning interest in the subject I found six discs a little bit tiring, and the structure of the various parts became a little bit repetitive after a while. I found a 20-minute chunk of this at a time about as much as I could take.
Still, as I said at the beginning of this review, anyone who enjoyed Vickery's TV show - or indeed any Radio 4 listener - will find something to enjoy across these six discs.
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VINE VOICEon 14 October 2010
Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I am sure there are other examples of this type of bringing history to life but this is the first I have listened to, and I have listenend to it more than once! Hearing other peoples voices recounting their lives is somehow more personal than just reading it (and hearing it in your own mind). When I read stories or accounts of times gone by I always try and be there with the author, which is often easier with a novel than a history book. This is the first time I have read history with my eyes closed - so to speak - and I found I was seeing their stories so much more clearly. There are numerous stories interspersed with contemporary tunes and it is a slicky produced as you would expect from a Radio 4 production. I missed this when it was aired - but have rediscovered my enjoyment of Radio 4!
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VINE VOICEon 28 October 2010
Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
More a collection of anecdotes that a proper history I found this production to be highly enjoyable and a great insight into how life was for people in the past. Many different snippets of songs, poems and letters are interspersed with links from Professor Amanda Vickery. These bits are grouped into roughly similar subjects, and flow quite well from one to the other.

If I had a very slight criticism it would be that the snippets sometimes feel a bit too short for me and merely whet my appetite to find out more. Maybe this is intentional on the part of the author but I listen to it and feel I need to search out a book to discover more on the subjects. Not too much of a problem really! The other small problem I have is that Professor Vickery is described as one of the most charismatic historians in Britain today, and I cannot argue with that, but her voice seemed to me to be slightly too monotone to hold my interest through some of the longer sections.

Overall though this is a very well presented, highly enjoyable production from the BBC and I look forward to much much more of the same.
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on 24 August 2010
I've been thoroughly gripped by this on my daily commute. It's a compilation of episodes from Radio 4's 'A History of Private Life', which pieces together lots of little snippets from letters, notebooks, folk songs and archives to present a picture of the everyday home lives of people in Britain over the last four centuries. Being focused mainly on domestic matters, it gives a lot of insights into women's everyday lives - the sort of thing that is generally missing from historical accounts. Some of the episodes take a peek at what women were up to at home while men were out "making decisions" ...and how they found their own spheres of influence by commanding households or engaging in the burdensome social ritual of 18th century tea parties. The historian narrates it all with warmth and wryness. Sometimes it touches on the darker aspects of patriarchy, domestic violence and the class divide. Some ofthe individual stories can make the listener boiling mad, while others will make you smile. Definitely a good listen for anyone interested in social history.
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