Back in time for Brixton, episode 1

Skip to 0:50 if you don’t want spoilers!

This show gives us an idea of what life was like for west Indian immigrants when came to the UK shortly after World War 2.
So not only will the children experience what life was like without mobile phones and computers, but they will also learn what their grandparents went through and what things were like for black people then.
I wonder if and how the show will manage to let them experience how completely different society was for people of their background.

In 2012 there was a show called ’Turn back time – The family), they too brought a black family to a UK street, one of the first things the brother and sister from the Caribbean saw was a sign in a window; Flat to let; No Irish, no dogs, no coloureds.
On top of that they were put in a dirty small apartment and taken advantage of.
Quite a poignant and upsetting experience but also one you really need when dealing with this subject, you have to show that they weren’t always made to feel welcome and often experienced horrible and disgusting things.

Will the family in this show be subjected to actual racism or will the show be more about the fashion, food and gadgets that changed?

You’d expect racism to play a big part but also immigration should be mentioned a lot, especially today when it is such a big subject on the world’s stage.

First we meet the family, the mum is a former world karate champion and businesswoman, I already like her.
But in general, the whole family seems nice and rather well cast for the show.
Wall to wall productions is rather good at finding good families for their programs.

The family will be send to Brixton, late 1940s.

Finally we get to see some of the work that goes into decorating the historical home.
Or in this case, ‘damaging’ it.
The house the family will be living in is in a neighbourhood that would have still shown a lot of bomb damage and stuffer from poverty.
So lets make everything dirty!
It may sound easy but the risk is so high that you go a little too far and…. be careful with that airbrush and… aw too late.

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Presenter Giles brings along Social Historian Emma Dabiri, which is a good thing as I am the first to admit that although I know quite a bit about history of daily life in the 20th century, my knowledge of the specific history of immigrants and their culture and backgrounds really isn’t up to par.

The house may be a dump and two rooms may seem nothing to us modern people, it is actually quite a decent place to live for the time and location.
Miss Dabiri points this out and does very well in putting things into perspective.

The historical footage is fascinating, seeing those first immigrants arrive, hearing their dreams and expectations you can’t help thinking, what happened to that chap and that one and the one next to him.

Our family, mother, father and 3 children, have been changed into their late 1940s outfit.
What a change!
Much, much nicer.
But then again, I always say that when I see modern people change into historical clothes.
Especially the father looks extremely dapper with his nice suit and hat, although I can’t help wondering if the son isn’t a big too old for shorts.
Dad had long hair in ‘the present’, they probably didn’t give him a haircut and I am not sure what they did to it, but it looks pretty decent.
I think they pinned it up somehow.
Looks spiffy.

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The family is shown a bunker where many immigrants spend their first night and sometimes weeks.
The family is clearly shocked and did not expect this, fortunately for them, and unfortunately for us the viewer, the participants don’t have to sleep here.
It is awful, but we mustn’t forget that there is a housing shortage, that there is a city full of bombed out houses and that not that long ago thousands of Londoners spend their nights living like that.
And it is a roof over your head and a bed to sleep in.
There is also a pretty decent meal at a time when rationing still being part of daily life.
In the past and unfortunately today in many countries around the world, immigrants are left to their own devices and not helped at all.

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I’m not sure why Giles is feeling guilty.
For the time and the state the country and especially London was in, I think the government did rather well, finding them a place to stay, feeding them.
Of course the location was far from ideal, of course the food wasn’t a lot, but it does feel a bit like the government did the best they could with what they had at a time when not only lots of immigrants came to the country from the (former or soon to be former) colonies but also war brides, evacuees, soldiers were being demobbed and needed homes and jobs and people who sometimes had been living in temporary homes due to bomb damage had also been in desperate need for somewhere to live.
The family seems to be less bothered with their meal than Giles is.

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The historical footage shows how difficult it could be for an immigrant to find a home but the Irwin family is spared the humiliation of a racist sign in a window, which I think is a missed opportunity.
I remember feeling actually angry when the brother and sister saw one in ‘Turn back time – the family’ and it would have been such a common experience for black people trying to find somewhere to live.
I wonder why the production team didn’t put the family through this horrible but so authentic experience.
Anyway, enough horrible experiences ahead; they get their home!

Mum and dad are shocked but appreciative, they have more life experience, they know things could have been worse, they are happy to have a place.
The kids are in shock.
As cute as the kids look, (they really look ridiculously cute), they are not used to much hardship.
I wouldn’t dare to compare my life with that of immigrants of the 1940s, but as a student, I’ve lived in much worse conditions.
Modern people are spoiled and yes, I count myself amongst the spoiled ones.
And it is of course a good thing that those kids didn’t experience lots of bad things in their lives, but it also means they are easily shocked by having to live somewhere that isn’t perfect.

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What are they cooking their corn beef on?
Is that an electric 1940s hotplate?
I don’t think so.
Why are we seeing such bad excuses for old cookers in so many shows lately?
Have they made the health & wimp, I mean safety laws so much stricter suddenly that nobody dares to use old stoves anymore?

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The men are enjoying the traditional gender roles and who can blame them, must be grant to be waited on hand and foot.
But when your wife is a karate champion, I’d be a careful demanding breakfast to be made a little faster.

