CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: It’s gritty reality TV!

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Scrubbing barnacles off a boat? How’s that for gritty reality TV!

The 1900 Island 


The Thames: Britain’s Great River


An outdoor loo, no hot taps, and on bath night you heat up the water in copper pans. To younger viewers that might sound medieval — but for Margaret Thatcher it was part of a normal childhood.

The Iron Lady was seen telling inquisitor Miriam Stoppard, in the superlative BBC2 biography A Very English Revolution, that she once asked her mother why their home in Thirties Grantham didn’t have ‘mod cons’. ‘We’re not situated like that,’ came the reply.

The four families eking a living beside the Welsh coast on The 1900 Island (BBC2) are not situated too comfortably either.

Four families are living in a row of stone cottages beside the Welsh coast with hardly any food and no electricity

This engrossing four-part reality series, running until Thursday, has set them up in a row of stone cottages off Anglesey, without electricity and barely enough food for one decent meal.

To scrape together a few pennies to buy essentials such as soap and candles from the local shop, they rely on selling the few mackerel they can catch and mussels foraged from the seashore.

Stew is cooked, water is boiled, plates are washed and clothes are scrubbed all in the one saucepan.

It’s a harsh existence, but there’s an undeniable romantic glow about the life. The thought of huddling up while a storm rages outside is enticing.

Never mind smartphones and the internet, there was no radio back in 1900. Social media meant going to a neighbour’s house for a gossip while you warmed your feet by their stove.

The only ‘streaming music’ service was a toothless old fisherman with a fiddle, down the tavern on a Friday night.

As with most reality shows, there’s too much play-acting, with the children pretending to beg door-to-door for scraps of food, and women grumbling about sexual inequality.

Face fuzz of the night:

As the troops prepared to play their part at Harry and Meghan’s wedding in Her Majesty’s Cavalry (ITV), the horses needed a shave to trim stray lip hairs. Well, no one wants a gee-gee with a five o’clock shadow.

There were dark mutterings, when a cargo ship put in to the bay, that the wives weren’t allowed to lift sacks of coal and instead had to scrub barnacles off the boat’s hull. Oh, the injustice of these perfidious gender stereotypes.

It’s hard to imagine what historical re-enactments of the early 21st century are going to look like.

Reality show contestants in the future will have to gain six stone eating burgers and fries, get full-body tattoos and spend whole days without speaking, just staring at their phones. I think I’d rather scrub barnacles.

Actor Tony Robinson was doing some re-enactment of his own as he meandered from the Cotswolds to London in The Thames: Britain’s Great River (C5).

Celebrating the great Victorian tradition of ‘messing about on the river’, he tried his hand at sailing a skiff — a sort of punt with oars and a mast. This one converted into a floating caravan, too.

Clearly, not all our forebears spent their lives slaving over the washboard and the mangle.

Sir Tony has been having the time of his life on Channel 5. In the past year, he has toured the country’s cathedrals, gone tomb-hunting in Egypt’s Valley Of The Kings, and travelled around the globe by rail. He must look back on those years spent standing in muddy fields with C4’s Time Team and wonder what he was doing.

This week’s episode was preoccupied with river locks and effluent works, but you can always rely on him for some whimsical humour.

He tucked into a rower’s breakfast — mountains of egg, beans and toast, washed down with a jug of fruit juice… part of a 6,230-calorie training diet.

‘I can’t even read to the end of the menu,’ he gasped.

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