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Partridge, S. (2013). Stiff Upper Lip: An Emotional History of Britain by Ian Hislop, BBC2, 2nd, 9th, and 16th October 2012. Att: New Dir. in Psychother. Relat. Psychoanal., 7(1):111-116.

(2013). Attachment: New Directions in Psychotherapy and Relational Psychoanalysis, 7(1):111-116

Television Film Review

Stiff Upper Lip: An Emotional History of Britain by Ian Hislop, BBC2, 2nd, 9th, and 16th October 2012

Review by:
Simon Partridge

Repression as the Norm of the British Upper Classes (or What Made the Empire)

It will, indeed, be argued that observation of the onset of detached behaviour in a child who is spending a few weeks in strange surroundings away from his mother is as close as we can get to observing repression actually occurring. (Bowlby, 1971, p. 27)

Ian Hislop's Stiff Upper Lip: An Emotional History of Britain (to give it its full and misleading title) was broadcast in three parts at 9 p.m. over the first half of October 20121. With three hours of airtime at his disposal it was potentially a serious television history documentary, backed up by a three page promotional spread in the Radio Times, authored by Hislop himself. In the article he explained his motives for wanting to make the programme as a wish to explore his own “ambivalence” to the topic. An ambivalence which he illustrated by reference to a Capt. Webb who became in 1875 the first man to swim the English channel—a feat which Hislop saw as both “ridiculous and rather marvellous”. As someone who has used the notion of the stiff upper lip (SUL) in virtually every piece (Partridge, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012a,b) I have written about boarding schools and the nexus they form with upper middle and upper class child rearing and culture, I was naturally interested to see what Hislop would make of this class-determined phenomenon. Though like Hislop himself I did have some doubts whether, given his public school provenance (the limiting effects of which I know only too well from personal experience), he had the historical objectivity to be “a suitable guide”. My misgivings were borne out.

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