The 1950s begin.
The family goes to church, all dressed up.
Goodness I long for the days when people dressed up for church or well just about any occasion.
Imagine going to the the theatre or the cinema and not seeing anyone wearing jeans!
Quite an eyeopener to hear that the black immigrants weren’t always welcome in many regular churches.
If there is one place you’d expect people to be a little welcoming or at least pretend to be, it would be church, after all shouldn’t you practice what you preach?
Oh well, that didn’t stop the West Indian immigrants, they just set up their own churches.
Nice to hear that when the referent wanted to set up his own church in the early 1950s, the council gave him a bomb site and charged him 1 pound rent a year.
Can you imagine that happening today?

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Seeing the kids trying to figure out a proper ink pen is quite amusing.

The family is writing letters to the youngest child who, as was often the case, followed later.
Dad makes a grammar mistake, mum goes mental, it is hysterical.
I like mum even more now.
The kids join in giving dad a grammar lesson, I’m laughing so much.
Imagine though having to leave your kids behind to go ahead to a foreign country to make sure their life can be better.

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It is 1954 and the family moves into a new flat.
One that looks very modern.
It feels more 1960s even 70s to me than mid 1950s.
Either way, it looks horrific but that era wasn’t known for its good taste.
The decorators did do quite well to put some typical West Indian things in there, it is quite fun to see the parents immediately count at the glass fish, the fake flowers  and the cabinet that they remember from their childhood.
They even got the same plates as they have at home.

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More very interesting footage, simply organising a dance where both white and ‘coloureds’ were welcome was still a news story back then and even though the UK was a lot more tolerant and advanced compared to much of the US at this time, there still was a lot of tension and racism.

The Brixton market brings food from across the world to London, allowing our family to once again cook and eat the food from their home country.
And the family is reunited with their youngest child.

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Mr. Irwin gets to be a bus conductor, like his dad was.
What a great thing for the producers to organise, our man is clearly is having a great time.
Back when London still had those good old red busses and conductors still wore proper uniforms!

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Wonderful for him to meet one of the first black bus conductors, such a nice little scene.
Also very interesting to learn about the whole bus community, a cricket team, social functions and free travel for family members.
But of course there are also examples of rather unpleasant experiences.
Which made the day as a bus conductor a very moving one.
Bravo to the producers for setting it up.

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The late 1950s, things are getting uglier, “racial violence”.
To ease the tensions, the carnival is organised.
A huge success and an annual tradition that is still going strong today.
The Irwins are going to learn the steel pan.

Things are getting better for our family, the 1960s have arrived and they now have new gadgets and try their hand at DIY with bits flying everywhere.
Every time in one of these shows people do something together, they, and us viewers, realise how rare such occasions have become and we love it and miss doing things as a family and then we forget about it till the next time we see it on tv.
Which is a bit sad.
They use the table for dominoes, making sure the women realise it is a man’s game, once more risking a karate chop from mum.

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The lads go shopping for new clothes.
Goodness fashion was so much more fun back then than it is now.

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We learn a bit about the 1964 boycott against the openly racist bus company.
It is wonderful to see the footage of Sir Learie Constantine who so eloquently reminds us that he too did his bit during the war and that black and white people side by side gave Hitler a ‘terrific hiding’ .
Bravo.

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Hurrah for the Race Relations act and hurrah for mr. Paul Stephenson who started it all.
I found it quite touching to see someone walk up to him during the interview and thank him.
Well done production team for leaving that in the show.
Wonderful.
I knew nothing about this bit of history, glad to have learned something.

The family watch their brand new TV (yay an original appliance the production crew wasn’t too afraid to use), surprised to see a black girl become Miss World in 1963 they discuss how although technically she was black, she really looked white.
What a strange thing race is.

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Mum has a new job as a nurse.
Oh such a lovely uniform, I am sure the modern outfits are much more comfortable and functional but goodness they look boring.
Bring back proper nurses I say.

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Another excuse to bring some elderly people to the house and chat with them about how it really was.
I always love it when they do this.
Of course it breaks the immersion a bit and stems the flow of the ‘drama’ going on with our participants, but there is nothing more interesting than hearing from eyewitnesses who can tell us what things were really like.
These lovely old ladies tell the family about being a black nurse back then.
I love that the nurses criticise Mr.s Irwin’s uniform right away.
The production team didn’t know about starching the cap properly it seems.

Time for a party to end the 1960s with.
A blues party; the door is opened to the entire neighbourhood and people would pay to get entry and dance all night.
Seems like fun, unless you’re a neighbour who doesn’t want to come and just go to bed early.
I’m one of those people who hates parties in general.
Mind you today we still have horrible parties keeping the neighbourhood awake and at least back then the music was good!

Time for the family to re-evaluate their time travel experience.
The family seems to have really enjoyed the show so far and have learned a lot.
And I think the same can be said for the viewer.

Personally I think the experience might perhaps have been made a bit harder.
They experienced the poverty but very little of the actual racism.
I understand that this is such a sensitive matter and that as a production team it must be real difficult to try and make your contestants experience it.
For instance the “no coloureds” sign from the other show made such a big impact, I think it would have been good to confront the family in this show with it as well and of course also shock the viewer with it.
But as I said, it is a very difficult subject and very risky to do so I can’t blame them for perhaps not going quite so far.

Stop your player at 58 minutes to avoid spoilers for the next episode.

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