1940s House — the BBC retro-reality series

I am not quite sure how, but the other night, trolling around the vintage blogosphere, I spotted a reference to this BBC series — 1940s House — and now I have my DVD set from Amazon on the way. Pretty much every day I get into a conversation with someone about whether “times are worse today than they were for our parents and/or [fill in the blank to any decade past]”. I have my *opinions*, but I have not dug up actual facts to support my own personal hypothesis. Even before I would, though, I’d want to discuss: What specific aspects of life are we going to measure to determine what may be *better*, exactly, or what may be *worse*? We need to have a discussion around these assumptions and parameters first, I think, to then be able to measure and compare now vs. then.

Anyway: In that vein, I love the concept of this TV series. I guess you’d call it a retro-reality show: A family is put into a constructed environment recreating what it was like to live in the midst of WWII England — housing, food, amenities, technology … or lack thereof. They must deal. I can’t wait to watch.

  1. Sandra Day says:

    i would just like to say how much i enjoy the 19490s, and this is from someone who lives the 1940s full time, the family was great , i would have really love to meet them, but i only find out about them , who it was all over a done,

  2. Peggy Miniard says:

    I think I offer a slightly different perspective than many…I grew up in central appalachia…south eastern ky, in a coal mining community. My mothers home was constructed from two old camp houses that were moved to the present locaton…check out my blog..my old ky home..and although I was born in the 60’s we didnt have plumbing, or central heat…we used pot bellied heating stoves and our fuel souce was “house coal.”. I think how very fortunate I am today, but also, how spoiled our society has become. What is now a “necessity” is quite different than what used to be. Entertainiment used to be “talking and story telling”…..our front porches were our “living rooms”..I think we have it made today…but we need to realize out very lucky we are …and learn to enjoy the simple things…just because they are wonderful!

  3. Beti says:

    Have you all heard about this gal, Carolyn Ekins?


    She’s using a wartime ration plan to lose weight and live more simply in the process. I’ve just started reading her blog but it sounds like she’s staying right with the strict rations and using recipes from that time. It’s pretty interesting to read about her progress.

  4. brneyedgrl80 says:

    I remember hearing about the colonial show and found the concept very interesting.

    Related, I remember awhile back that MTV had a show in similar concept but they had young adults living in a 1970s environment. The show could’ve gone farther than what they did with it (it became more of a reality drama-filled show).

    Even though the 70s may not seem that long ago for some (before my time) the technology has changed quickly enough to make it a bit harder for people to adapt backwards. I can only imagine trying to adapt to the 1800s or early 1900s, especially if they apply socioeconomic and gender roles too.

  5. Stacy says:

    I watched several of these series and what I found most interesting is in general how upset/tired/angry the women were and how satisfied the men were.

    The men tended to get jobs where they built things like fences and such and many of them commented on how accomplished they felt in doing so. Understandable given that many modern day jobs don’t really produce a tangible “product.” Men, also and often, had some public citizen type jobs where the men would gather to make decisions about the community.

    On the other hand, women would get breakfast made, people would eat and about the time they finished washing up that they would need to make lunch, about the time they finished lunch they would need to make dinner. In the middle of all the cooking they would have to sew, wash things, sweep, etc. Most of the women seemed to not find much satisfaction in the repeated daily tasks. In many of the series, women were also relegated to roles of silence & submission. The modern women did not like this!

    When you think about the 100 year span between the 1850s& the 1950s it is pretty amazing how many inventions came out that made what was once considered “woman’s work” easier.

    While I do think we can learn many things from the past–saving, growing our own food, living with less; I will take my washing machine, oven, fridge, husband that shares in these chores, etc. over the past. More importantly, I celebrate my right to vote, speak in public, and have and opinion I can voice.

  6. nina462 says:

    There is also the Colonial house (Oprah visited the location). I’ve seen all of these House series – in fact, I ordered the 1940’s house this year for my own stash. Your local library may have copies, as well.
    My beloved Green cookbook (The American Woman’s cookbook) – I have the war ration version, has a section on how to feed a family of 4 on $15 a week. Later is was $20 a week …
    Am glad you discovered/mentioned these series –

  7. Gavin in the UK says:

    I too watched this and similar BBC series with much enjoyment. However in our family we all agree that it gets tiresome watching the whinging and whining of some of the participants. A case in point being the teenage daughter in one of the families on BBC Wales’ “Coalhouse at War” series. http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/coalhouse2/index.shtml She refused to have her hair done in period style and constantly moaned about not being able to shower every day and the lack of cosmetics to her taste (Particularly amusing given that she wasn’t exactly “the best looking” as an Irish friend of mine puts it!) A better series of living in the past without the “reality TV” nonsense is the BBC “Victorian Farm” series http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victorian_Farm where the participants are historians with some knowledge of the period and a constant enthusiasm at discovering the reality of what they have studied academically. Highly recommended and now followed with the “Victorian Pharmacy”. Excellent viewing.

  8. Just another Pam says:

    Add me to the list of people who loved the 1900’s and 1940’s programs though I’m still amazed at how little knowledge they say we actually have on the day to day lives of people….I just always presumed they’d at least know most everything about the 40’s.

    Personally I think they did the right thing giving away the bunnies that were left for them in their yard instead of raising them for food as many people did, I’ve no skill for killing my own food especially after raising the wee critters. Yikes.

    Being born in the 50’s and growing out of those times, trust me, these times are much better even if you only use race/gender issues and medical/dental as your markers. Wonderful decor and media but real life, not that great for most people on a day to day basis. I’m pretty sure I’d have a stroke if some teacher beat my child, if I saw someone refused service because of their race or a doctor patted me on the hand and told me it was all in my mind, here’s some Valium, dear.

    When I moved to Florida in ’71 there was a giant bill board along the interstate that read….”Welcome to Klan Country – help fight integration” – with a painting of a Klan member holding a little golden haired girl. I was scared for life. You could go to jail and your life destroyed for being gay. Duck and cover. McCarthy. The threat of polio….every summer. The good ol’ days are best experienced in the rear view mirror with all our rights and privileges AND the parts of the mid-century that won’t hurt you like the real estate, media and decor….asbestos aside.

    1. Jana (Berniecat) says:

      Hi Just Another Pam,
      I too live in Florida and I teach a diversity course at my college (College of Central Florida). I have a collection of 1940’s-60’s vacation postcards that I use in my course that feature cartoon images of young African American children climbing up palm trees chased by alligators with open mouths that say “Welcome to Florida!”. Yes, while I love some aspects of 1940’s-60’s social history, I also don’t like many including segregation and the rigid social roles of women.

      1. Jana (Berniecat) says:

        P.S. Thanks for the reminders about the other negative social/historical aspects of the period. Unfortunately, many of these negative and hurtful attitudes are still present in our society almost 70 years later.

        1. Just another Pam says:

          Hi Jana,

          Oh, I hear you, it’s such a worry that we’re seeing more of that mind set and I’ve wondered if the internet isn’t the white hood of our time as people feel safe to say things I’d hoped were in our past.

          I remember those post cards and love that you share them with the students as I think everyday items like postcards show just how ‘normal’ this kind of thing was then. In 1972 I became friends with a young woman in my classes who’d never been in a white person’s house so would only sit on the front porch.

          Every now and then I watch the movie Far from Heaven which is set in 1957 and sometimes I can hardly breath I feel the ‘good ol’ days’ shown in it so deeply. The decor is outstanding though.

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