Britain as seen on ITV - TV review: How people had fun before the internet

The show featured Fred Trueman and 'the best game of shove ha'penny I've ever happened across'

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The Independent Culture

Do you remember a time before the internet? A time before smartphones? A time when you didn't have immediate access to an overwhelming amount of media, knowledge and means of communication? Well, ITV does. And last night they decided to refresh our collective memories in the latest episode of Britain as Seen on ITV.

Focusing on pastimes and hobbies, they went to great lengths to remind us of the different ways in which the great British public used to amuse themselves before the big bad World Wide Web came along and ruined everything. The phrase "long before social media" was used at least four times during the 30-minute slot and while I appreciated the sentiment – yes, we were a lot more interesting before Twitter – unfortunately in taking us back to a simpler time, ITV also succeeded in taking us back to a simpler format. Talk about cheap television.

Their trawl through the archives was quite literally that. It was as if once they'd gone to the effort of finding the footage, no one could actually be bothered to do anything with it. We jumped from decade to decade, region to region, to be shown footage of people talking without being told who they were or why their opinion mattered. Jane Horrocks narrated the painfully predictable script in an odd Carry-On style voiceover ooh-ing and err-ing her way through a series of obvious links.

That's not to say it wasn't laugh out loud funny. Footage of Yorkshire TV's Indoor League – a "sports" show dedicated to pub games – was hilarious. Presented by former cricketer "Fiery" Fred Trueman, it included highlights such as "the best game of shove ha'penny I've ever happened across" and a round of women's darts featuring one Mrs King whose hand was apparently so steady that "any man would be proud to have her as a partner or, indeed, a wife". And just in case you were in any doubt about Fred's Yorkshire lineage, he signed off with "I'll see thee."

The highlight for me, however, was a 1979 visit to Leominster by ATV Today to meet the Joneses – a family of self-confessed Planet of the Apes fanatics. Their love of the series saw the family of eight brothers and two sisters casually strolling around their cul-de-sac dressed as characters from the show. But fancy dress costumes in 1979 weren't quite of the quality you can buy online today, so they ended up looking like a splinter group of KKK members who'd accidentally washed their white robes on a hot wash with a black sock.

Yet as odd as all these pastimes seemed – from photographing radio transmitters to attempting (and failing) to fly or imitating Clint Eastwood – I don't suppose they were any less weird than spending hours attached to a mobile phone randomly abusing strangers over the internet. It's not all progress you know.

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