An English Journey by J. B. Priestley

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BBC Radio 7, 25 May 2010
First broadcast in 2003 to mark the seventieth anniversary of the publication of the celebrated travelogue, An English Journey had poet Leon Sissay retracing Priestley's footsteps to discover what changes had taken place. Sissay visited Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds, which remains a pretty village but had also been overwhelmed by what the poet described as "tea-shop culture." In Priestley's day the area was described as "a rich man's plaything:" not much has changed, as houses today start at a minimum of three hundred thousand pounds each. The Cotswolds is now dominated by outsiders, who try to preserve the area as a living museum, the world of "England as it used to be," by establishing teashops and discouraging any industrial development in the region.
Sissay next visited the Potteries, which once used to be a hive of industrial activity but (like so many places in Great Britain) has now become a tourist centre, where visitors can enjoy the experience of modelling clay for themselves without being exposed to the poisonous fumes from the factories that killed so many workers in the past. Now Stoke has become the call centre capital of the United Kingdom: employees enjoy the work on account of its capacity to develop both personal and social skills. Sissay bemoaned the fact that service has become the be-all and end-all of contemporary life: anyone who desires to move into the caring professions - for example, teaching - would have to take a pay cut to do so.
Sissay's next port of call was Manchester - his home city. He applauded Priestley for his support of racial integration, something that was quite unusual in 1933 but which has become commonplace today. The programme ended with a visit to Priestley's home city of Bradford, where a vast bronze statue of the author has been unveiled. In Sissay's view the recognition was well-deserved: Priestley believed that people were "fundamentally good" and that they would work to create a better world, even if the task remained difficult, almost impossible. Likewise Sissay believed that his role as a poet was to raise public awareness of the world around him; hence his interested in English Journey. The producer of this entertaining documentary - with readings from Priestley's book by Jonathan Keeble - was Philip Sellay.