The Victorian Slum, episode 5

Here we are, the last episode of this series.
I look forward to seeing how they’re going to end this show, probably by showing us first that things were getting better in the 1900s, hopefully also by hinting at the fact that quite a few of the men and boys living in our slums will soon be called up for World War one and then they may show us the contestants living back in 2016 again and hear them say what a wonderful experience it all was, how much they learned, how much respect they gained for their ancestors but also how they miss certain aspects.

Let’s see!

Skip first 3 minutes if you don’t need to see the intro again or repeat of what happened in last week’s episode.

Welcome to the Edwardian era, progress at last!
The shop looks wonderful.
Milk from glass bottles, you may still be used to that, but over here in Amsterdam, you can no longer get those for love or money.


The props department has gone all out with the reproduction labels, shame they didn’t clean them up a bit in photoshop first.
The boxes of tea all have exactly the same yellowish stains.


The presenter is a bit unnecessary, everything he tells the contestants could have been put on a note.
With all due respect, I don’t feel what he said here adds a lot to the show.

Things are changing for the Howarths, Mrs Howarth is not allowed to work.
Although of course the ideal was for women not to work, for countless families this ideal meant nothing as they simply had to do whatever it took to make a living.
For most working and even lower-middle class families having a member of the family just stand by and do nothing was simply out of the question for decades to come.

I’m loving the segment on photography.
The Victorian photos used in this show have been stunning and breath taking and as someone who uses vintage cameras herself, I’m excited to see someone show up with an old camera.
I wish he put on a costume though.


The photo exhibit is also a great idea, showing the younger contestants some pictures of real Victorian slum kids.
That distant history must suddenly be so much more familiar to them now.
Lizzy & Dolly brought tears to my eyes.

These jars don’t look very Victorian.


The Oxford House Settlement is an amazing initiative, wonderful.
The more you know about other people, the easier it is to understand and help them.
It sounds so logical but was then almost revolutionary.

I never knew about the King’s coronation food being donated to the poor, what a great idea to let our contestants experience that bit of history.
They can do with a little pick me up.
And what a nice/smart thing for a new king to do.
I wonder when the last time was a royal send his own party food to the poor.
All the neighbours having a party in the courtyard together, so wonderful and sadly, how rare that would be today.
Imagine fancy food being delivered as a gift to your street, do you think you’d organise a party with everyone or just split it up and eat it in front of their individual TVs?
The look on the contestants faces when they see the food is wonderfully genuine.


It is good to be reminded of how politics and democracy managed to improve lives, especially in these dark days of 2016 when so many of us are disappointed and disillusioned with how things are going, this show shows us that when the people are given the power and are listened to, things can change for the better.
Sometimes it does work, sometimes.

The men sure do love their new (directed?) attitudes towards women, it leads to the women discussing suffrage.
That scene felt a little staged.
We’re supposed to believe Mrs. Howarth just happens to walk into the men discussing politics and then just happens to return home to have all the other ladies waiting there for her to talk about what just happened and start a suffrage movement.
Both locations lit by lamps and with camera and sound crew ready and waiting…
This is of course nothing new with ‘reality’ tv, a lot of what you see is set up, sometimes just by subtle hints from the director, slight nudges in a certain way, sometimes by actually turning the camera off and telling contestants what to do and what to say.
But sometimes it makes sense, after all the director wants to make sure certain subjects are mentioned and certain scenes happen so the story can be told.

Either way, it leads to a great segment about the suffrage movement.
Shame they didn’t mention the suffragette who knew jiu jitsu (Edith Margaret Garrud).

James would have been a suffragette.
What a wonderful boy he is, his parents must be so proud of how they brought him up.
Not just because I agree with his opinions but because he clearly thinks about his points of view.
His parents have given their kids the rarest of gifts; critical thinking.

A day out!
What a wonderful brand new experience.
So many of us don’t realise how amazing it is that we have not just days off but are able to leave our towns and cities and even countries for a break and holiday.
Today we have countless who moan and complain and feel sorry for themselves when they can’t afford both a skiing holiday and a few weeks in Ibiza.
We have a generation, perhaps even two generations who do not remember a time when it was still a luxury to go on holiday abroad every summer.
And spoiled people rarely appreciate how good they have it.

How did our contestants get from the east end to this lovely old station?
Probably by car, but we don’t really want to know that do we.
Let’s forget I asked.
It is a shame they didn’t manage to find a museum with an actual Victorian train though.
I’m not a trainspotter at all, but doubt that is a Victorian train car, and definitely not third class either.

But more importantly, you do understand how amazing and fantastic this experience must have been for our real slum ancestors.
Imagine being on a train for the first time, seeing the country side for the first time, see horses, sheep,  having space and fresh air.
This realisation makes the jolly fun scene actually a little sad.

The solution for the horrible circumstances in the slums is a radical and depressing one; everyone has to move, everything is going to be demolished.
As awful as those places were to live in, it is still sad that they were simply wiped out, destroyed.
Not to mention the communities that were torn apart for this.
But it had to be done I guess although refurbishment would have been better.
You can’t restore communities once destroyed.
Besides, the Blitz would have done the same a few decades later.
They get their news in a nicely typed letter although I reckon the props department just downloaded an old typewriter font to make the letter with and not a very nice one.


