Dan’s written a piece about the White Cliffs for The Times which can be found on the Times website as well as in today’s paper.
In the Press
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From the Evening Standard:
Growing up as a Snow, a Suchet or a Fox, who could resist following in the family footsteps? Five London dynasties talk to Hannah Nathanson about working with their nearest and dearest
Dan Snow, 32
I grew up thinking that everyone’s dad was on telly. As early as I can remember I used to say goodnight to my dad on television when he was doing Newsnight. Both Dad and his cousin Jon are very good at treating young people like adults. If you wanted to talk to them, you had to talk about what they were interested in, which was politics. I remember when I was five they asked me what I thought about Margaret Thatcher and the coalmining strikes, and Dad would take me to demonstrations in London and the House of Commons in session so I got the bug quite early on. Being in front of a camera in our family was quite normal. We always did piece-to-cameras for our family videos. It was what he and Mum, who works for Canadian news channel CBC, did for a living.
There are loads of fun anecdotes from working with Dad. We were sailing dinghies to show how the Spanish Armada was defeated by the English and the boom kept crashing into him. I am constantly looking after Dad because he refuses to listen to what anybody else says; when the crew are setting, he’ll be wandering through a minefield to see if there’s a better angle. You can always tell when Jon was in the house because he and Dad start yelling at each other. Jon loves huge bold statements and Dad likes interviewing him and knocking him down. Dad and I have a habit of arguing even when we agree with each other. We always know what we’re going to say next so I’ll be about to say something and he’ll say, ‘Can I just remind you…’ and I’ll say, ‘I know what you’re about to say and you don’t have to say that.’ It’s never personal: we disagree about things like how many First World War casualties there were on a battlefield.
Jon Snow, 63
I enjoy watching Peter and Dan on television now, it’s a very clever format because they are exactly as they are in real life- that’s what I’ve had to live with. Dan is a generational leader. He stands apart, not just because of his height but he’s a great historian. Peter and I might represent a work in progress but Dan is it, he’s the bee’s knees. There’s something that he’s got that neither of us have. I think it’s clarity and boundless integrity. When ITN offered me a job in the 1970s I refused initially. I didn’t want to work at the same station as Peter because it would have been hopeless; I mean the Dimblebys have tried that. But within a few months the editor sent me a note saying, ‘Just send me a paragraph saying you’ll work for us and the job is yours’ so I went there as a reporter in 1975. Peter was a formidable force in news reporting way before I went into it. We only got a television when I was 15 because Peter was reading the news on it. He had fantastic focus and was a very clear reporter. We argued like donkeys, especially about politics. He thought I was a complete extremist and I thought he was an old fuddy-duddy, but he was always right. He always had reason on his side and I always had emotion on my side.
Peter Snow, 73
Whenever I’ve had a career change I’ve asked my son Dan for his opinion first. He has a very decisive judgement and it’s always right. We first started working together when I was finishing on Tomorrow’s World. Dan was at Oxford University and got into the rowing 1st VIII; someone noticed him doing a recording about how to row a boat and came to me saying that he’d be rather good on the telly and why don’t we work together. ‘You must be joking!’ I said but they still wanted to try it, so we did a programme on the Battle of El Alamein in 2002 where Dan told the story of the man on the front line and I explained the strategy. It worked very well telling a dual story like that. People used to come up to me and say, ‘Are you Peter Snow?’ Now they come up to me and say, ‘Are you Dan Snow’s father?’ It’s quite fun. I’m immensely proud of the guy.
Jon is a superb journalist. He immediately established himself as someone with a great curiosity and a drive to find out what was really going on- rather like me, except he has the advantage of being ten years younger. When I joined ITN in 1962 I really wanted to be a trainee director and get into drama, but within a week of writing news stories I became a journalist and there was no looking back. Jon and I have both covered election nights at the same time. It’s been great fun watching the recording of Jon doing his bit afterwards. We’ve had slightly different roles: he has been the anchor, the Dimbleby figure of ITN, and I’ve explained the facts and figures. I didn’t give Jon a leg up into the industry, I simply told him who to ring. He found his way into radio and then television on his own merits. Within minutes of Jon broadcasting on LBC, my news editor said to me, ‘That Snow, is he related to you? How do I get hold of him?’ I gave him the number and Jon came to ITN.
