Back In Time For Tea (Episode 2)- BBC 2


  Loving this!  Tizer!  I haven’t had that for years.  Donkey stones – which I got rather waffly about after last week’s episode.  Three flying ducks on the wall.  And pilchards.  For some reason, pilchards are associated in my mind with Enid Blyton … and I can’t pinpoint why, and it’s annoying me.  I can’t believe that they had pilchards at Malory Towers or St Clare’s, but maybe it was something they ate in one of the adventure series in which everyone has endless school holidays and the weather’s always nice.  But would snooty Julian Kirrin really have eaten something as working-class as pilchards?  Or was it something to do with Mr Twiddle being followed by the neighbourhood cats?  No; I think the Mr Twiddle thing was herring.  So where did the pilchards come into it?  It’s really bugging me now.  There must be a reason why I associate pilchards with Enid Blyton, but what is it?

Anyway, to get back to the donkey stones, I actually thought that “donkey stone” was a Manchester-ism, but it appears that it was used across the North … although Wikipedia informs me that the term did originate in Manchester, so I was sort of right!   Donkey stones were, of course, used for cleaning your front step with, and we saw Lesley, the mum in this surprisingly engaging series, duly donkey-stoning her front step as part of the 15 hour day put in by women who worked in the mills and then had housework to do as well.  Contrary to what some people higher up the social ladder may have thought, most working-class women were extremely houseproud and absolutely scrupulous about keeping their homes clean – a sign that you were respectable, not rough.  That feeling that you’ve got to keep the house immaculate has resonated down the ages in the industrial (or now sadly rather de-industrialised) North: I am constantly feeling guilty about not doing enough housework.  People who shrug that life’s too short to do more than the bare minimum of housework just do not get it 🙂 !

The second episode moved us on into the 1940s and the 1950s, with the house now looking much more comfortable.  There were three flying ducks on the wall, and I cannot believe that no-one mentioned Hilda Ogden when they saw them.  Come on.  You see three flying ducks on a wall and you immediately think of Hilda Ogden’s “muriel”, right?  Surely?  Well, apparently not in this case.  Oh dear.

However, with rationing still in force, providing meals was still a problem.  This was the golden age of allotments, and trying to grow food wherever else you had the chance.  The family also got two chickens, to provide eggs.  And one suggestion for breakfast involved pilchards, because they weren’t on ration – which was when I started worrying about why I associate pilchards with Enid Blyton.  Not that anyone in Enid Blyton books ever worries about rationing.  Statistics can be rather boring, but the statistics produced by social historian Polly Russell in relation to rationing and calorie consumption were fascinating.  Before the war, the middle-classes were consuming an average of around 1,000 calories per day more than the working-classes – and the middle-classes would generally have led far more sedentary lifestyles than the working-classes.  With the introduction of rationing, calorie consumption pretty much levelled out across the board.   Strange how Britain’s darkest hour actually made some things much fairer than they’d ever been in the good times.

Most people were consuming around 2,500 calories per day, which … well, it’s more than double what I’m supposed (I did say “supposed”) to stick to.  So people weren’t going short, as many had done during the Depression.  And it’s often argued that rationing did improve the nation’s health, by forcing people to eat a more balanced diet.  Less bread.  Fewer sweets.  But pilchards for breakfast?  Ugh!

Also on the subject of health, the birth of the NHS, in 1948, was mentioned, but from an unusual angle – that of the opportunities that it provided for young women (well, men too, but mostly women) by creating a large number of nursing and midwifery jobs.  Apparently, back in the early days, 11% of nurses and midwives came from Lancashire alone.  It was a great opportunity for bright, hard-working Northern girls.  We saw the two daughters learning about training as a nurse – including doing the hospital cooking, as well as the actual nursing work.  The idea of an invalid diet, often mentioned in books of the time, but rarely mentioned in these days of budget-consciousness, was a big thing then.

On to the mid and late 1950s, a time of increasing prosperity, and generally looked back on nostalgically as a golden age.  The family got a television.  Interestingly, it was pointed out that Continental families tended to prioritise washing machines and fridges, but, in Britain, it was tellies first!  Maybe that was something to do with the Coronation, June 1953 – something for which we saw a lovely street party being thrown.  I know a lot of people say that they got their first TV specifically so that they could watch the Coronation.  White goods too, often on the never never; and catalogue payment schemes were also mentioned as a sign of the new consumer society and the use of credit.  Attitudes towards credit haven’t half changed.  A lot of people of my grandparents’ generation never quite got past the idea that Respectable people did not get into Debt – that was for rough people and the louche upper-classes! – but does anyone still think like that any more?  Well, you’d never be able to afford any big item these days, if you saved up until you could buy it outright.

Also in terms of consumerism, we got commercial TV.  Granada!   The first Northern station – covering Yorkshire as well as the North West, back then.   And other leisure activities too – the two daughters were treated to an evening at a ’50s-style dance hall, with Bradford’s own Kiki Dee.  I’d love to have been around in the age of dance halls … although I’d’ve been the fat girl sat in a corner, with no-one wanting to dance with me!  But they always seem like so much more fun that modern nightclubs.

Also, with a five-day working week now the norm, the family went off for a Saturday picnic in the Peak District – the nation’s first National Park.  That was where Tizer came in.  I was rather put out that the three children had never heard of it!  It is still produced – although, sadly, not in Manchester any more – but you don’t really see it much these days.  It used to be so popular.  I associate it with being at my auntie’s house.  Maybe it was something that she bought more often than my mum did?  I must check with my cousins about that.  Anyway, I haven’t had it for years.   Coke was probably the quintessential drink of the ’80s, when I was growing up, but I didn’t like Coke then and I don’t like it now … although I do still know all the words to the Robin Beck song.

As we got towards the end of the 1950s, there seemed to be more and more food.  As Lesley, the mum, commented, it was as if, after the austerity years of the Depression and then rationing, people were going to the other extreme.  It’s often happened in history – think of the Restoration backlash against the Cromwell years.  The word “spread” was used a lot.  That’s a lovely ’50s word, isn’t it?  “Spread.”  No-one talks about “spreads” any more, because no-one’s ever got time to make one, so many people (me included) are constantly on a diet, and we’re all always being made to feel guilty about what we eat and how much we eat.  Someone should make a programme about that – the history of food guilt.  Anyway, no food guilt here.  No pilchards either, but it did make me think again about Enid Blyton books, and Elinor M Brent-Dyer books, and Lorna Hill books, and all those other children’s books in which everyone’s always tucking into huge spreads – but no-one ever seems to put on any weight!  Er, not that any of those books are set in working-class areas of the industrial North, but even so.

So much change, in just the fifteen years between the end of the Second World War and the end of the 1950s.   The mum and dad, even though neither of them can be anywhere near old enough to remember the 1950s for real, seemed quite sad that time was moving forward and they were moving away from those days when life was simpler and everything was less commercialised.  There’s a lot of sentimentality surrounding the 1950s … which is why I decided to write a second lot of waffle about one series, which i don’t usually do.  And I wonder if Tesco still sell Tizer …


5 thoughts on “Back In Time For Tea (Episode 2)- BBC 2

  1. Chris Deeley

    That improvement in living standards was well described by Harold Macmillan in July 1957: “You’ve never had it so good”.

    Picnics often feature in Enid Blighton’s books and she describes what was in the sandwiches – typically ham, cheese and tomato, but also, wait for it . . . . .pilchards! Pilchard sandwiches are typically moist and tasty, but need to be well wrapped, e.g. in grease-proof paper.


    • Enid Blyton characters eat so much: it’s a wonder they didn’t all weigh 30 stone! The adventure book characters all have huge picnics, then cakes and crumpets, and then presumably a savoury meal later on. The mystery book characters are constantly eating sticky buns. And the school story characters are always eating tuck and having midnight feasts, on top of their main meals. Ah, so the pilchards were in sandwiches – thank you!


      • Chris Deeley

        Apparently the Famous Five were keen on pilchard sandwiches. I’m sorry I can’t give you a reference, but it’s definitely factual.


      • mrsredboots

        I did read somewhere an article on how very healthily they ate – lots of sandwiches and cakes, true, but balanced by salads and plain bread-and-butter. I used to love pilchards, but doubt I could digest them now!


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