Britain's First Teenagers

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Episode 2 of 20

Duration: 29 minutes

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, to tell the history of modern Britain.

In Soho, Melvyn looks back to the 1950s and a time when Britain broke free of the burdens of the Second World War and the teenager was born. One of the original trendsetters, Wee Willy Harris, talks about the rockers who ripped up the dance floor. Molly Lowton and Jennie Prescott glimpse a much loved friend and sister in films of their village dance. And 50s heart-throb Marty Wilde explains how the new music scene brightened up post-war Britain.

  • BFI Key Films - Teenagers

    BFI Key Films - Teenagers

    In this episode the key BFI film we use is called ‘We are the Lambeth Boys’. It was released in 1959 and Karel Reisz was the director.

    The film was originally sponsored by Ford for its Look at Britain series.

    'Lambeth Boys' attempted to deliver a positive portrait of the lives of ordinary teenagers, far from the usual violent 'Teddy Boy' stereotype.

    The film was shot over six weeks in the summer of 1958 in and around the Alford House, a youth club in the Oval area of South London. It follows a group of teenagers at work, at home and in their leisure time, giving them space to express their frustrations and aspirations.

    In this episode of Reel History we catch up with three of the stars of the film more than 50 years after it was made.

    You can watch the whole of 'We Are the Lambeth Boys' and other key films on this subject via the BFI's website for the Teenagers episode.

    Link to BFI Reel History site
  • The First Wild Man of UK Rock and Roll

    The First Wild Man of UK Rock and Roll

    Melvyn meets Wee Willie Harris (centre) in this episode. Wee Willie tells Melvyn how he became inspired to become a rock star and dye his hair bright pink after seeing Bill Haley and Elvis Presley.

    Wee Willie began performing at the legendary 2i's Coffee Bar in Soho. In November 1957 he was picked by the TV producer, Jack Good, to appear in the BBC show Six-Five Special. His appearances on the show led to concerns being expressed in the media about the BBC's role in "promoting teenage decadence".

  • The Crowd Goes Wild for Marty

    The Crowd Goes Wild for Marty

    Melvyn meets one of the original teen idols in this episode - Marty Wilde.

    From mid-1958 to the end of 1959, Wilde was one of the leading British rock and roll singers, along with Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard.

    Marty had many big hits during this time such as 'Rubber Ball' and 'Teenager in Love'. He tells Melvyn why the 1950s was such a magic time.

    Official Marty Wilde website
  • Saturday Night's Alright for Dancing

    Saturday Night's Alright for Dancing

    Jennie Prescott tells Melvyn how she used to look forward to her regular Saturday night trips to a rock and roll club in Standish near Wigan. Jennie tells Melvyn all about the behaviour of the boys at the club and what her parents thought of the music and fashions.

  • Molly Remembers Her Sister

    Molly Remembers Her Sister

    There is a very emotional moment in the cinema when Molly Lowton spots her younger sister Joyce on a key film we show her.

    Joyce died shortly after this film was made.

    Molly explains to Melvyn all about the fun they used to have together on Saturday nights out.

  • Reel History of Britain: Selecting the films

    Reel History of Britain: Selecting the films

    Find out how curator Robin Baker chose the films featured in the series, and what makes these on-screen snippets of British history so compelling.

    Read and comment on Robin's post on the BBC TV blog.

    Reel History of Britain: Selecting the films


Melvyn Bragg
Series Producer
Dympna Jackson
Executive Producer
Ruth Pitt


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