Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Agrégation anglais 2021 La BBC et l'audiovisuel public 1922-1995 Post 49: the birth of television

 When we think of the BBC before the Second World War, we tend to think "radio", and when we think of the corporation after 1945 we think "television". But this is very much an oversimplification. For the whole of the 1950s, radio was more influential than television. And before 1939, there was the amazing adventure of the first experiments and broadcasts in television. This documentary from 1984 looks at television in the 1930s. You can skip the first few minutes, but the rest is very interesting (the image quality gets better after 20 minutes or so).

Just click here :


Monday, December 28, 2020

Suggested translation "La naissance d'un pont"


At the beginning, he got to know[1] the North of Yakutia[2] and Mirny, where he worked three years. In Mirny they had to open up a diamond mine which was under a dirty grey crust of ice. The land was a hopeless[3] tundra disfigured by piles of old sick coal, and prison camps, a wasteland bathed in nights which gave you frostbite,[4] lacerated, eleven months of the year, by blizzards strong enough[5] to cut your skull apart, and underneath it were, still sleeping, the scattered limbs and beautifully curved giant horns of furry rhinoceroses, woolly beluga whales and frozen[6] reindeer.[7] He would picture all this to himself in the evening, sat at the hotel bar in front of a glass of strong clear liquor, always the same scheming whore caressing him endlessly, while trying to talk him into a wedding in Europe in exchange for  loyal services ; but he never laid a hand on her, he never could : he would rather have nothing rather than screw this woman who did not desire him ; he stuck to his guns on that.


Anyway, these diamonds in Mirny,[8] they had to dig down to get at them, to break up the permafrost  using dynamite, then drill out a Dante-esque hole, as wide as the town itself – they could have thrown headfirst in the hole the fifty storey housing blocks  which were soon to grow up around there – then, with a head flashlight, they had to climb down into the orifice, attack the walls with a pick axe, dig out the soil, sort the underground galleries into a tree structure, going sideways far out into the hardest and darkest distant parts. Then they had to shore up the corridors and put down the rails, pass an electric current through the mud, burrow into the soil, scratch away at the loose stones and sieve through the entrails, searching for that splendid sparkle. That went on for three years.[9]

Once his contract had run out, he went back to France on a not very democratic Tupolev plane. His seat in Economy Class sagged dreadfully ; a coil[10] of metal wires threaded its way under the cloth of the chair back, breaking through it here and there leaving a wire which hurt your back.[11] He had a few more contracts then, and found himself as site manager in Dubai, having to raise[12][13] a luxury hotel out of the sand, a palace as vertical as an obelisque but as secular as a coconut tree, and having to work in glass this time, glass and steel, with lifts like bubbles sliding along gilded tubes, and marble from Carrare for the circular lobby in which a fountain gurgled out a sound of petrodollar luxury amidst polished green plants, animal-hide sofas and air-conditioning.




A woolly rhinoceros


[1] Because of the preterite tense in French, one cannot translate as « knew » (= connaissait). It must be some verb or verb expression which can happen at a specific time.

[2] « North Yakutia »  is not good, sinc eit suggests it is the name of the country, like North Korea.

[3] Someone found « despair-inducing » , which is very good. « Disheartening » is ok.

[4] « Frostbitten night » is possible.

[5] The narrator says that the wind *could* cut into your skull. This is obviously hyperbole, so you must not use a structure which says that skulls were actually cut into.

[6] Not « iced » which is generally for cold drinks.

[7] Seasonal reference https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j11rwc6Sf4o

[8] If you are interested in diamond mining, see here https://beyond4cs.com/faq/diamond-origins/how-they-are-mined/


[9] Sentences with verbs are vastly preferred in English.

[10] « clump » was good.

[11] Remember anglophones are less precise : « j’ai mal aux reins » : I have a backache.

[12] A good time to revise the difference between to rise, to raise and to arise, and to remember that the difference between a rise and a raise is not the same as the difference between to rise and to raise. Essential short exercise here : http://random-idea-english.blogspot.fr/2010/11/confusing-words-quiz-verbs-rise-raise.html


[13] Someone suggested « conjure up » which is excellent.

M1 MEEF - Third wave feminism

 In class (and on video) I had time to look over struggles for women's rights which occurred from 1860- 1918 (which we often call first wave), and the mass movements of the 1970s (often referred to as second wave). But I did not have time to look at the 21st century. Today there are no mass movements or national conferences of the women's liberation movement in general. There are, however, active networks and much activity. This video for 2016 gives one possible view of the history of women's liberation. [their Youtube channel has 150 or so subscribers, so as you can see we are talking of a pressure group, not a mass organization]


December 2020 M1 MEEF Homework assignments

I have received assignments from the following people (apologies if I have misspelt your name or mixed up your first name and your surname). If your work is not here, it just might be in my spam folder, so send me an email. Correcting these assignments will take a long time, but you will eventually see on this blog a long set of comments.

