Five Hundred Years Of Friendship

show more detailshow less detail

Episodes

EpisodeTitleFirst
Broadcast
RepeatedComments
01Gossips And Goodfellows2014032420160328 (BBC7)
20160329 (BBC7)

Dr Thomas Dixon compares social networks in the 16th century with those of today.

Social networking appears to be expanding our circles of friendship just as our sense of community is contracting: Dr Thomas Dixon presents a timely, major new history of how the meaning and experience of friendship have changed over the centuries.

Episode One: Gossips and Goodfellows

In the 16th century, friendships were generally limited to an overlapping network of family members and neighbours, who lived and worked in close proximity, and shared their lives at home, in church, at the well, the bake-house and the tavern.

Today, our friendships often extend across the globe, and our Social Networks can extend to thousands.

Thomas Dixon launches the series by talking with the anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, whose influential research explores the number of people with whom each individual is cognitively capable of sustaining a meaningful relationship.

The newly named "Dunbar's Number" is around 140, and Thomas maps this figure onto the historical picture of village life. He speaks with historians Bernard Capp and Naomi Tadmor about close-knit, real-life friendships in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He learns how a group of female "Gossips" supported their friend Mary Freeman when her husband accused her of giving him the pox; and about two young "Goodfellows"in 1617, who got so drunk that they pissed into a chamber pot and shared the contents.

This is the beginning of an absorbing story in which both the similarities and the differences between friendship past and present emerge.

Producer: Beaty Rubens

Presenter: historian Dr Thomas Dixon is the Director of the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary, University of London.

02A Marriage Of Minds2014032520160329 (BBC7)
20160330 (BBC7)

Dr Thomas Dixon explores the elite ideal of friendship.

Social networking appears to be expanding our circles of friendship just as our sense of community is contracting: Dr Thomas Dixon presents a timely history of how the meaning and experience of friendship have changed over the centuries.

Episode Two: A Marriage of Minds

Having launched the series by exploring the close-knit but instrumental friendships which most people experienced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Dr Thomas Dixon turns to the elite ideal of friendship as expressed in classical writers such as Aristotle and Cicero, and as lived out by Renaissance men such Thomas More and Erasmus.

He looks into the continuing influence of these emotional "friendships of choice". Today we take such friendships for granted but in the seventeenth century they were available only to those who had the time, money and education to pursue them.

It was commonly believed that only men had the capacity for such friendships but Thomas Dixon reveals how women too were beginning to spread their social wings. He tells the story of the Welshwoman Katherine Philips, a published poet and the wife of a wealthy landowner, who argued that since the soul has no gender, then friendship - a mingling of souls - was equally available to both men and women.

Producer: Beaty Rubens.

03Love Your Enemies2014032620160330 (BBC7)
20160331 (BBC7)

Dr Thomas Dixon explores Biblical contradictions on friendship.

Social networking appears to be expanding our circles of friendship just as our sense of community is contracting: Dr Thomas Dixon presents a timely history of how the meaning and experience of friendship have changed over the centuries.

Episode Three: Love Your Enemies

At a time when Christianity taught a gospel of universal love, including loving your enemy, individuals might still find themselves drawn to particular friendships. The Bible itself contained such contradictions, as the 17th century Anglican poet George Herbert put it: "David had his Jonathan, Christ his John." These apparent contradictions were the cause of real anxiety amongst devout Christians.

The role of individual friendships became even more apparent after the Reformation, when personal friendships began to assume the confessional role once held by priests.

Thomas Dixon takes up the story during the Civil War, and considers this tension within particular religious communities such as the Quakers.

He talks with the historian Naomi Tadmor and also hears from Anglican-turned-Quaker, Terry Waite, who movingly recalls the meaning of friendship and of learning to love himself as a friend, during years of solitary confinement after being taken hostage in 1987.

Producer: Beaty Rubens.

04Webs Of Loyalty2014032720160331 (BBC7)
20160401 (BBC7)

New 18th-century ideas about 'what friends are for'.

Social networking appears to be expanding our circles of friendship just as our sense of community is contracting: Dr Thomas Dixon presents a timely history of how the meaning and experience of friendship have changed over the centuries.

Episode Four: Webs of Loyalty

Renaissance thinkers insisted that friendships were purely about emotional ties, but, in reality, friendships are often formed for more instrumental reasons - to give practical support in times of need. "That's what friends are for", observes one speaker in the opening montage of this episode.

