The Age of Glamour

A collage of images synonymous with the 1920s and 1930s, taken from the trail for The Age of Glamour season

The Age of Glamour

Sandwiched between two world wars, the Roaring Twenties and the Depression of the Thirties have come to epitomise boom and bust - the height of glamour and hedonism side by side with the depths of anxiety and despair. But, beneath the surface, was there more to it than that? During October 2009, BBC Four investigated this question in The Age of Glamour, a season of programmes that coincided with the 80th anniversary of the Wall Street Crash.

Eager to leave behind the horrors of World War One, Britain soon embarked on a series of adventures, embracing modernity in art and design, experimenting with technology and social mores, opening up the throttle on financial speculation and consumerism. The season asked what view we should take of the inter-war years - whether it was a glittering bubble that burst, or an enduring legacy of achievement that is still remarkable today.

Programmes in the season

The three-part series Glamour's Golden Age explored the cultural transformation of Britain. Travel, increasingly luxurious by air and by sea, and the burgeoning presence of the motor car in Britain's cities influenced architects, artists and designers, including the pioneering Art Deco ceramicist Clarice Cliff, who reflected the sleek, speedy, streamlined forms into her designs. London's Bright Young Things, celebrated and demonised in their own time, were immortalised in the work of Cecil Beaton, Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford. And the Sirens of the silver screen, no longer silent, came to influence not just the fashions of the times but the attitudes and behaviour of the audiences.

Alan Cumming meets Liza Minnelli, the star of the original movie version of the musical Cabaret

In The Real Cabaret, Alan Cumming travelled to the city that, for a time, came to epitomise the new freedoms of the age. The clubs and bars of Weimar Berlin were home to an extraordinary sexual subculture, where the taboos that operated elsewhere in Europe - especially the attitude to homosexuality - did not apply. The scene attracted many British writers, including the author Christopher Isherwood, whose experiences there were described in his evocative novel Goodbye to Berlin - the book that inspired the acclaimed 1972 Hollywood musical Cabaret. In the film, Cumming met the star of the movie, Liza Minnelli, and the real people who inhabited the strangely alluring Berlin demi-monde in the years before the city's destiny would be transformed forever by the rise of the Nazis.

A Tale of Two Britains: The enduring image of 1930s Britain is of a place of hunger marches, economic depression and unemployed men hanging round street corners deprived of hope. George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier set the tone for an era now remembered in shades of grey. But there is another picture too, one more associated with the works of John Betjeman. Under the stewardship of the Chancellor, Neville Chamberlain, the UK was quicker than most to shrug off the worst effects of the Depression and, in the south, the 1930s became a period of economic renewal, technological progress and social transformation. This film examined the contradictions of a decade that encompassed the Jarrow Crusade and the Tudorbethan Dream.

David Heathcote in a typical Art Deco interior

Art Deco Icons: Today, the glamour of the 1920s and 1930s is most strongly associated with one artistic movement above all - shiny, high-tech and sensuous, Art Deco symbolised modernity. Its aesthetic drove the design of everything from cinemas to trains, from clothes to apartment blocks and from factories to mirrors. In this four-part series, the architectural historian David Heathcote travelled around Britain to celebrate the iconic buildings and creations that have become the material embodiment of interwar style - from Claridge's to the Orient Express.

High Flyers - How Britain Took to The Air: The mass market air travel of today can often be a cramped and crowded ordeal - and it's a far cry from the birth of commercial flight when Croydon became the international gateway to Britain, and when an onboard toilet was a bucket behind a curtain. Nonetheless, for the lucky few who could afford it, the 1930s flying experience was the very height of glamour, modernity, fantasy and adventure.

Over three programmes, the Time Shift series Liners traced the rise and fall of that most luxurious form of travel, the great ocean-going passenger ship. The first part, The Golden Age of Liners, chronicled the race to dominate the great transatlantic routes - a battle fought with opulence and style; the second programme profiled the communities that provided the artisans who built these floating palaces, from Clydeside shipbuilders to carpenters and lacemakers; and the final part tracked their post-war demise as sea voyages were superseded by cheaper, faster air travel.

About the season


The Age of Glamour was a season of programmes on BBC Four that examined one of the most exciting periods of transition in British 20th century history: the 1920s and '30s.


Originally broadcast during October 2009.


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