Ait Ichou




























Happy holidays

 Thank you for all your homework assignments, mock exam scripts etc. Many students, in their emails, wished me and my family all the best for Christmas and the New Year. Thank you very much - there were far too many for me to answer you individually, so I will have to be satisfied with collectively wishing everyone happy holidays and a positive - and hopefully less challenging - 2021.

A bit of British culture which people often find interesting: normally you wish people "Happy New Year" on January 1st only (or perhaps before). If you do not see someone in 2021 until the 10th of January, it is too late. Unlike in French. I think this is because in UK English we are wishing people, not a  happy 2021, but a happy New Year's Day celebration.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Trade deal

 Cela semblait probable dans la mesure que les deux côtés auraient perdu dans un no deal


Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The history of the BBC video chapter 8


You will find here video chapter number 8, which continues with the story of the BBC before 1945, and indeed takes us up to the end of the Second World War. It looks at new styles of programme, the effects of the war on censorship and on music programming, as well as at the beginnings of such phenomena as political vetting, and audience research.

Just click here


I wish you happy (and cautious) holidays.

Thème agrégation 6 janvier

 On the 6th January we will be going through the translation I gave you for the mock exam: the piece about Adelaïde's heart. If you did not have time in the December rush to take this mock exam, make sure you study the passage and try to translate it before the class. We will go back to the passages in the booklet afterwards. If you no longer have the passage used for the mock exam, send me an email. If you concentrated on the Agrégation interne mock exam, and so did not translate the final paragraph, try this paragraph before the class. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

video BBC 7c

 You will find here chapter 7c of the BBC  history series. Again, for students in Rouen, this goes over a period we looked over in live class. The next videos, however, will move forward through the thirties, forties and so on.


This week’s front pages in the UK


Agrégation BBC 1922-1995 post 48: the first Science Fiction on BBC TV

 In 1938. This short article explains 


Saturday, December 19, 2020

Concours blanc agrégation

 For the text commentary, I received so far 4 scripts  - from Charlotte, Kelly, Robin and Aurore. If anyone else sent one, please send it again :=)

Agrégation - political figures in the UK

 "How many well-known political figures in  UK history are you supposed to be familiar with?" asked one agrégation student. The question is imposisble to answer. Naturally almost  all the 20th century and 21st century prime ministers for a start. But what about other personalities? Since this is a competitive exam, I suppose the real answer is " afew more than most of the other candidates" or "the more the better". However, this last answer is not very useful when you have many subjects to prepare. Let us say that it is a significant advantage to know who Tony Benn was, if he should come up. In the 1960s and 1970s one of the main leaders of the left wing of the Labour Party, minister of technology for several years, an activist who hopes that the Labour government would enact very radical measures of nationalization and decide a very substantial increase in spending on public services. Here is an obituary in French from one of his supporters


BBC - question for today

 Why did Margaret Thatcher, and other Prime Ministers who were very unhappy with the BBC never abolish the corporation ? 

Friday, December 18, 2020

L3 Popular culture since 1945. Final elements on Popular music


L3 Final elements on Popular Music

You will find here my last video chapter  for this course, which takes another few genres of popular music to look at how genres work.



If you want to know more about the history of British popular music, there has been a series of documentaries about different musical genres, which you can find at the links below (these are not requirements for this course). They contain a certain amount of fantalk, but also much useful information

Folk Britannia


Progrock Britannia

Prog Rock Britannia 1 - YouTube

Blues Britannia

Blues Britannia - YouTube

Punk Britannia. There is more than one episode (three I think), but episode one is here


Reggae Britannia. There are several episodes. Episode one is here :

Reggae Britannia Documentary Part 1 - YouTube

Synth Britannia

Synth Britannia - YouTube

Rap Britannia

Rap Britannia - The UK State Of Rhyme (1Xtra Story) - YouTube


Agrégation BBC Rouen last live class recording and slides

 You will find here the Mp3 recording of this week's class

Just click here

And you will find here  the slides we saw

Just click here

I wish everyone a Happy Christmas: be extremely careful.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Agrégation 2021 La BBC et le service public de l'audiovisuel: post 47 La BBC et la propagande

 Qu'est-ce que la propagande, et comment savoir si la BBc en fait ou pas? Cet article,  disponible gratuitement, de Renée Dickason aide à comprendre ce sujet. Il prend l'exemple de la guerre des Malouines, et celui de la Guerre du Golfe.


Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Popular music, racism and diversity

Students preparing the CAPES (in connection with the subject of diversity) and L3 students following my class on popular culture may be interested in these two articles, both in French, by a distinguished scholar.

Chansons antiracistes au Royaume-Uni

Festivals de musique, à Notting Hill et ailleurs.

M1 MEEF WEEK 12 RECORDING AND SLIDES: Uk women's liberation movement, 1970s

You will find here a recording of the class on the UK women's liberation movement of the 1970s.

And also the slides we saw on this subject

There will be one more post in this course, over the next few days.
Thank you for your cooperation, and have a good (and safe) end of year break.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Week 12 Popular culture in Britain - recording and slides

 Congratulations on surviving the semester, and very best wishes for a good (and cautious) holiday break. 

You will  find here the MP3 recording of the final class, which spoke of some examples of musical genres and how they work in terms of values, aesthetic or activities. I dealt briefly with Big Band, Skiffle and early Rock.

Just click here

You will find the slides we saw here

Just click here

No doubt on Friday, there will  be a final video which I will make about some example genres from the 1970s, and a final series of links for those who want to look further into the history of British popular music .

Agrégation 2021 La BBC et le service public de l'audiovisuel post 46: Popular programmes and intellectual programmes


The BBC was always trying to maintain a balance between "popular" "light" "entertainment" content and more "highbrow content" which might not be as popular, but which the BBC leadership felt was good for people. This debate has often been carried on in a seterotyped manner, and there are a number of examples of intellectually challenging content which turned out to be very widely listened to.


A good example from the 1940s is The Brains Trust. It dealt with serious questions of art, science and philosophy, yet drew millions of listeners. Up to a third of the Uk population tuned in, and the programme received three to four thousand letters a week.


An episode from 1945, filmed for a US  channel, is here:



Monday, December 14, 2020

Colloque en ligne la BBC et la Fiction 14/15 janvier 2021

 Agrégatifs: réservez les dates si possible.

Si vous pouvez vous libérer, inscrivez-vous rapidement, car le nombre de places est limité.


Université de Rouen

La BBC et la fiction. The BBC and fiction



Deux wébinaires en ligne/ Two online seminars

Organisation : Florence Cabaret et John Mullen

Equipe de recherche ERIAC http://eriac.univ-rouen.fr/


Much discussion of television, and of the BBC, has focused on its relation to political power and the methods which allow establishment view of the world to be reinforced in documentary and news programmes without stooping to straightforward and unsubtle propaganda. Our conference would like to look at another aspect of the BBC – its relationship with fiction (a notion which contributors are encouraged to interrogate and problematize).

Les recherches sur la télévision, et en particulier sur la BBC, ont souvent tendance à s'intéresser aux relations que la BBC entretient avec le pouvoir politique, ou bien aux processus qui contribuent à renforcer les conceptions officielles du monde telles qu'elles apparaissent dans ses programmes documentaires ou ses programmes d'information, sans que, pour autant, on puisse qualifier ni les uns ni les autres de propagande explicite et grossière. Au cours de ce colloque, nous aimerions nous pencher sur une autre facette de la BBC afin d'interroger ses relations à la fiction (notion qu'il serait d'ailleurs pertinent d'examiner et de problématiser dans chacune des interventions).

Vous êtes cordialement invités à participer à cet évènement en ligne.

Inscrivez-vous auprès de john.mullen@univ-rouen.fr, en précisant si vous voulez assister à la session de jeudi ou celle de vendredi, ou les deux. Le nombre de places peut être limité. Les inscrits recevront le lien approprié par mail quelques jours avant.





jeudi 14 janvier après-midi (14h30-17h) BBC Radio


Mohamed Chamekh,  "The BBC and Entertainment: the case of the music hall"

Suzanne Bray, A “Mismatch of Expectations”: The BBC, the Detection Club and the Stresses and Strains of Behind the Screen (1930) and The Scoop (1931)

Anne Fuchs, BBC fiction. From ITMA to Goodness Gracious Me : how wartime radio gave birth to TV sitcoms and after


vendredi 15 janvier matin (10h-12h30) BBC TV

 1- Pierre Costecalde, "Pobol Y Cwm, soap opera en gallois produit par la BBC en 1974 pour la chaine S4C : les raisons d’une réussite et d’une longévité exceptionnelles" .

2-  Joy Leman, “TV Drama in Britain and France in the 1950s and 1960s “.

3-  Barbara Fontyn, "La question de l’avortement dans Up the Junction de Ken Loach : quand la réalité rejoint la fiction".




