My mum applied originally to do the show on a whim. We’d had a bit of a rough year because my nan got a harsh strain of dementia. She just thought we needed something different, so she applied to do it in January 2019. I thought “it’s never going to happen”, that we would never ever get to actually do it. A couple of months down the line, we’ve been shortlisted to two families and the next thing we know we got a phone call saying we got picked. It was the most bizarre thing; I remember the experience had sunk for a bit because I was so anxious about it. I have never done any sort of acting, but I was so excited, and it turned out to be an absolutely brilliant experience.
This series of Back in Time looked for a Sheffield, industrial, more northern heartland sort of family which I hope we do come across as because we are all Sheffield born and bred.
The show had an interesting view on how the institution of the corner shop has changed throughout history. A part of the idea is that the corner shop affects anyone; it conveys that sense of change, not the importance of it necessarily, but how it has changed throughout history to where it is today. It evokes its glory days, from the 1920s when the corner shop was professional and people had a lot of respect for shopkeepers, to modern day where you’ve got the Co-Ops and Tescos running over.
I don’t particularly like crowds or public speaking, but filming is very different. It never felt like you were on TV. At the end of the day we were natural, very true to ourselves; the more invasive it is, the more natural it becomes at times. I can say for certain that I was terrified going into it, it is a scary thing to have a camera shoved into your face, to be told “answer the question” thinking “oh God what do I say?”, but actually I think we all got into it a lot quicker than we expected it. The first day was a bit iffy; we were all nervous, a bit stuttery, but by the end of the first week we were really getting into the spirit of it. I think you can see through the episodes we become more relaxed.
We are all playing ourselves basically going through the routines of the corner shop, eating the food, getting up in the early morning, closing late, a lot of physical strain, getting all the vegetables and food and taking them outside, putting them on display outside the shop, sweeping the floors. Some of the food there was horrendous. One, in particular, was a horrible concoction that everyone made for breakfast. It was a bizarre recipe of marmite in a sort of gravy. In the show, you can actually see I was trying twice to eat this horrible mess of food, which was a real recipe that people really ate I believe in early 1900.
Normally, I don’t wake up before 9.00am most days, but we were getting up at six, finishing everything at around 9.00-10.00pm. I’m not saying that a history degree is not hard work, but it was a different kind of hard work doing the corner shop. It was incredibly exhausting. I remember some days you really had to force yourself to get up in the morning, but it immersed us in the experience. We really did, by the end of the experience, feel like shopkeepers. Even just eight days gave you a real impression of how life was back in the day or what a struggle it would’ve been for a shopkeeper to get up in the morning.
Acting-wise, it is a reality show, I suppose, but there is always some acting involved; you’ve got to reshoot some stuff. I know there is a part that didn’t make the cut in the show during the Second World War, for the celebration at the end there was a party and we were all cheering. I think they must’ve filmed this cheering 20 times and it took ages, and at the very end, it still didn’t make the cut. It is not disappointing because I know things get into the program for a reason and I am absolutely ecstatic about the show.
We didn’t use technology in the first few episodes. I remember my friend, who didn’t know about the experience because we weren’t supposed to tell anything, texted me on the Monday we started filming. Because we handed in our phones (they were put in a safe in the production office), I haven’t replied to him for a week and he thought I was ignoring him when in reality I just didn’t have a phone with me. None of us had headphones or even TV, we lived as a family occupied by the entertainment of the time. We were playing cards; the family did come to visit a couple of times. In the second episode, music became a big one. We had record players and then tapes. There was no phone.
I am a bit political; I like keeping in touch with the news so it was mostly the fact that I couldn’t check what was happening in the world that was the hardest bit for me. Brexit was also in full swing, so it was hard having an eight-day plot hole. My mum struggled as well, she was always on her phone because of work so she felt very disconnected from the world. Certainly, that got easier. My dad has no social media; he was fine. He was loving it. For the rest of us it was a genuine struggle to get by without phones for the first week.
My mum’s experience in Victorian times is a vastly different experience compared to my dad’s. So, my dad would be running the shop where my mum would never step foot in. She would be in the kitchen, cooking, looking after the family the entire time. So, I guess having a family really gets across the evolution in time of women’s roles, what each person faced.
As you can see in the show, my mum was more annoyed about that. She hated being behind the shop, but it wasn’t for long. In the 1920s and 30s, times were more liberal, my mum was able to come into the coffee shop, interact with the customers. From the 70s onwards my mum had as big a role in the shop as my dad.
The experience of that did bring us back together, especially to my younger siblings. My dad is a nurse, he runs a care home and I do history. I am not going to realistically work with my dad at any point or sort of do his job. So, it gave a fantastic opportunity to work with him and have that experience which otherwise I don’t think I would have. We obviously have different career paths, but it definitely has brought us closer. When the show premiered on Tuesday, we all went home to sort of have a drink and have a bit of pie around it.
Why should people watch this series? I think for everyone there are two reasons:
- It’s very informative, interesting to see how the corner shop changed over time
- We are an ordinary family struggling. There are some good laughs along the way. There will be a few opportunities where I will be laughed at and then at my dad.