Magazine article The Spectator

Television: James Walton

Magazine article The Spectator

Television: James Walton

Article excerpt

When the time comes to make programmes looking back on the 2010s, I wonder which aspects of life today will seem the weirdest. Quinoa? The fact that we were expected to be 'passionate' about our jobs? Being so overexcited by new technology that we constantly stared at phones? Or maybe it'll just be how many almost identical TV series looking back on previous decades we used to watch: the kind where a family dresses up in period costume and lives for a while like people from previous eras, carefully ticking off the signifiers as they go. (Space hoppers and Chopper bikes for the Seventies, Rubik's Cubes and shoulder pads for the Eighties.)

The latest example -- following the likes of Back in Time for Dinner , Back in Time for Christmas , Turn Back Time : The Family and Turn Back Time: The High Street -- is Back in Time for the Weekend (BBC2, Tuesday), where even the title's promise of a slightly different focus didn't last for long. At the start, presenter Giles Coren proudly announced that the series would bring us '50 years of British weekends', but in the first episode, set in the Fifties, once the weekend was over, the programme rolled on to the rest of the week with neither a pause nor an explanation.

There is, mind you, no doubting the commitment of the family involved. For their trip back to the original Austerity Britain, the Ashby Hawkinses not only donned the requisite hats and National Health specs, but also allowed their house to be ripped apart and reconfigured in best make-do-and-mend chic. And they were a good choice in other ways too. In real life, mum Steph is the breadwinner, which meant that it came as a bit of a shock when she realised she'd be doing 11 hours of chores a day while her husband Rob sat in a chair pretending to smoke a pipe. They're also a likeable and articulate foursome, especially the precocious Seth, a 12-year-old boy much given to furrowing his brow and ruminating on the shifting nature of social expectations.

Given the unshakeable devotion of these programmes to received wisdom, startling revelation was duly in short supply. Then again, perhaps their main function is to provide comfort rather than fresh information, not just by reciting all over again the commonly agreed version of postwar British life in a sort of historical equivalent of communal hymn-singing, but also by assuring us how marvellous life is today compared with more benighted times. …

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