If there’s one thing telly holds dear to it’s fuzzy chest, it’s the sanctity of modern living. From the flushable toilet to the iFridge 4, our freewheelin’, cosmopolitan abodes have transformed our lives beyond recognition.
We strut around our 21st Century pleasure domes like hubristic demigods, ignorant in bliss, safe in the knowledge that laminated flooring and Birdseye ready meals are here to stay.
Yet in its love for the British Home, TV also likes to remind us that domestic life hasn’t always been as luxurious. If we’re not worried about the imminent future, then we should at least be reminiscent about how we’ve become so fortunate. Sometimes this message can be patronizing, informative or simply plain boring. The House the 50s Built is a little of all three.
Hosted by the eccentric Brendan Walker, this four-part series delves into what life was like for our not so distant ancestors in the period between the Second World War and the Swinging Sixties. This is the age of rationing, nuclear families and the mangle; an item that, given his cobweb-strewn description, Walker wouldn’t be surprised to see being lifted from a muddy trench on Time Team.
But Walker doesn’t dwell on the nitty-gritty of postwar hardship for too long. Unlike the usual approach of plonk-a-family-in-an-amusing-historical-context a la Victorian Farm, here Walker teams up with the equally zany Marty Jopson to have a go at making some Formica. The result is some ‘hands on science’ that resembles a textiles lecture crossed with Brainiac: yes, the demonstration is interesting, but you can’t help wish they’d blow a caravan up instead.
Elsewhere, Walker took a look at the 75-hour week of the 50s housewife, and came to the rather uninspired conclusion that the invention of the twin-tub washing machine helped both relieve and emancipate women in the kitchen. While he’s hardly Judith Butler, the hackneyed sociology isn’t all that feels tired about this show. Given the pace of technology, it’s not surprising that the format itself seems strangely anachronistic, another stagnant property series retreading the same old linoleum.
Is there anything new to be learnt here? If my housemate’s newfound desire to “bring back the mangle” is anything to go by, I wouldn’t be optimistic.