The Worst Jobs in History
Presented by Tony Robinson
Sunday, ABC 7.30pm
"History isn't just made by kings and queens but by lots of people getting their hands dirty."
So says Tony Robinson, introducing the series The Worst Jobs in History. This entertaining program travels through (largely British) history to discover the most horrible occupations of all time.
The jobs covered in this program vary from a professional hermit who was paid to sit in a cave for seven years to add sophistication to Regency-period country houses, to a "salt-peta man", who had to collect the contents of toilets to make gun-powder.
The most entertaining part of the series is watching Robinson recreate these grisly tasks. In one memorable scene as a "fuller" he washes a sheepskin in stale urine in order to make linen.
Robinson is at his most poignant when describing the worst jobs done by children in industrial England. For instance the mill scavenger, forced to dodge moving power looms while collecting flammable fibres from the floor of cotton mills.
As yet, the series has not ventured into the 20th century, home of such occupations as uranium miner and advertising consultant. But it has gone a long way to bring to light the super-exploitation of young people and the poor on which Britain's industrial might was built.
As Robinson points out, history is an active process. "Without the tanner, and the salt peta man, none of this would have happened. We owe these people a lot."