The Taft Hotel blog has been closed for business in recent weeks because I’ve moved house. Now that I have time to catch up on some TV, I find that the BBC’s “cut and paste” department has been busy trawling through the archives once again to bring us cheap and cheerful telly for those cold winter nights.
The Home that 2 Built is the rather presumptuous title of a new documentary series charting how BBC2 lifestyle shows have shaped the homes, gardens and menus of Britain’s DIY-loving couch potatoes. Where better to start than the 1960s which, according to cheery narrator Mel Giedroyc (moonlighting from The Great British Bake Off), saw “the birth of modern home life”.
Talking heads like Alan Titchmarsh, Antony Worrall Thompson, Esther Rantzen and Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen join Mel in taking an irreverent look at the Beeb’s early attempts to educate the benighted British public, whose expectations had been lowered by years of war and rationing.
This was the decade that saw the launch of BBC2 itself (in April 1964), the birth of Terence Conran’s Habitat and – most important – the prime of Mrs Fanny Cradock.
Britons who’d become enured to “grey food” (according to Esther Rantzen) and what Antony Worrall Thompson recalls as “yellow broccoli” got a “culinary kick up the pants” when Fanny (aka Phyllis Nan Sortain Pechey) was hired by the BBC in the mid-60s as their main cookery presenter. She was brash, she was Euro-friendly (though not actually French, according to Esther) and her way of hectoring viewers, colleagues and husband Johnnie Cradock would eventually cause her downfall.
As Antony Worrall Thompson helpfully points out, “you couldn’t record anything in those days”. That’s just as well because the sight of a pink-suited Fanny Cradock swanning around the markets of Venice slurping baby sea snails is one that should carry a
Government Health Warning.
The 1960s also saw home improvement on the rise, a trend the BBC was keen to encourage with makeover shows like the popular Make it My Place (aka MIMP). Of course they didn’t have CAD in those days, so alternative design schemes had to be viewed on rather low-tech flipboards. Then, as now, viewers couldn’t get enough of other people’s homes, so why did these programmes wilfully refuse to show the results of the makeover?
The Home That 2 Built also examined the TV gardening craze and the phenomenally successful career of the genial Percy Thrower. (Fanny Cradock would have eaten him for breakfast.) Sadly, Percy’s run as presenter of BBC’s Gardener’s World came to a premature end after he appeared alongside Morecambe and Wise in an ITV advert for ICI garden
The best bit of the programme shows an experiment in taste and a stark illustration of the generation gap, as snooty interior designer David Hicks (a self-proclaimed “colour expert”) goes head to head with former char lady Margaret Powell to design the “perfect room”. David shops in Habitat, while the more conservative Margaret (sounding eerily like the great Irene Handl) is much more at home in Waring & Gillow.
Surveying her newly assembled collection of repro furniture, Margaret (unwisely) paraphrases Keats by declaring it “most decidedly a thing of beauty”. David’s patronising response is that her room contains “absolutely everything that I dislike”.
It may be just recycled TV and at times a little patronising about the period, but The Home That 2 Built is a revealing and enjoyable snapshot of the relationship between BBC2 and its viewers. I can’t wait to see what happens in the shagpile 70s.
(The Home That 2 Built is on Friday at 7pm on BBC2.)