The British At Work

I’ve been enjoying Kirsty Young’s BBC2 documentary series — The British At Work — a complementary series to a similar social history last year on the family. The episode just shown tonight took in the period 1964 to 1980 — the second half of which becomes increasingly distinct in my own memory.

What I particularly enjoyed about the programme was the music. I often loathe extraneous music piled on to TV soundtracks — more or less any sport documentary attracts it and it seems sometimes that producers like to signal that they’ve got A Big Budget on programmes like Doctor Who or Wonders of the Universe by plastering some bombastic orchestral music over everything at any opportunity.

But The British At Work used a nice selection of contemporary music — some well known (and quite apt lyrically) like Pink Floyd’s Time, Al Stewart’s Year of the Cat and Jethro Tull’s Living in the Past and others I would never have identified had there not been a really handy track listing on the programme’s page on the BBC website. (I’m glad I discovered through this that it was Steve Miller who did the ethereal Fly Like An Eagle.)

I’m already looking forward to next week’s episode because it was trailed with the outro from the Associates’ Party Fears Two — one of the oddest tracks of the 80s.

We’ve had an ongoing debate in the MA workshops about quoting lyrics from pop songs in things like chapter introductions and so on. If a writer even quotes a couple of lines from a song then the song’s publishers are entitled to for royalties, which might be OK if the book is going to sell a lot (royalties like this are often flat-rate) but a significant proportion of income for more modest sellers. Titles are safer — they’re not copyrightable — and if a reader recognises a quoted lyric then these may well be brought into mind by a mention of just the song in itself .

The programme was also interesting as it featured Charles Handy, who wrote some fascinating books in the 1990s on the future of work, such as The Age of Unreason and The Empty Raincoat — and I have a signed copy of his autobiography, having gone to an Association of MBAs function featuring him in Oxford. But I wish his prediction of the portfolio career would have become more widespread than it has so far, as it makes an awful lot of sense — and having writing as part of one’s portfolio might be the only practical way for all but the most best-selling writers to make a living (see this very interesting blog entry posted today by Martha Williams: )