IN PANORAMA last week, Darragh MacIntyre was sent off to discover the story behind an unknown elderly man with an American accent who was found last year in a car park in Hereford. The man knew his name, Roger Curry, but beyond that, nothing.
The result of research and investigation in the UK and the United States led to Panorama: The mystery of the unknown man (BBC1, Monday). The story it revealed was disturbing. Mr Curry was the victim of a practice known in the US as “granny dumping”: families who cannot or will not meet the costs of caring for ageing parents simply “dump” them.
Mr Curry’s wife and son flew him to England, and then abandoned him in the car park before flying off on holiday elsewhere. MacIntyre managed to locate his previous home address near Los Angeles, talked to his former neighbours, and then doggedly pursued the son, who had moved away and refused to talk about his father. Eventually, a court ruling established the cruel facts.
It is interesting that the relatives chose an English town as their dumping ground. They knew that he would be cared for by the British social services. It was also a timely reminder that “Honour your father and mother” is an ancient and universal religious requirement.
BBC4 turned its attention last week to two ambitious pieces of historic debunking. The first — British Empire: Heroes and villains (Wednesday of last week) — was a clip-op job on 60 years of BBC TV coverage of the British Empire, presented by David Olusoga.
From the heady days of the war, the gallant soldiers of the Empire fighting together, we moved to the post-colonial and politically correct strictures of the 1960s and ’70s. In recent years, a more balanced view has emerged: the Empire was far from perfect, but it brought education, law, and democracy to many lands. “The multicultural world we live in”, Jeremy Paxman observed, “is the consequence of our imperial history.”
The second piece of debunking was in British History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley (BBC4, Thursday of last week). Lucy Worsley attempted a demolition job on the Great Revolution of 1688, when the absolutist RC King James II fled to France, and the Protestant William of Orange took his throne jointly with his wife, Mary.
There is something unstoppable about Worsley in full flight, and she certainly tore into the idea that there was a “Glorious Revolution” in 1688. She did concede that, in that year, Britain achieved for the first time a Bill of Rights, but she dismissed the idea that the slaughter that followed was “glorious”.
On the other hand, we learnt that the coronation of William and Mary was the birth of our present constitutional monarchy, and possibly saved us from the horrors of the French Revolution. That’s the trouble with history: it is not entirely objective. And it seldom settles arguments, either.