At last, a hero who was a data specialist: Christopher Tietjens in the recent BBC adaptation of Paradeâ€™s End, four partially autobiographical novels by Ford Madox Ford, Â beginning just before the First World War.
Tietjens is a civil servant in the newly created Department of Imperial Statistics: â€˜a first class government officeâ€™ no less. In truth, thereâ€™s not much data crunching in Paradeâ€™s End, although more so in the books than in the television adaptation: one doesnâ€™t feel that mugging up on standard deviation was a vital part of Benedict Cumberbatchâ€™s preparation. But is there anything in The National Archives that could shed some light on what Tietjens and his department were doing?
I supposed the Department of Imperial Statistics to be a fictional version of what is now the Office for National Statistics. In 1912, the ONS predecessor was neither newly created, nor was it anything other than home based, indeed at this time it was under the parochial charge of the Local Government Board. We even have real some data from that era: the historic mortality files from 1901 â€“ 1995 in RG 69, part of our National Digital Archive of Datasets (NDAD) collection. But Tietjens wasnâ€™t tabulating native mortality; his masters were after the population of British Columbia and British North America. At the time of the high water mark of the British Empire, and all the administration and trade that went with it – if there wasnâ€™t a Department of Imperial Statistics, youâ€™d surely need to invent oneâ€¦ Continue reading »