Rats, poo and rotting meat

By Editor, 12 March 2015 - 3:58pm

Alistair McGowan is joining five other celebrities in 24 Hours in the Past, but what can reality TV teach us about our Victorian ancestors? asks Sarah Williams 

Sarah Williams is editor at Who Do You Think You Are? MagazineThursday 12 March 2015
Sarah Williams, editor
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24 Hours in the Past

Reality TV. You either love it, or you hate it. Except that sometimes I hate it (I’m no fan of Big Brother) and sometimes I love it (Victorian Farm and 24 hours in A&E are big favourites of mine). So, judging by my past viewing, I was very excited to hear that the BBC has commissioned a series called “24 hours in the past” that will see six celebrities trying to survive a day as a working class Victorian.

The line-up includes two WDYTYA? alumni (Alistair McGowan and Colin Jackson) as well as former Conservative politician Ann Widdecombe, Outnumbered star Tyger Drew-Honey, presenter Miquita Oliver and actor Zoe Lucker – each of them having to spend four days working in four historically recreated environments, from a Victorian rubbish tip to the workhouse.

The programme makers are promising us ‘rats, poo and rotting meat’ and we will be watching the celebrities ‘enduring everything unpleasant the past has to throw at them’. Of course, we all love to see celebrities suffering – why else would ‘I’m a celebrity’ be so popular? But I hope that viewers will take something more from the series. 

History programmes are often about the great and the good, because that is where the documentary evidence is. But for most of us, most of our ancestors had to work extremely hard just to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. Hopefully, while people are laughing at celebrities struggling in a world without mod-cons, they will think about how all of our ancestors have fought a battle that has resulted in us being here now. 

I’m really looking forward to the series, but I hope that it doesn’t waste the opportunity to really teach people something about the past. I have no doubt that dirt will play a big part in 24 Hours in the Past but it was probably chronic hunger that bothered our ancestors more. Four days won’t even touch that. Let’s hope I don’t find myself shouting at the TV, let’s hope the series is truly revealing. I’m particularly looking forward to the episode where they have to work in a pottery factory.

The series is expected to air in May and will be presented by Fi Glover with Victorian Farm historian Ruth Goodman who will be judging how well the celebrities cope.

I will be talking to Alistair McGowan at Who Do You Think You Are? Live this year on 17 April at the NEC. I’ll ask him how the filming went and whether it has given him a new respect for the past! 

 

To hear Alistair McGowan talk at Who Do You Think You Are? Live at the NEC on Friday 17 April, you can book tickets by visiting www.whodoyouthinkyouarelive.co.uk or phoning 0844 873 7330.

Tickets cost £16 each, but you can secure two tickets for just £26 (plus a £2.25 transaction fee) if you quote the offer code WDYTYA2426 before 6 April 2015.

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Third celebrity revealed for this year's WDYTYA? Live
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Discovering a family history of mental illness
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