Last night's viewing - Ian Hislop's Stiff Upper Lip – an Emotional History of Britain, BBC2; 7/7 Bombings: Conspiracy Road Trip, BBC3

 

I'd never heard of Lumpy Stevens five days ago and now I can't shake him off. The first mention came in Patricia Cox's series Servants: the True Story of Life Below Stairs, where he illustrated the unexpected closeness of some servant/master relationships (the Earl of Tankerville hired him as a gardener because of the quality of his cricket). Then last night he cropped up again in Ian Hislop's Stiff Upper Lip – an Emotional History of Britain, as a participant in one of the more quixotic foreign-policy initiatives of British history.

The Duke of Dorset, then ambassador in Paris and alarmed by republican stirrings, decided that the perfect antidote to Gallic over-excitability would be to get the country interested in cricket. So he arranged a tour, with Lumpy Stevens as one of the star players. Unfortunately, things had already gone too far for this uniquely British tranquillizer to prove effective, and the team were forced to up stumps and head home.

Exactly why this bizarre attempt to hold off ancien régime change featured in Hislop's programme, I can't entirely recall now. But the real point was the French Revolution, credited here with initiating a sea change in British emotional history. Before that time, Hislop argued, the notion that we might pride ourself on our emotional reserve was unthinkable. After visiting London, the great scholar Erasmus remarked on our positively Continental effusiveness: "Wherever you come you are received with a kiss," he wrote, "you cannot move without kisses." Much later, "sensibility" – a delicate and responsive attitude to deep emotions – became a badge of pride among the lettered. But then the French Revolution showed how dangerous giving in to the passions could be and a different strain in British life, the mannerly (and manly) control of feelings came to the fore.

That's the crude précis, anyway, and it's one of the pleasures of Hislop's programme that a crude précis won't quite do justice to it. He stays alert to the fact that a history of feeling can never be quite as categorical as a history of battles. Contradictory emotions exist simultaneously, and ambiguities of response will further confuse the picture. In Pride and Prejudice, Darcy's reserve and self-control is, by turns, a failure of good character and a triumph of it. And the paintings of John Zoffany offer evidence both for the display of sensibility and the fear of where it could lead to if the bridle was taken off altogether. But Hislop finds ways to bring a bit of order to this muddle. As he argued here, the broad shift could be emblematised by the difference between Nelson and Wellington as national heroes; the first tender-hearted enough to ask for a farewell kiss and the latter establishing iron as a desirable raw material in the national character. It helps that he can turn a Gibbonian phrase too. Cueing up next week's episode, in which Empire stiffens the backbone even further, he said this: "We were going to be modest about our national pride – and inordinately proud of our national modesty."

Self-control and inherent stoicism came in handy while watching 7/7 Bombings: Conspiracy Road Trip, in which Andrew Maxwell took four conspiracy theorists from Leeds to London in an attempt to pry their cherished theories from their convulsive grip. It wasn't easy. "I'm not defensive and I'm not weird," said Tony, after getting into a row with another participant over his ferocious credulity. Actually, he was a tiny bit weird, but he also proved to be more open-minded than you might have predicted. He'd been convinced that home-made explosives wouldn't have been powerful enough to cause the level of destruction seen on 7/7. So Maxwell found a boffin who mixed up a paste of black pepper and hydrogen peroxide and used it to destroy a London bus. I half expected Tony to say that the BBC had secretly rigged the test with Semtex, but he didn't. Welcome to the light, Tony.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine