turn-back-time-dvd If this is history, it's much more entertaining than my school lessons were.

Distributor: Acorn Media
Format: Region 2 / 360 minutes

It is an excellent idea: take several tradespeople and recreate the conditions of the past to see how they would have coped in the old days.

So the producers of this series have gathered a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker (ironmonger) and a grocer, taking them back to the Victorian era, working with the same primitive equipment that their forbears would have used.

But there is also a reality TV challenge from this century: to stall the migration to out-of-town shops by luring back customers to several empty stores in Shepton Mallet High Street.

Week by week we see the families struggling to cope with the challenges of different eras. The viewer gets to sense the frustration of working all night with a Victorian bread oven that doesn't work properly – and there were no service agreements and a man rushing out in a van to fix it. By contrast, the second week recreates the elegant, service-led Edwardian era, when wealthy women would go out to the High Street to chat over cakes and drinks. In the ups and downs of a century, trying to keep a shop going during a World War counts among the lows, but the community spirit needed to survive is quite inspiring. The sixties bring the revolution of convenience shopping and then we get the punk era.

It all gives us a fast-paced overview of the way our towns have evolved over a century. Shops come and some shops go, while others have to keep changing to survive. And because the show is focused on families, we get to care for their survival.

The human side is very much to the fore. When the men leave to fight in the war, the butcher's young son has to take over completely. He charms the townsfolk into giving their support, endearing himself to the viewer as well.

It all works on several levels, and whether you want history, reality TV, sociology or simply a series that entertains as it informs, this works.


Derek Walker

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