The Good Coal Days? Place, identity and formations of value in historical reality television

Ruth McElroy

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


Television history is a burgeoning form of programming that offers a popular site for the dramatic expression of narratives of socio-cultural identity. This paper explores the role played by a distinct form of television history - the historical reality genre - in constructing national/regional narratives of a post-industrial past. It will focus upon BBC Wales' Coal House series (Indus) which first appeared on BBC1 Wales in autumn 2007 and rapidly made an impact on the televisual landscape of the nation, peaking at 400,000 viewers (more than the number of viewers in Wales for the BBC's popular UK soap, Eastenders). Describing itself as 'the reality of living in the past', Coal House saw three Welsh families 'transported' back to 1927 to experience day to day life in the south Wales coalfield. In 2008, Coal House at War employed the same conceit, setting its reconstruction in 1944. In this paper I explore how Coal House, as a TV programme and a BBC multiplatform project, may be read as an instance of televisual formations of imagined communities in small nations. I draw upon first-hand accounts of the series commissioners, producers and participants, together with findings from our qualitative audience research on the second series, to examine how such national/regional representations of the coalfield past were formed and given cultural, aesthetic and political value in a post-devolutionary nation. In so doing, I raise questions regarding the specific nature of audience research in small nations, and the relationship between TV production and place, which will hopefully be of wider interest to colleagues from many nations.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationN/A
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jun 2009
Event Locating Media” NECS conference - Lund University, Sweden
Duration: 25 Jun 200925 Jun 2009


Conference Locating Media” NECS conference


  • television history
  • place; nation; small nation
  • cultural identity and television audiences


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