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Timeshift: Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting

Sun Feb 24, 10-11pm, BBC4

Carl Douglas may have reckoned it was ‘fast as lightning’, but actually the trajectory of martial arts in Britain was surprisingly sedate. This documentary tracks its evolution within Western culture. We begin, most entertainingly, with the notion of the gentleman hard-nut – amid the ‘garrotting panics’ of late Victorian London, it was deemed essential for a chap to know how to look after himself. Then, there were the suffragettes, facing male aggression and expecting no help from the police. Emmeline Pankhurst was escorted by a crack ju-jitsu troupe when she made public appearences.

Eventually, thanks to the likes of Bruce Lee, the discipline went mainstream – but did it lose a little of its soul in the process? It’s a good story, engagingly told – the highlight is probably Brit martial arts expert Ian McClaren (‘as a Glaswegian, I’ve always been very interested in fighting’). But overall, this is classic ‘Timeshift’ – quirky, often unconsidered social history, rendered in lively style.

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