Quite shocking how these radical changes improve some lives beyond recognition while others see their lives thrown by the wayside.
Those with jobs and talent, but mostly also luck, saw their lives improving, the rest kicked out and send away from where they often had lived all their lives.

Great idea bringing the 1950s slum dwellers into our Edwardian slum and sharing their stories.

The last day.

Mr Howarth’s hair is the stuff of legends.

Nice to see that Mr. Gardiner brushes his teeth and seems to shave authentically.
A wooden toothbrush with tooth powder, a cut throat razor, but the bucket (not in this screenshot) looks a bit modern.


The contestants share their final thoughts, quite wonderful.
“Don’t let it happen again” is one of the wisest lessons learned and probably the most important sentence spoken in all episodes.

We finally get to see the photos taken with the old camera, some didn’t work out so well, some look fantastic.
I wish we could see them online somewhere in all their glory.
A missed opportunity, the BBC should be tweeting, facebooking and sharing high resolution prints of these photos all over the internet.
They are amazing.

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Nice idea to have all the contestants have one final meal together and talk about their experience.
What a generally nice bunch of people.
They can be proud of themselves.



So the show has ended.
Without the almost obligatory segment showing our contestants a week or so later, looking all modern.
That is a shame.
Even though we pretty much know what such a segment would be like from other shows, it would still be nice to see the people one more time in their 2016 surroundings, telling us how things are now that they’re used to modern life again.


Technically the show could have been a bit better.
I’ve mentioned the lighting, everything should have been much darker and there were also a few historical details that could have been improved upon.
Here and there it was just too obvious when something modern had been hidden (lots of random rags hanging from walls) and sometimes things were not hidden at all (such as a modern alarm, electricity pipes, tea pot spout, etc).
In a few cases items were used that were simply too modern, such as a few of the stoves, the mannequin, etc.
Of course I do not know why some things worked great and some did not, in the end things can always go wrong and the prop and set department may have been very frustrated at simply not being given the time, tools or budget to do things properly.
And of course a Health & safety pen pusher might have spoilt a few things too.

Historically speaking the show was still too nice.
As dirty and sad the place looked, it was a palace compared to real slums.
No bugs, no rats, no overflowing sewers.
On top of that, the contestants had a different decade every week and there were lots of events and experiences planned for them.
Some fun, some horrible, but always a distraction.
One of the worst things about the slums would have been the dullness, the endless repetition of daily life with no hope of improvement.
A more realistic experience would probably have been if nothing happened, at all, every day, for weeks.
Just get up, work, eat, go to bed, be miserable.
But of course, that would have been less interesting to watch so it makes sense that they organised lots of things.
And no, I am not a sadist, but the experiences could have been even harder.
What about having no shoes at all, going a day without any food or not even being able to afford the doss house?

I also missed decease, it sounds awful but I would have let one of the contestants die.
Not really of course!
But imagine one of the contestants having a knock on their door at night, a producer sneaking in, telling them they’ve gotten cholera or typhoid and are now “dead”.
Their time in the show would be over but their neighbours would wake up to one of them missing, their room quarantined and a note on the door stating that the tenant has died.

Another thing I missed was that the show ended just a few years away from the Great War.
Some of the men, but definitely wonderful James would have ended up in the trenches.
As this episode was broadcast so close to UK’s remembrance day, it would have been quite a poignant moment of realisation for the viewer and the contestants.

One suggestion I would have made to the production team is get in touch with the  ‘Ragged Victorians’, an award winning Living History group specialised in showing the bottom of Victorian society.
Having them visit the slums now and then would have been quite wonderful.
They portray drunks, prostitutes, sick people, violent thugs but also coppers and charity workers.

I also felt that there were a few instances where certain scenes felt a little too directed, too staged.
Moments where it seemed like the contestants where dragged here and there, asked/told to say or do certain things.
Which I completely understand, as a producer/director you want to make sure some things get mentioned, some scenes you prepared carefully actually happen.
But I in one or two cases it could have been a little more subtle I think.
So the show could have been better, having said that, the overall look of the set was pretty good, the information taught was interesting and the real Victorian photos amazing.

But, above all, as often is the case, the best bit about this show are the contestants.
The production team managed to find a great set of people who got stuck in, really tried their best, didn’t moan or complain and clearly were enjoying the experience although enjoying might not be the right word for it.
It was a valuable and worthwhile experience for them.
Or that is how they ended up being portrayed.
You never know what happens behind the scenes, if contestants cheated and were helped by the production team to keep them from leaving or if the moaning and complaining wasn’t simply cut out.
I know, that sounds very cynical, but I’ve worked in film & tv and as a viewer there is more you don’t see than you do get to see.
Nevertheless, with these people I’ve got the feeling that they actually did rather well and didn’t cheat much or at all.
We’ve seen them suffer and still they carry on.
And on top of that, they generally appeared to also just be very nice people.
Which makes it easier as a viewer to share their experience and feel for them.
Good or bad and annoying contestants can make or break a show.

So, Potters, Howarths, Barkers, Haques, Mr. Gardiner, thank you.

If any of the people who took part read this and don’t mind answering a few questions or just write a piece on their experience in the Victorian slum for this blog, get in touch.
I’d love to hear your inside story and in some cases even put me in my place when I’ve been wrong.



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