Thomas Dixon takes up his story to explore the impact of expanding commerce and politics on friendship in the 18th century.

He learns about the friendship of the midwife and money-lender, Elizabeth Hatchett, with the pawn-broker, Elizabeth Carter, who lived and worked together in London in the early 18th century. And he looks into the circles of friendship of a Sussex shopkeeper, Thomas Turner, during the 1761 General Election, as an example of friendship within political life. Historians Alex Shepard and Naomi Tadmor share their research and vivid examples of such complex webs of loyalty.

Producer: Beaty Rubens.

05When William Met Mary2014032820160401 (BBC7)
20160402 (BBC7)

The 18th-century origins of a famous question about men, women and friendship.

Social networking appears to be expanding our circles of friendship just as our sense of community is contracting: Dr Thomas Dixon presents a timely history of how the meaning and experience of friendship have changed over the centuries.

Episode Five: When William Met Mary

The famous 1989 film, When Harry Met Sally, crystallised for modern viewers the key question of whether a man and woman can truly be friends without any sexual element.

This was a question which radical and educated people were beginning to ask in the 18th century, alongside its mirror image - can a husband and wife also be friends?

Thomas Dixon traces the changing face of friendship and the new idea of "companionate marriage" during this era, through the linked histories of the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and the radical philosopher William Godwin.

With the help of the historian Barbara Taylor, he considers three moving stories: Mary's early friendship with Fanny Blood, of whom she declared: "To live with this friend is the height of my ambition"; the halting start, close friendship and devoted but tragically short marriage of Wollstonecraft with Godwin, who described their relationship as "friendship melting into love"; and the marriage of their daughter, Mary, who wrote of her desolation after the death by drowning of her husband, the poet Percy Shelley: "I have now no friend."

Thomas Dixon brings together issues of friendship and marriage in this most contemporary of historical series.

Producer: Beaty Rubens.

06Felons And Oddfellows2014033120160404 (BBC7)
20160405 (BBC7)

Dr Thomas Dixon explores friendship and self-help among the 19th-century poor.

As the nature and depth of our friendships comes under scrutiny in an era of Social Networking, Dr Thomas Dixon presents a major new history of the changing meaning of friendship over the centuries.

Episode 6: Felons and Oddfellows

Thomas Dixon traces the idea of friendship as a form of practical self-help back to the Friendly Societies of the 18th and 19th centuries. At their peak, there were 9000 of these grass-roots institutions - many with quaint, archaic names, such as The Manchester Unity of Oddfellows - and it is estimated that 40% of the adult male population belonged to one - mobilising the power of friendship in a sort of forerunner of the Welfare State.

The importance of the idea of friendship emerges through the colourful vocabulary of friendship in the period - from cronies, trumps and bloaters to culliles, marrows and rib-stones, and the more familiar, chums and pals.

With contributions from Dr Helen Rogers and Professor Hugh Cunningham.

Producer Beaty Rubens

Dr Thomas Dixon is Director of the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary, University of London, with a particular expertise in the histories of emotions, science, philosophy and religion.

07Education Of The Heart2014040120160405 (BBC7)
20160406 (BBC7)

The dangers of friendship as conveyed to children in the 18th and 19th centuries.

As the nature and depth of our friendships comes under scrutiny in an era of Social Networking, Dr Thomas Dixon presents a major new history of the changing meaning of friendship over the centuries.

Episode 7: Education of the Heart

Today, we tend to view friendships among children as a good thing, but in the 18th century, improving "conduct manuals" tended to warn children off friendship, seeing it as fraught with danger. In an era of large families, friendships among siblings were considered far safer.

Thomas Dixon learns from the distinguished expert on the history of childhood, Professor Hugh Cunningham, how the reduction of family size and the spread of mass education in the 19th century began, inevitably to challenge this notion.

But the idea of the dangers of friendship for children persisted.

Thomas Dixon goes on to explore with children's literature specialist, Dr Matthew Grenby, how the classic school stories of the 19th century - from Matthew Arnold's Tom Brown's Schooldays to Angela Brazil's A Fourth Form Friendship - continued to provide moral advice about friendship, buried within their depiction of algebra, lacrosse and midnight feasts in the dorm.

Producer Beaty Rubens.

08Darwin's Best Friend2014040220160406 (BBC7)
20160407 (BBC7)

Thomas Dixon explores the origins of the idea of friendships between humans and animals.

