Telly tales: Wartime Farm / The Bletchley Circle

Ol’ square eyes is back. (What can I say, I luffs my telly.) Thursday bought a double dose of retro goodness in the shapes of Wartime Farm and The Bletchley Circle.

 Down on the farm, Ruth was experimenting with taking the red dye out of military petrol to sell on the black market – filtering it through bread did the best job – and preserving fruit with the WI. As the hay meadows had been ploughed up to grow veg, Peter and Alex were making a silo to provide their cows with silage for feed over the winter, aided by a couple of ‘land girls’. (Really two historians specialising in the history of the Women’s Land Army.) Ruth also used a haybox to cook a stew by insulating the pot while hot. Hayboxes have intrigued me since I was a kid and read The Children Who Lived in a Barn so now I have the urge to try it for myself, although I don’t have room in my tiny kitchen. It was all really fascinating stuff, and I really enjoy the way the team go into details about the wartime reality behind their re-enactment. My one tiny criticism is that it doesn’t really feel as though they’re living the wartime lifestyle full-time at the farm – how dare the presenters have lives and interests outside my tellybox?! Heh. Maybe the BBC should do a show where they force people to do just that. But I still do really enjoy the programme.

In Shallow Observation News, Ruth and her daughter wore some utterly fab suits this week, and Alex’s tank top must be getting pretty stinky by now as he seems to wear it for hard manual work every day.

The Bletchley Circle is on ITV, and I catch up with it on ITV Player, thereby sparing myself annoying adverts. (Is it me, or do all adverts nowadays either feature a slowed-down version of a song performed by some twee girl with a guitar or an amateur group rendition of a song that also used to be perfectly decent before the advertising people got hold of it?) Anyway, this drama probably looked really good on paper: a group of women who’d worked as codebreakers and analysts at Bletchley Park during the war get together a few years after the war to solve a series of murders. They all have reasons to be unsatisfied with their post-war lives, lacking an outlet for their mental energies. I like the look of the production too; it captures that period of austerity after the war, rather than being too glamorous.

 Where I have a problem with The Bletchley Circle is its portrayal of men. There’s no real depth to the male characters, they mostly pop up to throw an obstacle in the way of Our Glorious Heroines, and are more likely to beat them or try to rape them than help them. Never mind that real men would have their own post-war issues to come to terms with. I especially find the relationship between Susan and her husband an odd one. He just pops up at intervals to patronise her before heading out to do Important Man Things, and while she's happy to break the Official Secrets Act with almost anyone and everyone, she can't talk to him. This is no criticism of the actors and actresses, who are doing their best with a limited script. I’d like to read The Bletchley Circle as a really well-written novel, because the basic plot is exactly the sort of thing I love to read, but it needs much more subtlety and depth and CHARACTER than comes over on screen.


  1. I'm enjoying Wartime Farm a lot too. It's really enjoyable to see a reality show where the participants aren't whining or throwing strops all the time.

  2. Is it really a tank top? I always think of that as a very '70s term. Did they call them that, back then?

  3. quercus, 'tank top' has been in use since the late 60s, but it's the one I've grown up with. I have a feeling 'sleeveless pullover' may be the older term for it, but that's without taking a good look at my old knitting mags.

    ankaretwells, they do seem like lovely people. I like the fact they've worked together on several series; as with Giles Coren and Sue Perkins (the Supersizers) it's clear that they all get on well. I suppose the telling thing is that they're making a programme about social history, which they're all interested in, not just there because they want to be "a celebrity".

  4. Oh darn the fact that I don't have a telly! Wonder if I can get them on iplayer...


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