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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Get your kicks on the M66...

If you have satellite / cable TV there's an excellent series (by the look of it) to be shown next week on BBC4, called "The Secret Life of the Motorway"

Here are the details from the BBC website:

Episode 1 (Tuesday)

This series pays homage to Britain's motorways – the people who built them, the people who use them and the people who risked their lives to stop them. Along the way, everything from early driving experiences and the joys of motorway services to the rise of the protest movement are re-lived.

At just six miles long, the first stretch of motorway, the M6 Preston Bypass, was opened in 1958. For the first time, people could travel further, more easily and quicker than ever before, thanks to this groundbreaking "road revolution".

This programme charts the beginning of Britain's love affair with motorways, meeting the engineers and builders who designed and built this first motorway, through to those who toiled to complete the most complex road intersection in the country – Birmingham's Spaghetti Junction.

The bizarre and often thrilling experience of driving on these new, fast roads is described by the people who were among the first to drive and work on them.

But with no speed limit, no crash barriers between the carriageways and cars that weren't built for high speeds, the risk of accidents was high. To combat the dangers, the Motorway Code was introduced – along with some rather amusing public information films to explain the "dos and don'ts" of motorway driving.

The Secret Life Of The Motorway celebrates the birth of motorways and hails the achievements of those behind the "road revolution".

Episode 2 (Wednesday)

When the first British motorway opened in 1958, it seemed to promise a drive into a world of prosperity and freedom. This programme takes a journey through the weird and wonderful destinations these roads have taken people to – from glamorous, early service stations to the out-of-town shopping centres that are now amongst Britain's largest leisure destinations.

Before motorways, Britain was an unexplored isle for most people – holidays were largely confined to just 200 seaside resorts at the end of a train line. The rise in car ownership and the burgeoning road network revolutionised this. Tourist destinations blossomed and the motorway journey itself, with its attendant rituals of travel sweets and I-Spy books, became an adventure.

Such was the excitement surrounding the early motorways that service stations were as glamorous as Soho coffee bars – Meccas for fine dining and teenagers in search of a 24-hour place to party. Even today, they hold an allure for some – not just somewhere for a quick break, but a communal space for people to meet.

The motorway network wasn't built to help holiday travel. They were created to serve business – HGV drivers, travelling salesmen and commuters. Nearly 50 years on, sleepy country villages have been colonised, business parks have sprung up around junctions and vast distribution centres mushroomed in "golden" motorway triangles.

With contributions from seminal planner Sir Peter Hall, author Will Self, caravanners, hitch-hikers and commuters, The Secret Life Of The Motorway explores how our eagerness to accelerate down the slip road has profoundly changed how we live, work and play in Britain over the last 50 years.

Episode 3 (Thursday)

In 1958, the first British motorway opened with huge celebration, and, over the next decade, 1,000 miles of road were built across open countryside to little opposition. Welcomed by all, they quickly relieved congestion.

However, at the end of the Sixties, the detrimental effects of motorways became apparent and public opinion began to change. And, when the engineers turned their attention to solving London's mounting traffic problem, it became clear that building a motorway through the capital's densely populated streets would always destroy "someone's back garden".

Protests against the Motorway Box – a proposed elevated ring road built through the heart of London – meant that urban motorways were no longer politically acceptable. In our cities, the brutal modernism of motorways quickly became a thing of the past. However, in the countryside, plans were still going ahead, culminating in the late Eighties with the Government's plan of "Roads for Prosperity" – the biggest road-building plan since the Romans. For many people it was just too much, and when the Department of Transport began to build a motorway through Twyford Down, near Winchester, things soon came to a head.

Forced evictions, pitched battles and radical young protestors grabbed the headlines and inspired numerous other protests around the country. And, when Labour came to power, the road programme was dropped.

Featured contributions, in tonight's concluding programme of the series, range from the genteel old ladies and disillusioned youth that protested against motorways, to the engineers and Government officials responsible for building them. The Secret Life Of The Motorway shows how Britain's love affair with motorways came to an abrupt end.

A useful TIMES article here as well.

I used to live 2 miles from the M1 / M18 junction, and used motorways a lot. Of course, living in Norfolk now means there maybe won't be a lot of interest in the programme : there are none in the county....

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