Little Known (to us) History

August 20, 2008

I recently watched “The 1940s House.” I think it may have been the only “House” series I hadn’t already seen. These BBC/PBS series take modern day families and places them in a house/setting from another era. They are then filmed for many weeks as they adjust to their new lifestyle of living exactly as people did in that era. Challenges pop up in the form of social rules and expectations, labor without benefit of modern conveniences, entertainment without television, and so on. The shows are exceedingly thorough from what I’ve seen — no aspect of life is left unexamined.

With the possible exception of “Regency House Party,” which was just too trivial and silly for my tastes, I’ve greatly enjoyed all of these highbrow reality shows. I confess that I’d put off viewing this particular one because the time period was too recent and therefore not as appealing to me. How different could life have been a mere 60 years ago?

Quite different, actually. I was surprised when it turned out that I enjoyed “The 1940s House” more than all of the others combined.

Few things can compare to the hardships endured by British civilians during World War II. Every aspect of their daily life was controlled by the government — how much fuel they could use, how much food they could buy/eat, whether or not they could light a cigarette on the street at night, how many pleats and pockets their clothing could have, etc. Government regulation for the sake of the war was pervasive and could not be avoided.

In the early years of the war, there was a regulation that required citizens to use blackout curtains at night. No light was to be seen from the street or from the sky. (This is also why people were not allowed to smoke outside at night.) If you didn’t get your windows covered by nightfall, you could be fined and/or have your neighbors turn against you.

The Blitz (German bombing of English cities) was undertaken by the Germans in order to lower British morale. I can see how it could have worked — London was bombed every night for nearly two months. But it didn’t work. The British, I do believe, invented the “stiff upper lip.” By the time I finished watching this show, I was ready to stand up, salute the Union Jack and sing “Rule Britannia.”

There were so many interesting tidbits sprinkled throughout the program that I can’t possibly share them all here. I will say, however, that one of the most interesting aspects of the show for me was at the very end, when they did the customary follow up with the family to see how they have adjusted back to 21st century life. In this family’s case, the lessons they learned in the 1940s House impacted them so profoundly that even six months to a year later they were living differently than they had before.

I highly recommend this series for anyone who enjoys history.


One comment

  1. This series is great! Did you netflix it? I hadn’t heard about the 1940’s version. I really loved “Pioneer House”—
    would love to know where you found it!

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