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W&N History HB August £20.00 320pp 16pp b&w illustrations 978 0 297 87168 2 eBook: £20.00 / 978 0 297 87169 9

Written with exclusive access to Mass Observation’s archive reports and illustrated with stunning contemporary photographs by Humphrey Spender.


The astonishing story of the 1930s project that gave birth to Mass Observation. In the late 1930s the Lancashire town of Bolton witnessed a ground-breaking social experiment. Over three years, a team of ninety observers recorded, in painstaking detail, the everyday lives of ordinary working people at work and play – in the pub, dance hall and factory. Their aim was to create an ‘anthropology of ourselves’. The first of its kind, it later grew into the Mass Observation movement that proved so crucial to our understanding of public opinion in future generations. The project attracted a cast of larger-than-life characters, not least its founders, the charismatic and unconventional anthropologist Tom Harrisson and the surrealist intellectuals Charles Madge and Humphrey Jennings. They were joined by a disparate band of men and women – students, artists, writers and photographers, unemployed workers and local volunteers – who worked tirelessly to turn the idle pleasure of peoplewatching into a science. Drawing on their vivid reports, photographs and first-hand sources, David Hall relates the extraordinary story of this eccentric, short-lived, but hugely influential project. Along the way, he creates a richly detailed, fascinating portrait of a lost chapter of British social history, and of the life of an industrial northern town before the world changed for ever. David Hall is a bestselling writer and TV producer. He is the author of Manchester’s Finest, an account of life in Manchester in the aftermath of the deaths of the Busby Babes in the Munich air disaster, and Working Lives, which captures the forgotten voices of Britain’s post-war working class.


Location: Cumbria Available for interview


W&N Non-fiction • August 2015