Filthy Cities – Medieval London

Written by Rachel on March 21st, 2011

From here (will be airing in the week starting 2nd April):

Historian Dan Snow takes viewers on a unique journey through the squalid grime of the past in this new, three-part series which uncovers the filthy histories of three of the world’s leading modern cities: London, Paris and New York.

Dan begins by visiting 14th-century London, lifting the lid on the untold story of the city’s fetid past.

Dan gets down and dirty in medieval grime to discover the hard way how the London we know today was forged in the filth of the 14th century.

CGI peels back the layers of London’s streets and, as they are revealed as they were 700 years ago, Dan steps into the shoes of a medieval Londoner – with wooden platforms designed to help him rise above the disgusting mess underfoot. He also spends the night as a medieval muck-raker, shifting six tonnes of filth and excrement, and even has a go at medieval butchery.

In his quest to immerse himself in all things medieval Dan also investigates the remains of a plague victim, and learns how the catastrophic Black Death epidemic helped a cleaner London emerge from the muck of the past.

Viewers can press the red button or visit to unearth extra filthy footage and join Dan on his journey. Viewers can also experience the real smell of history for themselves with special scratch-and-sniff cards available in libraries – more information is available via the website.


1 Comments so far ↓

  1. Kuramoto-Headey says:

    While I enjoyed the programme, I do have a couple of comments I’d like to make.

    The first is the rather cavalier use of statistics; namely the idea that one was an old person if you lived to the age of 40 in the middle ages. I dispute this.

    2500 years ago, the biblical writers stated that man’s allotted life span was four score years and ten. A Roman could not become a senator until he reached the age of 50. Old? I doubt it.

    What Dan has done (and he’s not alone) is confuse (or conflate) ‘life expectancy AT BIRTH’ with life span. I would argue that once a child has reached the age of 5, their chances of seeing their grand-children are not vastly different today than they were 700 years ago. Better, certainly, but not vastly so. (‘From Eden to Ethiopia’ Radio 4, 15 Feb 1989)

    Even the oft used term ‘life expectancy’ is meaningless, unless you specify at what age. To tell a 41 year old that his life expectancy is 40 is clearly nonsense, yet there always have been old people. Of course, for any average (mathematical mean) to exist, there has to be as many above the mean as below it, but to state that 40 was ‘old’ is incorrect. The huge death rate of the under-5s skews the maths. Life expectancy at 5 is VERY different from that at birth.

    The second comment is more by way of a genuine query: how much control does Dan Snow have over the filming of his programmes? When the recent programme started I feared I would have to turn it off, as the over use of wobble-cam, rapid zooms and pans and the infantile use of pulling in and out of focus really offends me. And, I have it on good authority that professional camera operators hate it just as vehemently. Having trained to use their equipment as well as possible, they are then told to pretend to be rank amateurs; by whom? The producers? The presenters?

    Personally, I imagine how the audience would react if the camera was pulled in and out of focus during the filming of a bereaved parent – they would be outraged. Why? Because it would be showing lack of respect to both the subject and the audience. Yet, in documentaries, rapid pans, out of focus shots and wild rotations about the presenter seem to be compulsory. I can only conclude that these video tricks are used because someone is not convinced that the subject matter is good enough to hold the attention of the audience.

    Mr Snow, if you have any influence at all, I implore you to ban such childish tricks from your programmes.