The rest of the article is about other families and not included here.
Dan’s written a blog for the BBC History Magazine website on putting together National Treasures Live.
Can history compete at prime time on Britain’s biggest channel? That was the challenge I was set by the BBC’s top brass. Me and a crack team of producers and researchers were told to come up with a history series that would bring popular history to the heart of BBC One.
We were given five slots, at 7.30pm – and we would be broadcasting live to the nation’s living rooms. The team assembled and the lengthy, intense and often amusing discussions began.
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The Monday Interview: The educator, AV campaigner, and royal wedding guest talks to Adam Sherwin
If the weekend’s events displayed a nation caught between tradition and modernity then there’s one historian who can surely make sense of it all. It’s been a busy few days for Dan Snow, the boundlessly-energetic BBC “history heart-throb”, scion of a famous broadcasting family and now a vocal advocate for the Yes to AV campaign.
Snow, 32, has argued for constitutional change on Newsnight and worked the phones at the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign. “We shouldn’t be attached to the past like ancestor worshippers,” he says of the first-past-the-post system.
But he also measured up his morning suit as a distinguished guest at the royal wedding, which he attended with his wife, Lady Edwina Grosvenor, daughter of the sixth Duke of Westminster. Can a hereditary monarchy, entrenched by Friday’s nuptials, sit comfortably alongside the promise of a more plural, democratic Britain offered by AV?
Snow, who has won acclaim for his military history books and documentaries, believes the secret lies in the monarchy’s adaptability. “In the past an event like this would have been a military spectacle but now it’s a family wedding,” he says.
“Marrying a middle-class girl from outside of the aristocracy shows the monarchy does change with the times and is designed for a democratic age.”
But there does need to be a change to the line of succession. “If William and Catherine’s first child is a daughter, there’s absolutely no doubt that she would become Queen, over the sovereign claim of a younger brother. If the British Parliament changes the law and the Commonwealth splits over the issue then so be it.”
It’s the kind of constitutional debate that constantly swirled around the Snow household. His father Peter tended the Newsnight swingometer on election nights and his cousin, Jon, is the Channel 4 News anchor.
Dan’s mother Ann is a Canadian journalist and he is the nephew of Margaret MacMillan, the Oxford historian. For good measure he is the great-great-grandson of David Lloyd George.
“I’ve been the luckiest person in the world because right from the earliest age my parents would talk around the table about PR, presidential democracy and monarchical absolutism,” he recalls.
“My dad is the best sounding board. We always argue but Dad is a fantastic empiricist in his own right. Of course he tells us all about voting systems and polls and he remembers the 1974 discussions about a Lib-Lab deal over PR.” When Snow left Balliol College, Oxford, with a double first in Modern History, Peter helped launch his television career, as father and son toured eight of the most famous British battlefields for a BBC series.
Dan has never looked back, bringing his authoritative, enthused approach to subjects including a well-received history of the Royal Navy and most recently Filthy Cities, a visceral journey into the sewers below Paris, London and New York.
Snow, who suffered bites from rats and leeches, is willing to make some compromises for the prize of attracting younger viewers to history. “It was an ambitious attempt, using CGI, to bring a wider audience to history on BBC2. There was a great reaction on Twitter but it was also a serious attempt to show the struggle we’ve had against filth and the progress we’ve made.” He’s observed how his television historian contemporaries, Simon Schama and Niall Ferguson, Dan’s Oxford tutor, have agreed to advise Michael Gove over the Education Secretary’s pledge to ensure that no child leaves school without learning a “narrative history”.
“My dad’s generation can list historical dates, the 1832 Reform Act and so on but they don’t know the substance behind them,” he says. “It would be a success if children could walk away from school with some understanding of how and why Britain is the shape it is today, ethnically and socially. I would like young people to be more aware of some old-fashioned constitutional history. It’s beyond my comprehension that an understanding of how and why we vote in this country is not a mandatory part of the syllabus.”
It was a letter opposing AV, signed by eminent historians including Ferguson and David Starkey that thrust Snow into the political debate. “I was bemused by this list of extremely impressive historians who made some very basic errors in a letter backing first past the post,” he says.
