The Secret Life of Rubbish

BBC 4 excels tonight with episode 1 (of 2) of The Secret Life of Rubbish.

With tales from old binmen and film archive that has never been broadcast before, this two-part series offers an original view of the history of modern Britain – from the back end where the rubbish comes out.

The first programme deals with the decades immediately after the Second World War. 90-year-old Ernie Sharp started on the bins when he was demobbed from the army in 1947, and household rubbish in those days was mostly ash raked out of the fire-grate. That’s why men like Ernie were called ‘dust’men.

But the rubbish soon changed. The Clean Air Act got rid of coal fires so there was less ash. Then supermarkets arrived, with displays of packaged goods. And all that packaging went in the bin.

In the 1960s consumerism emerged. Shopping for new things became a national enthusiasm. It gave people the sense that their lives were improving and kept the economy going. And as the binmen recall, the waste stream became a flood.

As the programme sifts through the rubbish of the mid-20th century, we discover how the Britain of Make Do and Mend became a consumer society.

  • BBC Four Thursday 29 Nov 2012 21:00
  • repeated BBC Four Friday 30 Nov 2012 02:30


Episode 2, How privatisation of public services and environmentalism became big ideas in the 1970s, will broadcast on BBC 4 on Thursday 06 Dec 2012 at 21:00.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.