REVIEW / Chasing the wrinkle ratings with nostalgia

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The Independent Culture
TELEVISION, with its access to real people, is capable of earthier forms of nostalgia than the cottage concern still quaintly known to some as 'the British film industry'. It's called oral history, and there's a lot of it about because, these days, wrinkles equal ratings.

Memories in Store, a film for Short Stories (C4), was an improbable gem improbable because it was set in a boring old storage warehouse, a gem because of the people who showed up, looking for the past that they had boxed up and deposited there. One woman, whose accent seemed to have been in storage since 1939, was summoning up the courage to unpack her deceased husband's 'theengs' (only the well-orf have more heirlooms than they know what to do with). A retired officer was off to dig out his old knee-high Army boots, the ones he wore at Dunkirk. 'It's rather funny these boots. I was wearing them when I was blown up.' In those days they laughed off that kind of thing. And by the look of them, so did the boots.

In their second childhood, these doddery explorers went back to the toy box and revisited their youthful selves. There was nothing too deep on the usually humdrum motives of the storer, but some tidy asides illuminated the journey. The ex-officer had a weakness for auctions 'octions' and he bid for bric-a-brac in the full knowledge of what his giggling sparrow of a wife would say. If she was a Harry Enfield character she'd be called Mrs Where Are You Going To Put That. After that many years of marriage, some conversations are so comforting and familiar you'd miss them if you put them in storage.

A cruel definition of the phrase 'sentimental value' (tr. 'bugger-all value') cropped up in the person of the auctioneer itemising the stock of a customer with an outstanding bill. 'Sunblest bread tray: no doubt one day will become collectable, but at this point of time, no.' What Where on earth will nostalgia travel to next?

Actually, that's easily answered. It'll fetch up in a World War Two cookery programme called The Wartime Kitchen and Garden (BBC2), to chime in with an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum. Harry Dodson and Ruth Mott people just don't have names like that any more are back with more tips on how to husband and cook produce if you happen to be stuck in a timewarp. Slap in the middle of the worst recession since the one that helped cause the war in question, this looks like more than another comforting dollop from yesteryear. Learning how to store apples, onions and eggs could conceivably be not just a matter of idle curiosity for some of the BBC's more hard-up license payers.

As entertainment, though, the show is as phony as the first months of battle were. Audaciously casting actors opposite real people might have come off in, say, Bookmark's award-winning day in the life of Barbara Pym, but our two presenters are too authentic to be much cop at acting when evacuees and Women's Land Army volunteers show up from Equity. You don't have to turn all voyages to the past into costume drama.

To the future, though, it's essential. Doctor Who (BBC1) is back, peddling nostalgia pure and simple. This is the place where those of a certain age first heard lines like 'There is no such place as Earth', first saw sets that wobbled, foliage made of bristly toilet paper, and actors they'd never see again, and studios so cramped that four bodies could appear in vision at once only after exhaling. The team working on special effects, the other area of movie-making in which the British have no peers, clearly did not include anyone who went on to the Alien and Star Wars trilogies.

This It is also where they first came into contact with what they wouldn't have then known as camp. Welcome back, Jon Pertwee, the best of the Doctors. He had a voice so fruity he must have trained in an orchard. Ruth Mott could slice up his vowels and tell viewers how to store them for the winter.

Chasing the wrinkle ratings with nostalgia