Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

TV WATCH; Evacuation CBBC

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

TV WATCH; Evacuation CBBC

Article excerpt


My iPod for a tin of evaporated milk?

I don't think so ...

DID Tales From Europe blight your childhood television viewing as severely as it blighted mine? Nowadays, budgets for kids' TV shows are commensurate with their adult equivalents, but back in the Sixties they were so meagre that the BBC had to eke out its own programmes with cheap East European imports ( purchased by the mile, rather than by the hour), whose "stars" had names seemingly copied from an optician's eye chart.

Humourless, monochrome, and so poorly dubbed that the vocal artistes must surely have been registered blind, these series were further marred by wobbly music soundtracks, which sounded like a Bela Bartok LP that had been left out in the sun.

The tales themselves (with titles like Jirka and his Giant Pike, The Singing Ringing Tree, and The King of Miroslavia's Magic Turnip) invariably featured an androgynous peasant boy, a gaggle of milkmaids, a talking goat and a bearded grandfather with wooden teeth and a penchant for wild histrionic gestures, dubbed by a Radatrained Alvar Lidell-style voice saying: "Eat Pietr, eat up your raw beet. We are fortunate to have such an abundance of root vegetables!"

In retrospect, the BBC's true purpose in showing those tales during the Cold War era was probably not for entertainment at all, but to confound schoolboy communists with evidence of the grim agrarian reality of existence behind the Iron Curtain.

However, material conditions in Soviet-era Poland or East Germany were actually no worse than in rural Britain during the Second World War, as 12 city-dwelling schoolchildren are currently finding out for themselves in CBBC's fascinating new series Evacuation.

"If you'd lived in a city like this, you could have been bombed," said presenter Matt Baker as he wandered the streets of present-day London, explaining that one-and-a-half million children had been sent to the countryside in the early Forties to avoid the Blitz, yet presumably unaware that you can still get bombed in the capital today, only now it's called terrorism instead of war.

What's the difference? Well, war is the terrorism of the rich and powerful, whereas terrorism is the war of the poor and powerless.

Most urban citizens consider even the present-day countryside to be an alien and backward environment, but these dozen 12-year-olds were about to be triply disoriented (chronologically, technologically and geographically). Not only were they deprived of their computers and mobile phones as they hurtled back 60-odd years into our collective agrarian past, but they also said farewell to other conveniences that city-dwellers take for granted, such as fast food and indoor plumbing.

As they rode on a pre-war steam train towards their rural destination (with identification labels hanging around their necks and regulation gas masks in their luggage), they unwillingly came to grips with the wartime dietary regimen, consisting of one doorstep-sized ham sandwich, one apple, and one can of warm evacuated milk. …

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