The Great Plague

Channel 4

This was the story of the great plague in 1665.  The programme concentrated on just one street – The Cock and Key Alley – in London. It would not be true to say that Cock and Key Alley between Fleet Street and the Thames contained all human life, but half of what it did contain – 36 men, women and children – was carried off by the bubonic bacterium.

History was brought to life by telling the story of the ordinary people like the Pennys, a family of undertakers. The head of the household died at the height of the epidemic, just as it was killing 4,000 nightly. His body, robbed of the dignities provided by his profession, was carried away in a cart and thrown into a common pit. Only his widow survived. When it was all over, after 68,000 Londoners had died, her son’s shovels and basket were returned to her.

The programme used diaries and records of recorded by local officials and mostly the church warden – Henry Dorset.  The result was a powerful drama.