Yes, yes, I know: It’s time for me to play being a TV commissioning editor again. It’s rapidly becoming apparent that it is my fantasy career of choice. Above writing novels, scripts or political speeches; above lying in a bath of whiskey all the live long day or playing rhythm guitar in an industrial black metal band. It’s TV.
My partner and I watch a lot of a TV series called “Back in Time for…”; except that it hasn’t been a series for quite some time: it is now a format, following a group of people as they sample different eras of British history from a variety of perspectives. Usually food features quite extensively as a topic, but this has become of lower and lower importance as opposed to our country’s social history.
It has covered a lot of topics, from what a middle class southern British family ate for their dinner on any given afternoon, in any given decade to what life was like in a textiles factory in the Welsh valleys as Britain moved from industrialisation to deindustrialisation, via greater gender equality in the workplace and a move to protect the health and safety of British workers. It has even touched on the plight of Northern middle class families and their food needs. What else could it cover, I ask?
Back in Time for the Government: a bunch of workshy bastards from many and various trades and generic office careers become government ministers, facing the arduous schedules of those who have actual power, and experiencing the changes in the way authority has been expressed over the 18th, 19th 20th and 21st centuries. Foci would include the roles of aristocracy and women in power.
Look, a lot of us think that the actual ministers we have in government are lazy, bribed and fattened wraiths, in thrall of corporate interests and maintaining their own positions. However, that is not the truth of the matter, and ministers work very hard. Yes, a lot of them, over the years, have chosen to oppress the poor in myriad different ways, but they work long hours and do not get the chance to see their families very often. They are public servants after all, and bound by many arcane rules.
Seeing the way British government works through the experiences of people who do the same kinds of jobs we can all imagine – so no teachers or anyone from any of the emergency services, as they work too hard already – would be a useful exercise in what constitutes real power in this country.
Back in Time for the Tramp: Several hard working desk Johnnies become “Gentlemen of the Road” through various eras, experiencing such joys as picking up tabs from the gutter, getting clean in the workhouse, delousing powders and receiving a serious kicking from local thugs and skinhead gangs.
There has been a crisis in homelessness in this country, in direct causal relation with the degree to which the government of the day loves money and power over the prosperity of its own people. And yet, there has been a demonization over the years against people who have no choice but to live on our streets. We have been fed lies about people earning a living through begging, of people choosing to live on the street, of desires to abuse substances and their own bodies. This closes our eyes to the realities of their existence, from people trafficking and antisocial behaviour to sexual exploitation.
Participants could be dressed up in historically accurate rags, involving them being sewn in to hemp sacks for the winter, and being unable to shower for months on end. Their malnourishment would be observed by a resident doctor, who would commentate on their declining function in all areas.
Back in Time for Baby: Several families, each with appropriately / inappropriately small children, viewpoint depending, live through different moronic child rearing ideologies from yesteryear.
This would include the swaddling of babies in tight bedding, including its recent resurgence, feeding children a load of sugar-drenched, artificial, mass-produced, shite in shiny cardboard packaging, and hiring a magical – if dismissive and ludicrously vain – nanny to take them on magical adventures, while denying the existence of same and talking to fucking birds. It would be a hoot, to be sure.
Normality is a myth, and the way we raise our children is the surest indicator of this notion. Where one family may live in blissful ignorance of white bread and Findus crispy pancakes, another can only ever consider gendered toys for their offspring. These ideas are passed down from one generation to the next, down family lines: history can show us where these ludicrous notions have come from.
It could involve Giles Coren dressing up in full Mary Poppins, or Polly Russell holding back laughter while she instructs a modern person how to use some preposterous, arcane parenting gizmo.
Back in Time for the Railways: Michael Portillo leads a gang of commuters through the oppressive experiences of yesteryear to show how they’ve never had it so fucking good, and should stop their fucking complaining. Women were told to put pins in their fucking mouths to stop men from kissing them, when the trains were darkened, for fucks sake. The District Line is a massive improvement.
Regional vanity lines could be used to demonstrate the different classes, from actually sitting in an open guard’s van to enjoying the luxury of the highest classes of British steam travel. I mean, yes, Mike has done all of this before, and all around the world, but with only a tatty old book and a silly grin for company. This time he could have whinging ordinary folk complaining about their dresses.
This one is the least imaginative of the lot, and has therefore already likely been commissioned. It would combine the audiences of two fondly considered TV properties, each with a fan-base and a love of social history. Because it’s such a done deal I require absolutely no recompense and do not expect to see my name in the credits. The others are all mine, motherfuckers. Make it so!