Further back in time for dinner, episode 5

Episode 5, the 1940s.

The 1940s, war, rationing, liberation, black out, this might be one of the most challenging of all episodes.
Not just for our family but also for the production team to get right.

Skip to 1:50 if you don’t like spoilers, reviews and all that nonsense.

We’re told that the house hasn’t changed too much because of austerity.
Well this would have been a great excuse to actually do that and not give the family a whole new set of furniture.
The kitchen is ok, the cooker again looks a bit questionable, we’ll check that out later.

The sitting room would have looked a lot better with just the 1930s furniture from the previous episode.
“Yes sorry folks, this time nothing new, there is a war on don’t you know!”
The wallpaper is rather iffy, looks like christmas wrapping paper and not something I’d expect to see in a 1940s living room.
And where are all the things you need to keep a fire going in that lovely old fireplace?
The coal bucket, the poker, brush etc.

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The presenter and the expert walk around the house, we get a good look at the stove, yeah that is not a 1940s model.
And why is there a random little radio on the windowsill without a wire?
Does it work on batteries?
And why are there two random suitcases on the floor?
I love old suitcases, but they are only display items in antique shops, houses where collectors live and Irish theme pubs.
They belong on top of the wardrobe, under the bed, in a closet, in the attic, or if you’re about to use them maybe in the hall by the door.
But not in your kitchen.

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After checking with some friends (Thanks Ernst) it is now clear that the cooker is indeed a modern one made by Beko (click for more info) with some slight alterations.
By now you may have gotten a little tired with me complaining about the cooking range in every single episode, but I think it really matters.
Not only do I find it very difficult to understand why they couldn’t have done it correctly (other shows have) but I also think that especially in a show that is all about cooking, where the range plays such an essential part and will get many close ups, you should get this spot on.

Ah here is our family.
The girls again have this vampy wavy long hair which is nice and I understand that they love their long hair, but it again is not that typical for young ladies hair of that decade.
Mrs. Robshaw her hat is awful and she too has this long loose hair in stead of the more typical done up style.
All the ladies could have had some help putting on their hats.

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Mr. Robshaw becomes an air raid precaution warden, I hope he starts at home, those windows need some work.
Fred is going to be evacuated, another good idea from the production team.
I like how they sometimes manage to find a way to give us a glimpse of what happened elsewhere.
And who is taking Fred to the country side… Debbie!
But she too could have had some help with her hair.
Just putting some curls in it and letting it loose isn’t really the 1940s style.
Shoulder length was what you’d see most and even then it was often pinned up.
Much more practical, easier, faster and pinning it up also makes it a little easier to get away with hair that hasn’t been washed for a while because of you know, rationing.
Her baret also doesn’t look quite right.

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Nice to see Fred leave with his gas mask box but the ladies seem to have forgotten theirs.
Which was highly frowned upon, you could even be fined for it.
Imagine what the neighbours would say if that happened to the son of a warden!

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I love that they are building an Anderson shelter although the material looks a bit shiny and flimsy.
Will it hold if covered with earth?
Will this not give the health & safety wimp a heart attack?

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Mrs. Robshaw her cooking talents once more are rather, how shall I put it, unusual.
I know this will drive some viewers mad, she manages to mess up quite a few meals and has trouble figuring out the basics, such as using an old can opener, not burning your toast or using some butter or oil in a pan.
But I secretly quite like this, even though it isn’t very authentic (most people, especially women, would have know how to cook a little), I myself am a bit of a disaster in the kitchen as well.

FINALLY it is getting a little dark in this show.
Well they have to illustrate the black out so here we go, ooh darkness everywhere.
It should have been this dark in most of the episodes…

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Regarding the black out regulations, simply draping some black fabric over your curtain won’t do.
There will be light leaks on the sides here.
I expect dad to fine his own family.

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One of the daughters, Miranda, tries her hand at cooking, with her Hollywood hairstyle and plenty of makeup.
And although during the war women were told to keep their looks as glamorous as possible for morale, makeup was rationed and soon became something you’d want to save for when you go out.

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We’re visiting the Churchil War Rooms, I’ve visited this location as well and absolutely recommend a visit there.
Great museum, I’m still not sure if they have hidden loudspeakers with the sound of someone walking around corridors or if a ghost passed me by.

