Nothing on but a pair of shoes and ivy

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The thing that drives me wild about bad historical fiction and biopics is how static everything is. Every character is well-behaved and understandable in modern terms, but with a carefully dropped coating of period detail to “place” them.

A bright young secretary in a 1930s pastiche novel will of course have a tortoiseshell hair clip and yearn for cocktails like Garbo and a flat with curved white walls, whilst the scientist is always a tortured genius who was just unlucky enough to be born before Silicon Valley taught us to appreciate him. In reality, the secretary probably lived in an Edwardian maisonette with hopelessly outdated Victorian furniture in it, and ate cabbage and tripe more often than she drank cocktails, and the scientist would have political, social and racial views that would shock us today.

This fizzy and witty book, full of the most fantastic anecdotes about Bath life, is a great reminder not to assume the past was as dully homogenous as we like to think:

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