To watch clips from this series on the BBC website, click here.
Let Us Entertain You explores the extraordinary success of British popular culture in the last century or so. We look at writers such as Agatha Christie, J. R. R. Tolkien, Catherine Cookson and J. K. Rowling; pop and rock acts such as the Beatles, Black Sabbath and Kate Bush; films such as Henry V, the James Bond series and Trainspotting; television hits such as Coronation Street, Brideshead Revisited and Downton Abbey; and video games like Elite and Grand Theft Auto.
The idea originated with Steve Condie, who had previously overseen my series The 70s and Strange Days: Cold War Britain. The subject is obviously enormous, and the organising principle is that our modern cultural success is rooted in the experience of the Victorian period. So when we were preparing the series, we spent a long time exploring the Victorian roots of everything from the musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber to the novels of Hanif Kureishi and Monica Ali.
Filming this series was a real joy. We did spend my birthday in a caravan park in West Sussex, which perhaps doesn't sound ideal, but we did have a cake, which put us all in a good mood. Among other highlights, I spent an afternoon driving a red 1960s Mini around West London, and even got to pilot a boat - the very boat on which the Sex Pistols had controversially played "God Save the Queen" at the Silver Jubilee in 1977 - under Tower Bridge, which was surprisingly exciting.
A particularly memorable moment came when we filmed in the quarry that had stood in for Skaro in the Doctor Who story "Genesis of the Daleks" in 1975. We prepared an elaborate shot in which I appear, like Tom Baker, to materialise unexpectedly out of the mist, which involved the runner pumping vast amounts of smoke into my face while I tried not to cough. After all that, though, they cut it.
The executive producer for Oxford Scientific Films was the long-suffering Steve Condie. The series producer was Alex Leith, and the other episode producers were James Giles and Caroline Walsh. Louis Caulfield and Adam Scourfield were the camera and sound maestros, with Pat Acum and Stuart Thompson stepping in for Episode 3. The less said about my Wordfeud battles with Louis, the better.
"An enjoyable gallop through Britain’s pop-cultural output from the 1960s onwards ... Although a necessarily brisk tour, taking in manifold views, the details Sandbrook chooses to pick out are always illuminating ... surely the sign of any good documentary. I was hooked." Guardian
"The historian Dominic Sandbrook’s new series on British popular culture is the brainiest clip show ever. You could watch with the sound down and enjoy the visual connections it made ... Who could not enjoy this ride? The programme flattered our intelligence while satisfying a national fondness for jingoism and nostalgia." The Times
"A treat ... Let Us Entertain You saw the historian begin his four-parter banging the drum for Britain as the Pied Piper of post-war popular culture from Croydon to Caracas. And an engaging session it was, too ... zooming in on subjects that don't always get the prime-time treatment." Independent