Back in Time for Tea

Back in Time for Dinner, BBC2’s delightful TV time travel experiment that fast-tracked a modern family through decades of social and culinary change, was such a bulletproof format, even the presence of professional contrarian Giles Coren couldn’t ruin it.

The latest iteration of the franchise swaps leafy, middle-class London for the rolling hills of Bradford, with the likeable Ellis clan – mum Lesley, dad Jon and teenagers Freya, Caitlin and Harvey – getting a taste of working class life over a century of unprecedented change.

Coren – who once said it was easier to leave the country than find decent food outside the M25 – is notably absent, replaced by the earthy, northern Sara Cox. I suspect it was the prospect of listing the correct mealtime designations as ‘breakfast, dinner and tea’ that did for him.

The first episode began in 1918 with the mines, mills, shipyards and steelworks of the north enjoying a postwar boom as the roaring, pounding engine of Britain’s new industrial revolution. Mum, dad and the girls were duly set to work in the local textile mill, one part of which was known as ‘the devil’s hole’ and where a full complement of fingers was frowned upon as evidence of a lack of commitment.

At home, meanwhile, it was all outside privies, washboards and mangles (‘Is that a pasta maker?’ asked the kids) and a diet of bread and potatoes, corned beef and tripe, the latter of which (boiled cow’s stomach lining – yum) had young Harvey literally retching into a bucket. ‘It’s the chewiness and the… cowiness,’ observed Lesley, sympathetically.

It was a tough, unforgiving life – especially for the women, who couldn’t leave their work at the factory gates – that only got worse as the country succumbed to the grip of the Great Depression. Still, while London may have had more money, the north is blessed with nature’s bounty, as demonstrated when Jon and Lesley joined Anita Rani on nearby Ilkley Moor (none of them baht’ at, disappointingly). As a Yorkshireman, I may be biased, but Giles really doesn’t know what he’s missing. Let’s keep it that way, eh?

TV extra:


Hull’s Headscarf Heroes

There was more northern working class grit on show in this, the compelling story of how a legion of Yorkshire women – led by an indomitable cod-skinner called ‘Big Lil’ Bilocca – shamed the establishment into improving safety conditions at sea in the wake of Hull’s 1968 ‘triple trawler tragedy’. Naturally, the London media were quick to brand them an ‘army of fishwives’. But, after watching this, surely anyone would be proud to call themselves a fishwife.



It’s rare we see a proper ghost story on primetime telly, but Requiem is a spooky, slow-burning treat, with a star-making turn from Lydia Wilson as a gifted cellist with an upsetting fringe who’s drawn to rural Wales to investigate the historic disappearance of a young girl. Part detective story, part haunted house mystery, it’s like a moodier, more existential Jonathan Creek, with a beautiful, mournful soundtrack from Dominik Scherrer and Natasha ‘Bat for Lashes’ Khan. All episodes are on iPlayer now.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, February 8, 2018

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