Make Do and Mend

Article excerpt

Lyn and Michael Hymers explain what made them reconstruct life during the Blitz for the benefit of the television cameras.

LYN AND MICHAEL Hymers, their eldest daughter and two grandsons of ten and seven, have just made a TV series 1940s House, in which for nine weeks they recreated the life of a family in the London suburbs during the Second World War. The result is a tale of a fascination with war-time Britain, and the intertwining of fact, fiction and memories of the `old days'.

Both Lyn and Michael were born in the late 1940s in the North of England, and brought up in Otley in West Yorkshire, where they still live. This small market town in the Dales mainly escaped the Blitz, despite a big Avro Lancaster factory nearby.

Michael, an engineer in a small firm manufacturing aircraft parts, has created his dining room as a shrine to the 1940s and 1950s, with pride of place given to a cabinet of Festival of Britain curios. `I've been a 40s nut almost as long as I can remember. And I've always liked buildings -- especially the big Art Deco factories. My father was in the Ministry of Works, concerned with architecture and building repairs. I remember going with him when I was seven or eight to do some surveying at a bombed site. So much had been flattened in the war and when it was over they had the opportunity to redesign everything. At that moment, people envisaged a new future; they had idealistic dreams, they really thought they were going to get to a promised land. It petered out, of course -- the promised land never actually appears.'

`Still, what interests me is what was rebuilt from the' wreckage. I'm interested in prefabs - we lived in one for a while -- and how someone must have made the decision to convert an old aircraft factory and switch production to build all these temporary homes. I've always wanted to erect an Anderson shelter ...'

`In 1963 when I was 15 I started my apprenticeship at an engineering works in Otley. It's a Safeways supermarket now. During the war it would have been used for munitions work, and you could still see where the blackout was painted on the windows, and if you went down into the cellars all the shelters were still there. And I talked to the old guys at work and what struck me was that ninety per cent of their conversation was about what they did in the war; not just about fighting in the armed forces, but about life in that factory, because a lot of them would have been in reserved occupations. They were talking about it as if it was yesterday even though it was really twenty years ago.'

`And I thought, it was such a major part of their life; what would it really have been like? I developed a great nostalgia for the 1940s. I was sure that it had been a better time to live even though there was a war on, because people worked long and hard and they pulled together and there was a community spirit. Neighbours who might only have said good morning before the War now talked to one another. So I started to find out everything I could about life on the home front.'

`Then I started to delve into the Festival of Britain. I was only three when it was on, but I remember the logo on the stamps, with the cross and the face, and I eventually started collecting all sorts of Festival stuff. I was hell-bent on finding the Skylon. I wrote to the architects and got some copies of drawings and magazine articles on the structure and how it was balanced on a single point; but I couldn't work out what happened to it, though if I had read more I would have known that as soon as the Conservatives got in they flattened it all.'

`Earlier this year Lyn saw an article in the Radio Times about the plans for The 1940s House, she thought she'd be a good wile and please me by applying. She also thought she'd cure me of seeing the 1940s through these rose-coloured spectacles. It didn't work out that way.'

Lyn takes up the story: `I'd never had any special interest in the 1940s. …

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