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Lunch Is for Wimps

Duration:
58 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 28 April 2012

Remember the lunch hour? You could leave your desk, meet friends in the pub, eat a three course meal, have a lunchtime affair even...That hour was your own: it didn't belong to your employer. No more. Now, one in five people in the UK never eat lunch. Only one in one hundred regularly take a full hour's break. How has such a huge social change happened? Why on earth did we let the lunch hour go so easily?

Matthew Sweet draws on archive recordings to explore what we have lost, and what the hidden costs might be. Wall Street's Gordon Gekko once said "lunch is for wimps" - why do we seem to have accepted his conclusion? When Churchill enjoyed several courses, washed down with wine and brandy, at midday in Downing Street it was thought to help, rather than hinder, his leadership of the country. Matthew talks to social historian Juliet Gardiner, and to historian Sir David Cannadine about Churchill's heroic dining. Sociologist Harriet Bradley offers insights into the rise of presenteeism and the impact of recession on our lunch time habits. Writers Tim Parks implores us to take a break for the sake of our health.

Matthew goes back to Hull, where he grew up, and remembers ham sandwiches at home with his mum, and factory whistles sounding out around the city, signalling the start of the lunch hour. He meets factory and office workers and asks why have we allowed ourselves to become so overwhelmed with the pressures of the working day that we don't have time to stop for a break?

Includes archive recordings from 1937 describing workers flocking to corner houses for lunch, Ernest Bevin urging wartime factory owners to give their workers proper meals and revelations from the 1980s about liquid lunches and office affairs.

Produced by Hannah Marshall
A Loftus Production for BBC Radio 4.

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