An air raid happens, a rather mild siren goes off and the family goes to their Anderson shelter in the garden…
But this shelter is far from finished.
It should be dug into the ground and covered up with a thick layer of earth.
Also the material looks thin and flimsy.
If a bomb would fall on their house and the building would collapse, this shelter wouldn’t be much protection at all.
On top of that they have candles inside and the door is wide open, not even a curtain to keep the light in and cold out.
I wonder why they didn’t do it properly.
If they didn’t have the time to build it, the production team perhaps should have considered building it for them and just using a digger to do the work so it would be authentic and all ready waiting for the family to return from their break in-between recordings.
There really is no need to put too much work and effort into this, after all it was already done in the show ‘The 1940s house’, with more detail and effort, including bomb damage and regularly waking up the family.
If you can’t do it right or as least as good as it has been done in other shows, for whatever reason, be strict with yourself and perhaps don’t put it in the show.

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The pie does look rather nice and eating it in the shelter is a nice scene.
But again, black out regulations are being ignored here, in the home of an air raid warden!
Putting a spot light on it also might be frowned upon by everyone except the Luftwaffe.

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Time to do something with stinging nettles, they make a great sort of spinach, I’ve used them myself and was quite impressed with the result.
Not sure why the kitchen is blacked out while it is clearly still day outside and why candles are being used while there is also a perfectly fine electric light.
If you want to pretend it is evening but it really isn’t, put some effort into blacking out the window properly!
Besides, if light can come in, light can also get out, another chance to get a fine!

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And when they realise they have that light, they still keep the candles burning…
Such a waste!

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Seeing  the production team “being creative” with the time of day also makes you wonder why they do this.
Do they just want to recreate the atmosphere of a black out or are the evening scenes filmed much earlier because the crew has to go home?
Come to think of it, have we ever even seen the bedrooms?
Suddenly realizing that we’ve never seen the family go to bed made me wonder about how authentic this whole show actually was.
Luckily Mr. Robshaw is quite honest about all this on his blog and answered that question after another young viewer also noticed this;

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I must say that this is rather a disappointment.
The show more and more feels like a family just trying a few historical scenes now and then than actually living it.
They have a break between each episode, they can always go upstairs and hang out in their modern rooms if they are sick of the past and they also film evening dinner scenes in the afternoon.
Especially in the early episodes having hot running water and electric light is proper cheating.
It makes you think about how much of what we see is an actual experience, just the cooking and eating?
Of course living an entire decade in just 10 days isn’t really an experience, remember ‘The 1940s house’?
The Hymer family lived through “just” the WW2 years in nine weeks!
Don’t get me wrong, in every series, every tv show, there are scenes staged, setup, even faked.
It is to be expected, not everything is possible or affordable.
Having worked in film & tv myself I know very well that sometimes there is just nothing you can do and concessions have to be made.
But the more obvious it becomes that the experience isn’t quite as you expected it to be, the bigger the disappointment.
In other shows people have lived through so much, endured actual hardship, slept on a bench while hanging on a rope, got food poisoning, cooked on open fires, etc, etc.

Ok, I know, it isn’t really fair to compare this show to ‘The 1940s house’, but how could you not?
And if you make a show like this, you know you’re competing with someone who has already done something like it and you better do it just as good or better.
And ‘The 1940s house’ is one of the best ‘Living history reality shows’ as far as I’m concerned.
And they got it all right.
Original cooking range?
Not a problem.
Bedrooms they actually slept in?
Done!
Making your own blackout that actually keeps the light from escaping?
Sorted!
An Authentic, realistic Anderson shelter thats properly installed?
Easy… well easy, lots of work, but they’ve got it!

Anyway, this episode reminded me of the shocking fact that I have not written a review of The 1940s house yet and that I should watch it again and write one!

Preparing a rabbit isn’t a big deal, especially as most of the rabbit seems to have been mostly cleaned already.
Although the Hymers refused to kill their rabbits and were also given already butchered rabbits, they at least looked after the bunnies for a while and had to consider the decision to eat them or not.

Time to go to a party, an American dance.
Everyone is swinging like we’re in some Harlem club in stead of somewhere in the UK.
“1940s enthusiasts” have been tracked down from everywhere to take part in this scene but some of them are, how do I say this politely, not obsessed with getting every historical detail right.
I’m seeing some outfits that don’t look very 1940s and some rather wild dancing that is sometimes more based on what people learn today at dance schools in stead of how our ancestors really danced.
Sure the Americans did bring that type of dancing to the UK (but they were only new to you if you’d never seen a Hollywood movie or read a magazine) but at most dances people danced differently, simply because there were tons of other dances they already knew or because this Jitterbugging was frowned upon!
They even adapted the Jitterbug into something more respectable for the UK.
A little more about that in this short video;

We’ve seen parties like this done in other WW2 shows as well and they are generally the same sort of idea.
It would have been a lot more fun (and more authentic and original!) to have seen a typical British party with a fun lambeth walk, knees up mother brown, a gasmask waltz, the blackout stroll, etc.

