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Path to the vote

22 August 2014


BBC2's Women of World War One (Monday) featured Kate Adie, not on this occasion wearing a flak jacket, but soberly dressed as befits a serious documentary presenter.

The programme was about the way the part played by women in the Great War transformed their place in society. It began with St Paul's words forbidding women to speak in church, over a shot of St Botolph's in the City of London. Before the war, no woman had ever preached in a parish church, sat as a judge, voted in an election, or served as an MP. Women were the silent home-makers of Britain.

The war was to change that. It was the women who urged their men to enlist. "We don't want to lose you, but we think you ought to go," Vesta Tilley sang in the music halls. And off they went in their tens of thousands to the mud and blood of the trenches. Who, then, was to till the land, manufacture the munitions, deliver the post? The answer, of course, was the women. In the process, they were actually paid a wage (though less than the men had got), in many cases for the first time in their lives.

The Women's Rights movement suspended its campaigning in the interests of "King and country". But these new opportunities for women, once given, could not be taken away, and, with the support of Lloyd George and others, the end of the war brought dramatic changes. The first Bill giving some women the right to vote was passed in 1918. The final bookend of a fascinating programme was another shot of St Botolph's, where a woman, Maud Royden, preached in 1919. Who could have guessed where that would lead?

Executed (ITV, Tuesday) was broadcast on 13 August, the 50th anniversary of the last hangings in Britain. It skilfully wove together testimonies of surviving relatives of people executed, a prison warder who witnessed a hanging, and the straight-faced curator of Wandsworth Prison, who took us through the gruesome process.

The programme concentrated on a few notorious cases, the most shocking of them the execution of a simple, illiterate young man, Timothy Evans, for murdering his wife and baby. In fact, his landlord, John Christie, the chief prosecution witness, killed them and six other women, whose bodies were later found hidden in the house.

The sisters of Evans and Christie, in their different ways, brought home the impact of this monumental miscarriage of justice. Evans was hanged, protesting his innocence, in 1950. Twelve years later, he received a posthumous pardon. It took the hanging of the teenager Derek Bentley in 1953 (as an accomplice to a policeman's murder) and of Ruth Ellis, the last woman executed, in 1955, to rouse public revulsion. Even then, it was a decade before the UK abolished capital punishment for murder.

The star-studded new comedy Boomers (BBC1, Friday) got off to a less than hilarious start, but Church Times readers may appreciate a one-liner from it. As a group of mourners approached the crematorium, one remarked: "I do hope it's not all poems and guitars. That's not a funeral: that's Britain's Got Talent".

The Revd David Winter also wrote last week's review. Our apologies for the misprint.

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