“They quoted first past the post as if it’s part of the legitimacy of the age. But we’ve had hung parliaments in one third of the past 100 years or so and sometimes parties volunteered to form coalitions in a crisis.
“Our democracy is the oldest in the world but we’ve never sat on our laurels. It’s evolved, we’ve franchised women, we got rid of private voting, we decided to pay MPs money.”
Is Snow a classic Liberal reformer in the Lloyd George tradition? “I grew up inspired by David Lloyd George but also Gladstone, Churchill and Atlee. They achieved extraordinary things. Paddy Ashdown is also someone I always looked up to.”
Yet he isn’t tempted to follow his fellow historian, Tristram Hunt, into Parliament. “It’s been fun getting involved in politics but I couldn’t toe a party line. I’d find the discipline of following a party doctrine tiresome.”
Snow is a dedicated advocate of social media. “I was so tempted to Tweet from inside the wedding but I’d probably never be invited anywhere again,” he reveals.
He’s been “invigorated” by the discovery that he can make a short film explaining AV, upload it to YouTube and have it seen by 10,000 people within an hour.
Snow tends to be wherever the action is. He escaped unscathed when the Syrian uprising erupted just as he was filming at the Krak Des Chevaliers in Homs in the west of the country, for a Discovery series on castles. But he balks at any suggestion that he has enjoyed a gilded rise from school captain to Oxford Boat Race star through instant television stardom and marriage into the Duke of Westminster’s £7bn estate.
“I only remember the setbacks and series of defeats,” he says. “Even when things have gone well in other respects, the number of programmes I’ve done where I’ve thought ‘this one will really break through, this will get people talking about history, this will win at the Baftas…’. And they come and go and just disappear into the ether. I think about the boat race I lost. I look at the projects the BBC said ‘no’ to, the ideas that never get off the ground. I wish the YouTube AV videos had 250,000 hits instead of 10,000.”
Today, Snow will be clambering in typical action-man style across Château de Gaillon in Normandy, “One of the most beautiful renaissance castles. Trashed in the revolution.” He adopts a military analogy to assess his own prospects. “The great generals get better because when they get setbacks for reasons out of their control they regroup, they keep coming back and they keep an eye on the final victory.
“George Washington suffered defeat after defeat but he never let himself get disillusioned. Historical parallels help us in our lives. I look at the towering statesmen such as Churchill. So one day I will write the book that blows everyone’s mind.”
A life in brief
* Born December 1978, youngest son of BBC journalist Peter Snow and Canadian journalist Ann MacMillan.
* Educated St Paul’s School, London and Balliol College, Oxford where he rowed three times in the Boat Race.
* Makes television debut alongside father in 2003 BBC film about El Alamein, followed by Battlefield Britain series.
* Snow and friends took three boats from Dover to Calais to help people stranded by the air-travel disruption caused by volcanic dust in 2010
* Married Lady Edwina Grosvenor, daughter of the Duke of Westminster, in November 2010
TV historian Dan Snow jokes that his latest project didn’t feel like the easiest way to make a living! Filthy Cities aims to bring to life the stinking histories of London, Paris and New York, with CGI ‘ageing’ the city streets.
Hands-on Dan, 32, goes down into sewers, shovels five tons of horse poo, butchers a pig with a medieval axe, and allows himself to be covered in lice and be bitten by a rat and a leech! TV Choice asks: in heaven’s name why?!
Er, Dan, what an unusual idea for a programme…
“It’s a rancid idea! But I’ve always been interested in waste and our society. Basically, human beings create the seeds of our own destruction. Our waste has the capacity to destroy us, and that’s quite a weird idea, really. We can only really live in these big cities because we’ve worked out ways to get rid of this waste, and so I wanted to go back and look at the medieval city, the early modern city and the very modern city to see how we’ve overcome these giant problems.”
The first programme looks at London. What was it like in medieval times?
“London was particularly bad. They had to put all the muck in carts and take it out to the fields, they’d chop up animals and empty the entrails into the Thames, which became one vast sewer. And, of course people would wash in the Thames and they’d get cholera. Conditions were unspeakably horrible.”
You actually stand in London’s River Fleet, which some people won’t know about.
