The past is in the country

The BBC's latest reality show takes young Londoners back to a time when life was as hard as the toilet paper


BBC1 and CBBC from Monday, September 4, 5-5.35pm

"Now, when I was your age...," has probably been uttered by parents to children since Antiquity, every generation believing that the young have an easy time by comparison with the tough upbringing that their elders endured. But only today, with the invention of reality television, do the old actually have the means to prove their case.

In this latest series, lured by the prospect of becoming TV personalities, 12 innocent south London kids are bundled off to a Norfolk farm to endure two weeks as 1940 evacuees. Deprived of their mobiles, iPods, computers, trainers and other essentials, the poor dears don't know what further horrors await them: wartime rations, outside toilets, shiny loo paper, school and a stern regime of Digging for Victory under the direction of Mr and Mrs Rivett.

As viewers, we are guaranteed a full portion of that satisfying German dish, Schadenfreude. "Richard is an extremely fussy eater," his parents remark as the victim heads off aboard a steam train towards a lunch of corned beef fritters and watery veg, while presenter Matt Baker comments, with a sly grin: "It's good, hearty country food - they must be enjoying it." Are you quite sure about that, Matt?

It's certainly fun, but is it at all educational? The most obvious lesson from these experiments in time travel (Channel 4's The 1940s House and the rest) seems to be that the past was hell and we are lucky to have moved on into the present. There is not much information, however, about the efforts - scientific, political and so on - that helped us to do so. And, in the end, the evacuees may not be getting such a raw deal as we and they had imagined. Life on the farm puts roses on their cheeks and shows them where eggs and milk come from. The whole exercise could prove instructive in more than just demonstrating how miserable life used to be, in what these children think of as "the olden days".

The Cabin Boys

BBC Radio 4, Monday, September 4, 8-8.30pm

In 1940, there were certainly worse fates than evacuation, for example that suffered by more than 10,000 teenagers who served as cabin boys and galley boys with the Merchant Navy, often on the Atlantic convoys. This programme tells the touching story of two of them, John Hipkin and John Brantom, who were captured in 1941 by the German battleship Scharnhorst. Brantom was 15, Hipkin 14. Because of their age, they should have been repatriated, but instead they were taken to occupied France, then interned in Milag prison camp in Germany and not released until 1944. Now among the youngest surviving veterans of the Second World War, they meet again for the first time in more than 60 years and recall their experiences.

Temper Your Temper

BBC1, from Monday, September 4, 11-11.30am

Arguing that anger is an increasingly common response to the stresses of modern life, this 10-part series tries to demonstrate the effects of bad temper on health and relationships, with Dr Alan Watkins (senior lecturer in neuroscience and pyschological medicine at Imperial College) on hand to suggest how we can all learn to control our outbursts and Saira Khan to offer the experience of a former sufferer from uncontrollable anger.

We start with a young working mother of four children. You don't need a degree in psychology to guess where her stress is coming from or who bears the brunt of it. Dr Watkins suggests techniques that she can use to control her temper; teachers might find them useful too.

Robin Buss

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