Friday, 06 March 2015

Sex, Lives And Love Bites: The Agony Aunt Story

Written by Ben Felsenburg
Ben-Felsenburg-portrait-176You’re a respectable member of genteel society in the reign of William and Mary. You have a private and embarrassing problem – so where can you turn for advice without compromising your reputation? And so was born the agony aunt; or, to be more specific, agony uncle: John Dunton, the publisher who in 1691 gave the world The Athenian Mercury, its pages devoted to correspondence from – and here’s the masterstroke – anonymous writers.

‘Where is the likeliest place to get a husband?’ asks one lady (the answer, by the way, is a plantation in the colonies) at the outset of a literary lineage that would eventually lead to the esteemed Patricia Marie’s page here in this very magazine. ‘I’ve been a psychotherapist for 20 years,’ are the chilling words with which presenter Philippa Perry introduces herself – but don’t worry, she’s soon redeemed by an engrossing history of the problem pages in the British press.

In Sex, Lives And Love Bites: The Agony Aunt Story (BBC Four, Tuesday at 9pm) you’ll discover how exercised the Victorians were by the ‘corset controversy’ and how the pages of The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine were a platform for what developed into an extended correspondence debating the pros and cons of corporal punishment, including one contribution from ‘one who rejoices in the discipline of the rod’. Such bizarre and outre letters mean that the queries regarding sex and manner from more recent decades pale in comparison for prurience, even if Claire Rayner and Virginia Ironside have performed a vital social function and helped to educate millions of readers.


Poldark, BBC1, Sun, 9pm
Aidan Turner stars as Captain Poldark in the remake of the 1970s series based on Winston Graham’s novels.

The Billion Pound Hotel, C4, Mon, 9pm
Discover what it’s like inside the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, where rooms in the 1,000ft tower can cost £10,000 per night.

Master-chef, BBC1, Tues, 9pm
The compulsively addictive cooking competition is back, presented by culinary duo John Torode and Gregg Wallace.

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