Classes in the last week before the break: week 12


Week 12 classes in Rouen

Congratulations in surviving the most difficult semester for fifty years or so ! Here are this week’s classes


L3 popular culture – morning group (group C)

11:30am video class (link here shortly before)

Followed by a final few videos and links which will be posted Tuesday or Wednesday here.

Remember you have an « exam » in January – you will not know until the day whether it is on US or GB. It will be in the form of a homework essay. You may use documents, but of course if you copy even one sentence from anywhere else this would be a serious problem.


L3 popular culture – afternoon group (group A)

4pm video class (link here shortly before)

Followed by a final few videos and links which will be posted Tuesday or Wednesday here.

Remember you have an « exam » in January – you will not know until the day whether it is on US or GB. It will be in the form of a homework essay. You may use documents, but of course if you copy even one sentence from anywhere else this would be a serious problem.


Wednesday M1 MEEF

9:30am Video class (link here shortly before)

Followed by final videos and links which will be posted here Wednesday or Thursday.

Keep checking the blog from time to time after this, because I will occasionally post useful links. In the second semester another lecturer is giving these classes.


Wednesday Thème M2/ agrégation

10:30am video class (link here shortly before)


Wednesday BBC class

4pm Video class (link here shortly before)

Plus many more videos and links which will be posted over the next week or two.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Thème: suggested translation passage from Camus


It will no doubt[1] be said[2] that this is not specific to our town and that, all in all, everybody is like that nowadays.[3] This is no doubt the case ; nothing could be more natural in our times than to see people work from morning till night  and then choose to waste the time left for them to live in by losing at cards, sitting in[4] a bar and idle chat. Yet[5] there exist towns and countries where the folk experience, from time to time, a glimpse[6] of something other. As a general rule, this does not transform their lives. Nevertheless,[7] they have had that glimpse, and that is better than nothing. Oran, in contrast seems to be a town bereft of glimpses, that is to say, an entirely[8] modern town.

There is then no need[9] to give details about how we love in our town. Men and women consume  each other rapidly in what they call the act of love, or they commit themselves to a long routine as a couple. Between these two extremes there is rarely a middle way. This is not particular to us either. Whether in Oran or elsewhere, since time and reflection lack, one must love without being aware.


What is more particular about our town is the difficulty faced in dying.[10] “Difficulty” indeed is not the correct word, it would be more fitting to speak of “discomfort”. It is never pleasurable to be ill, yet there are towns and countries which give you support when you are ill, where one may, as it were, let oneself go. A sick person  needs gentleness,[11] and naturally likes to lean on something. Yet in Oran, the excesses of the climate, the importance of the business deals in progress, the pettiness of the surrouindings, the speed with which night falls and the quality of pleasures, all of these require good health. A sick person finds they are very much[12] alone. What shall we think then of they who are dying, trapped behind hundreds of  walls  cracking in the heat[13], while at that very moment, a throng of people , in cafés or on the telephone, speak of money drafts[14] , bills of lading, and discounts.


 One can comprehend what might be uncomfortable in death, even modern death, in such a dry place. These few elements may give sufficient idea of our town. A the same time, one must not exaggerate anything.



[1] There are a series of expressions in French, such as “il est des villes” or  “il aime à s’appuyer” which are really rather literary. There are others such as “c’est toujours cela de gagné” which are less so. I would say that the main danger is to use a style which is too informal, especially given the noble nature of the subject discussed. Here, I think “probably” is too chatty.

[2] Someone tried “one may say”, but this would suggest a single, non-defined person,  and an approval from the narrator. “People are bound to say” is good. The whole question of the translation of the French word “on” needs studying. In my view, none of the occurrences in this passage should be translated by “we”.

[3] An expression such as “our contemporaries” is excessiveley “recherché”.

[4] Not “at”.

[5] Beginning the sentence with “but” would be too familiar in style.

[6] “A hint” is good. “An inkling” is excellent. One cannot do anything here with the adjective “suspicious”, which is overwhelmingly negative in connotation.

[7] One cannot begin a sentence with “only,”.

[8] You may not use “quite” here, because it would be ambiguous. A “totally modern” town is too 21st century an expression.

[9] Some people got confused between “inutile” and “useless”. Note that “il est inutile de venir chez nous” ne peut absolument pas se traduire par “It is useless to come to our house”. Il faut dire “there is no need to come to our house”.

[10] I think a structure with “one” would be fine – not so sure about a structure with “you”.

[11] Or “tenderness”.

[12] You may not use “quite” as it would be ambiguous.

[13] Or sizzling with the heat.


[14] “Loan repayments”, perhaps.