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And no Giles, the Americans did not “shower girls with nylons”.
Nylons were rarer than hen’s teeth during the war, even in the USA.
Most women didn’t get their hands on them till after the war.
Nylons had only been for sale in the USA for a little over a year when war broke out, it is estimated that there were about 65 million pairs pairs of nylon stockings in the whole of the USA by the time production stopped.
That is one pair per woman!
So imagine how few would have been left after a few years of war and rarity?
How many were there forgotten in a depot somewhere that someone then decided to send to their cousin overseas just so he could impress an English girl?
So I assume that Giles probably meant stockings, nice pre war silk ones or rayon?
I know many people say nylons when they mean stockings, but it simply is not correct.
If you want to learn more about nylons & WW2, click here for more historical background information.

It would have been a lot of fun and very educational to in stead of talking about these stockings, to actually try some “liquid” stockings, the painted on type!

Oh well, at least the girls had a lot of fun, 1940s parties are great, but still, it is a shame they didn’t quite get it as authentic as it could have been.
I’ve been to a few in my time and being at a 1940s party that feels actually real, even to someone as annoyingly obsessed with details as I am, is an amazing experience.

D-Day.
Another huge date in history, but apparently not big enough for the family to listen to on the radio, what a shame.
The original 24ish hour recordings of radio broadcasts for that day can still be found and it is an amazing experience to actually spend a day listening to that “as it happened”.

Debbie can drive a truck!
Is there nothing she can’t do?
Very nice to see her ‘man’ the wonderful Naafi truck.
And great to have a little background information on the WVS.
It would have been nice (especially for Debbie!) to park that truck outside  real military or navy barracks so she could make sandwiches and tea for a bunch of dashing soldiers or sailors.
Come to think of it, why are the Robshaw girls not more active?
During the war everybody was expected to do their bit and that meant doing more than just dancing!
We’ve seen one of the daughters wearing a helmet and cycling with her dad in his Air Raid warden uniform, but there is so much more they could have done, unless of course it ended up on the cutting room floor.
Women and girls were extremely active in many ways, so many possibilities!
At least put them also in the WVS.
Actually we don’t see Mr. Robshaw domuch ‘wardening’ either.
Did they spend at least an evening checking their own home for light leaks?

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The bit where the chaps tell about that time a “doodle-bug” exploded is quite impressive.

Good to see the black market mentioned, many, perhaps even most families sooner or later bought something illegally to improve their diet or simply because they needed it.
Of course not everybody bought as much as Giles is offering the family, at least not at one go.
But just a few cigarettes now and then, maybe some sugar, just a few eggs for that birthday cake, just this one time… that all made people feel a lot less guilty.
The black market was huge.
After a few years of war it probably would have been less of a moral dilemma than it is for the Robshaws, especially as there was no way they could get caught.
Giles is the only witness.
I like that the Robshaws seem to be quite rational and without scruple about enjoying the black market meal.

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The war is over, the family gets together to listen to the radio and celebrate their gruesome 5 day ordeal.

All this time the girls have had the same curled hairstyle.
Do they do their hair themselves every morning?

Wonderful idea to send the veterans over for a meal, what an honour to receive these chaps, especially one who actually fought in WW2.
As someone who directly owes her life to the men and women who in one way or another fought for the liberation of my grandparents, I’m eternally grateful.
And wonderful to hear about VE day, the party of all parties!

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Now that war is over, the rest of the 1940s flies by.
A short holiday in the park, a princess getting married and Mr. Robshaw tries cod liver oil.
Something that we should all do regularly, even if only to make everyone around us laugh.
Hurrah for the National Health Service, a beacon of progress in the world, something sadly now under threat while it should of course be adopted everywhere.

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That 1948 hospital meal looks delicious.
The decade, as always, ends with a little, or in this case a large party.

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Finally we look back on the entire experience, it is a nice reminder of all they went through but it also makes it obvious, for me anyway, that the early episodes were better and more interesting than the later ones.

But I must say that I am very surprised that the Holocaust was not  mentioned in this episode, unless I missed it.
Something I’d  expect to be mentioned especially considering the background of the  Robshaw family.

I won’t end my review with a conclusion just yet because there is one more episode to go where we see how the Robshaws live back at home and hear them talk about their experience.

Press stop at 58 minutes if you don’t want spoilers.

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