“It’s surprising, looking back, how few lifestyle programmes there were on BBC2,” announces Mel Giedroyc near the end of The Home That 2 Built: the ’70s, the second part of BBC2’s review of how its own shows have helped to shape the British lifestyle over the decades.
She’s right: while the 1960s provided rich pickings for satirising the decade’s TV output, this instalment has a lot less material work with. The hemlines and the queues at the petrol pumps may have been longer, but viewers were definitely being shortchanged by the BBC when it came to lifestyle and home improvement shows. Whether, as Peter York contends, this was down to the Beeb’s anti-consumerist agenda, remains to be seen.
While the previous decade made stars of the terrifying Fanny Cradock and the peerless Percy Thrower, the 70s brought new stars in the shape of fresh-faced Delia Smith, bearded real ale enthusiast James Robertson and “lurve and food” guru Robert Carrier.
Delia Smith was a “domestic goddess” determined to improve the nation’s woeful culinary standards and addiction to fish fingers and slabs of white bread. With her pudding basin haircut and girl-next-door outfits, Delia was one cookery expert you could rely on not to sneer at your inability to boil an egg. But while Loyd Grossman claims to find the name Delia “seductive” and “slightly exotic”, her TV appearances were definitely U-certificate compared with the X-rated Fanny Cradock.
The best BBC2 could come up with to address the DIY boom were boring “in the non-drilling sense” shows like the excitingly titled Make Your Own Furniture, in which more bearded wonders (this time Albert Jackson and David Day) knocked up a “super family dining table”, while sending viewers to sleep.
Programmes about the 1970s are, of course, as ubiquitous as Delia Smith cookery books. When they’re not grooving on I Love the ’70s, Sounds of the 70s or the ongoing repeats of Top of the Pops, BBC2 and BBC4 are busy repeating comedy gems like Dad’s Army and The Good Life. So it’s not surprising that The Home That 2 Built: the ’70s delves into Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? to illustrate the joys of owning a brand-new home in the 70s.
Much more fun than bickering Bob and Terry are the enterprising hippies whose eco house boldly “harnessed the sun, the wind and their own bowel movemements”. As a woolly hatted man labours over an “agitator for stirring up waste matter”, I found myself musing over how much of BBC2’s output then (and now) is a load of shit.
Still, at least the methane-driven eco warriers are more entertaining than Design by Five, in which “cutting-edge” architect John Wealleans gives a makeover to the chaotic country kitchen of Dr Magnus Pyke, top TV boffin of the day. “It didn’t seem to go anywhere,” complains talking head Gyles Brandreth and, as Mel points out, the “reveal” in Design by Five isn’t a brand new kitchen but a dressed up studio set.
With a nod to Charles Dickens, Mel Giedroyc sums up the 1970s “It was the best of times it was the worst of times”. Hurtling from “the shock of the new” (at the start of the decade) to a Laura Ashley-saturated “retreat into the past”, the citizens of the 70s had a lot to put up with. It’s just a shame that The Home That 2 Built: the ’70s delivered more domestic tedium than jaw-dropping, shag-tastic designs.