Dr Thomas Dixon presents a timely new history of the changing meaning and experience of friendship over the centuries

Episode 8: Darwin's Best Friend

Charles Darwin loved his dog and praised her in letters to friends as "the beloved and beautiful Polly". He believed that dogs shared qualities such as a sense of shame, honour and affection with humans, and wrote about them in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.

It was in this era that dogs were, for the first time, given the title of "man's best friend".

Thomas Dixon traces the impact of Darwin's own relationship with animals on his theory of evolution, and compares it with his ideas about other, "savage" human beings, whom he encountered in Tierra Del Fuego, during his trip on the Beagle.

He also considers Darwin's deeply affectionate and intimate friendship with his fellow-scientist, Joseph Hooker, at a time when it is often believed men were disinclined towards displays of emotion.

With contributions from Emma Townshend, author of Darwin's Dogs, and Hooker expert Dr Jim Endersby.

Producer: Beaty Rubens.

09Comrades And Lovers2014040320160407 (BBC7)
20160408 (BBC7)

Exploring the Victorian borderland between Platonic friendship and homosexual love.

Dr Thomas Dixon presents a timely new history of the changing meaning and experience of friendship over the centuries

Episode 9: Comrades and Lovers

Drawing on the intriguingly ambiguous relationship of Frances Power Cobbe with Mary Lloyd and the more open relationship of Edward Carpenter with George Merrill, Thomas Dixon explores the Victorian borderland between Platonic friendship and homosexual love.

Professor Barbara Caine discusses Frances Power Cobbe, the largely forgotten Anglo-Irish feminist and journalist, who wrote articles with titles such as, "The Woman Question", "What Shall We Do With Our Old Maids" and "Wife Torture in England". She explains how Cobbe reclaimed friendship for women after centuries of classical and renaissance assumptions that only men had a true capacity for it.

Dr Matt Cook tells the story of Edward Carpenter, whose own unconventional lifestyle and 1908 book, The Intermediate Sex, brought homosexual love out into the open and even introduced the contemporary notion, celebrated in tv series such as Will and Grace, of women enjoying having a "gay best friend".

Producer: Beaty Rubens.

10A Battalion Of Pals2014040420160408 (BBC7)
20160409 (BBC7)

Dr Thomas Dixon explores the impact of World War I on male friendship.

Dr Thomas Dixon presents a timely new history of the changing meaning and experience of friendship over the centuries

Episode 10: A Battalion of Pals

Dr Thomas Dixon tells two contrasting stories for this examination of the impact of World War One on male friendship.

He begins and ends with the pacifist Bloomsbury Group, focusing on E.M Forster and his famous remark, "If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country". Dr Matt Cook places this remark - shocking at the time - in the context of Forster's hidden sexual orientation.

Forster began his masterpiece, A Passage to India, before the war, in optimism about the possibility of friendships and love across the nations. As Dr Santanu Das explains, he completed it, after the War, in a far bleaker mood.

Meanwhile, amongst the less highly educated classes, groups of work-mates were being conscripted into the army. Thomas Dixon explores this new role for friendship - as a recruiting sergeant - and its tragic consequences.

Producer: Beaty Rubens.

He begins and ends with the pacifist Bloomsbury Group, focussing on E.M Forster and his famous remark, "If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country". Dr Matt Cook places this remark - shocking at the time - in the context of Forster's hidden sexual orientation.

11Testaments Of Friendship2014040720160411 (BBC7)
20160412 (BBC7)

Dr Thomas Dixon explores how the international friendship movement flourished after WWI.

Dr Thomas Dixon brings his timely new history of the changing face of friendship into the era immediately after the First World War, when the international friendship movement flourished.

Episode 11: Testaments of Friendship

At the centre of this episode is the story of Vera Brittain, author of the ever-popular memoirs, Testament of Youth and Testament of Friendship. Thomas Dixon traces Brittain's life through her pre-war loves, the heart-breaking war-time losses of her brother, her two closest male friends and her fiancee, and her post-war friendship with the writer, Winifred Holtby.

Thomas Dixon hears from Brittain's daughter, Baroness Shirley Williams, about her mother's passionate belief in the ability of women to sustain profound friendships even during a period when they were frequently depicted in films, books and newspaper articles as being hostile to one another.

He also speaks with Professor Seth Koven about Muriel Lester, whose friendships both with a poor East End girl, Nellie Dowell, and with Mahatma Gandhi, represented a drive for international peace and reconciliation after the horrors of the First World War.

