I'm not surprised it beat the climax to ITV's celebrity reality TV show 71 Degrees North in the ratings. In the first episode of six, the timeshift documentary transported four shopkeepers and their families back to the 1870s and more specifically four empty shops in Shepton Mallet's market square that had been transformed for a week into a Victorian butcher, baker, candlestick maker (aka ironmonger) and grocery store.
The town was dying on its knees thanks to a nearby out of town shopping centre and the idea was two-fold: to see how the families coped and whether the olde worlde stores would entice shoppers back. It was a brave decision to eschew the usual competition element for social experiment, but on the whole it worked.
Put it this way: you were certainly pretty quickly disabused of any romantic notions you might have had about the era.
I know this was pre-health and safety but, cripes, the Victorians were a dodgy lot, as the Devlins, who were running the bakery, found out. Bread was to the Victorians what coke is to modern charlatans, it seems - habitually laced with something nasty such as allum (which bleaches the bread as well as bulking it out - nice!).
But deciding whether to adulterate the loaves was the least of their problems. Poor Caroline, an artisan baker, had to contend with the fact that a) as a female she wasn't allowed to do any baking and b) her fella was a complete dolt who ignored every word of advice.
The upshot? They were forced to sell bread that was raw in the middle, yet burnt on the outside and ridiculously salty. Needless to say, they made the least money and the grocery store made the most. But the point wasn't to make money, it was to get an insight into the origins of the high street, which you did.
Better still, the town had sprung to life again and Wallace was conspicuous by his absence. Food TV doesn't get better than this.
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