“Yes, the river’s still there, it’s just confined into a tiny little sewer underground now. The thing about the Fleet is that it got so choked up with sewage that it actually stopped running as a river. Newgate Prison was there, and the smell and the disease were so unbelievably bad that medieval Londoners started worrying about the health of the prisoners!”
Was it difficult getting permission from city councils for some of the stunts in the series?
“It was a heck of a series to work on. You can imagine how hard it is to get five tons of horse manure dumped on a busy City of London street, or how to get the New York council to put a 6ft high block of frozen horse poo on the street to show what it would have been like in winter in the 19th century! But I was learning new stuff endlessly, it was absolutely fascinating.”
But didn’t you baulk at some of the things the producers got you to do, like being bitten by a rat?
“I baulked at everything, really! I went into a flat in New York where a mentally ill woman had shut herself in for 30 years, and the flat was full of human waste and rats and lice and all sorts of nasty things. So that was very unpleasant.”
I know it’s been fairly quiet on all fronts on the site for the last few months – life’s caught up with me and most of my web-based projects have been sadly neglected – but the latest Dan Snow news is worth breaking radio silence, at least for this one post!
From Wales Online:
Television presenter Dan Snow has married the Duke of Westminster’s daughter, Lady Edwina Grosvenor, in a ceremony in Liverpool.
Lady Edwina, whose father is one of the country’s richest men and owns large parts of central London, met Snow two years ago.
A statement released by the couple said: “Neither of us has ever wanted a big white wedding and we are delighted that we have been free to plan a simple and relaxed wedding exactly as we wished with our families around us.”
The wedding was held at Bishop’s Lodge in Woolton, Liverpool, on Saturday and the ceremony was conducted by Bishop of Liverpool James Jones.
Snow is the son of BBC journalist Peter Snow and has made a series of history shows with his father.
Congratulations to the happy couple!
From the Telegraph:
A Highland fling gets my heart racing but I love London, says Dan Snow.
If money was no object I’d happily blast off into sub orbital space on Richard Branson’s craft but I don’t see that happening any time soon. Still, I’m a great believer that you can achieve an extraordinary amount in a weekend and often find myself at Euston station on a Friday evening boarding the sleeper train to Scotland.
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From the Times:
No jackets, and no labour-intensive cooking, just lots of wine, a simple lasagne main and a bit of Outkast on the iPod
In my last flat in Earl’s Court we had a roof terrace, and we had loads of summer dinner parties. It’s mega relaxed. You won’t see anyone wearing a shirt or jacket, we just kick back.
I like entertaining, but I wouldn’t call it haute cuisine. I’ve developed strategies so that my friends and I can concentrate on having a good time, such as cold starters and making things that I can just get out of the oven.
I’m a bit chaotic, so it would normally be organised a few hours before everyone shows up. I’ve got no beef with supermarkets, so I’ll get most things there, but I do like to get my meat in a nice butcher’s. My dining room is also my study, which means it’s filled with loads of books. Getting the house ready isn’t really my strong point but I’ll get the lights nice and low.
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From the Mail online:
I arrived in Quebec on the trail of a famous British victory. Just over 250 years ago on a plain above the city, a British army in the heart of enemy territory, and wholly outnumbered, fought a battle which would change the world.
The Battle of Quebec was a triumph for British General James Wolfe, who died from musket wounds at the glorious moment of victory.
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From the Portsmouth News:
TV personality Dan Snow will turn his hand to lecturing when he speaks at the Royal Marines Museum.
The presenter will give a talk on the famous army commander James Wolfe, who led the British to victory over France at Quebec City in Canada in the 18th century.
He was killed during the battle at the city’s Heights of Abraham, but the victory allowed Britain to take control of Quebec and force the end of French rule in North America.
Mr Snow, who last year made a documentary about the history of the Royal Navy, will speak about the amphibious character of the battle on Monday, May 10 at 7pm.
Marketing manager Sandy Wilson said: ‘These sort of talks prove very popular and I’m sure the fact that Dan Snow is speaking will boost that.’
Tickets cost £10 for adults and £6 for children, and the talk is expected to last approximately 90 minutes.
Tickets are available from the museum by calling (023) 9281 9385), or visiting marinesmuseum.co.uk.