Producer: Beaty Rubens.

12The Suburbs Of The Heart2014040820160412 (BBC7)
20160413 (BBC7)

The impact of technology and psychology on early 20th-century friendship.

Continuing his history of friendship over the last five hundred years, Dr Thomas Dixon explores how friendship was changed by a new form of technology and a new type of science in the early years of the twentieth century.

Episode 12: The Suburbs of the Heart

Just as the internet has been seen as an enemy of friendship, so the new technology of the early twentieth century - the telephone - was initially viewed with mistrust. Magazines and newspaper articles listed it along with the telegram and the motor car as potentially detrimental to the art of friendship.

One author wrote: "we live, alas in the suburbs of each other's hearts".

Meanwhile, as the real suburbs were extended, the new science of psychology began to advise lonely city-dwellers on how to form new alliances and friendships.

Dr Thomas Dixon hears from Professor Mark Peel about the impact of urbanisation on friendship, and is won over by his surprisingly passionate defence of Dale Carnegie's often mocked best-seller, How to Make Friends and Influence People.

Producer: Beaty Rubens.

13In Need, In Deed, By Post2014040920160413 (BBC7)
20160414 (BBC7)

Dr Thomas Dixon explores Second World War friendships by correspondence and in the Forces.

Dr Thomas Dixon continues to trace the changing meaning of friendship over the last five hundred years.

Episode 13: In Need, In Deed, By Post

Mass Observation and the archive of the Co-Operative Correspondence Club provide intimate evidence for friendship during the Second World War.

Dr Clare Langhamer discusses how, in 1935, one lonely mother in County Wicklow began a correspondence network that continued through to the 1990s, long preceding today's MumsNet and NetMums.

She also shares some revealing evidence from the vast Mass Observation archive at the University of Sussex about how women's friendships were affected by their war-work.

Thomas Dixon also considers how men on active service formed new bonds across the class divide, and, in one extraordinary case from the BBC Sound Archive, not only with other human beings: "I have a passion for tanks," begins Captain Michael Halstead's account of life on the front line.

Producer: Beaty Rubens.

14Families Of Choice2014041020160414 (BBC7)
20160415 (BBC7)

How 1970s gender politics changed friendship and how popular culture reflected this change

Dr Thomas Dixon brings his major history of friendship up to the 1970s, when gender politics began to change friendships once again, and considers how popular culture both reflected and influenced this change.

Episode 14: Families of Choice.

Professor Barbara Taylor shares with Thomas Dixon her personal memories of how the second-wave feminist movement of the 1970s altered women's friendships in the way that Mary Wolstonecraft had discussed right back in the eighteenth century.

Thomas Dixon also explores the growing freedom of gay men and lesbian women to establish their own "families of choice".

And - somewhat excitedly - he debates with the cultural critic Matthew Sweet how television reflected friendships between men. While Thomas confesses to an erstwhile love of the phenomenally successful American sit-com, Friends, Matthew Sweet makes an expansive claim for British television's The Likely Lads, comparing the depth of Terry and Bob's friendship to that of Tennyson and Hallam.

Meanwhile, slightly extending a quotation of the 17th Century poet, George Herbert, Thomas declares: "David had his Jonathan, Christ his John, Eric had his little Ern, Ant his Dec."

Producer; Beaty Rubens.

15 LASTThe Lonely Cyborg2014041120160415 (BBC7)
20160416 (BBC7)

How the old and the young are navigating friendships through new technology today.

Dr Thomas Dixon brings his major new series on the changing face of friendship to a close with a look at how the old and the young are navigating their friendships today through technologies old and new, and at how friendship might look in the future.

Episode 15: The Lonely Cyborg

A group of Birmingham schoolgirls prove themselves thoughtful and self-aware about how to conduct their friendships online and about the differences between online and face-to-face friendships. Professor Deborah Chambers, an authority on social media and personal relationships from the University of Newcastle, confirms that fears about children's online friendships with strangers have been exaggerated.

At the other end of the life-span, Thomas Dixon speaks with the writer Penelope Lively about friendship in her ninth decade, and about why she likes to consider herself part of "the landline generation".

Closing the series, Thomas Dixon emphasizes the importance of physical touch and presence for friendship, and presents a final montage of the voices which have featured throughout the series, sharing stories of their own friendships.

Producer: Beaty Rubens.