To celebrate Black History Month, Brixton’s The Ritzy Picturehouse hosted a screening of the first episode of the BBC’s forthcoming two-part reality series Back in Time For Brixton. The programme follows the format that viewers of the other Back in Time For… series will by now be intimately familiar with: a family are taken through several decades of social history, each time with a focus on a different aspect of Britain’s social life (food, Christmas, the weekend). This time around, the focus lies on the experience of the British immigrant. More specifically, the Irwin family live as a typical family of West Indian immigrants, arriving in Britain aboard the Empire Windrush before being shepherded into cramped and undoubtedly unpleasant living conditions in a abandoned station of the Tube until only slightly less unpleasant housing can be found in Brixton. As it charts the course of the family Irwin, the programme also charts the development of Brixton itself, once an unassuming lower-middle class white suburb which went on to become the embodiment of the London black experience.
Since the screening only covered the first episode, which takes the Irwins from the late-40s to the late-60s, I can’t comment on what the show has to offer overall. That said, I’ve seen every series of Back in Time For… to date, and I can tell you that the invariable pattern is that the closer we get to our own time, the less interesting it gets, so I’d bet dollars to donuts that Episode One was the better of two halves. I have to declare a personal interest: my uncle and his family were the participants in the original series, Back in Time For Dinner, and returned for Back in Time For Christmas and the forthcoming Further Back in Time For Dinner. In fact if you watch Back in Time For Dinner and Further Back in Time For Dinner really closely, you can spot me mostly eating crisps in party scenes, which is one of the things I do best. So I’m not being absolutely objective when I say that I’m a fan of the format, but there you are: I’m a fan of the format. In fact, assuming Episode Two – appearing on television in just over a fortnight’s time – doesn’t get anything horrifically wrong, Back in Time For Brixton should shape up to be one of the best series. The problem is that the social history format becomes a little stale in analysing social change over the same set of decades with only slightly different focuses, and we might object, too, that the ways we celebrate Christmas, or the things we do over the weekend, haven’t actually seen any monumental change over the last fifty years. Thank God, then, for a genuinely interesting topic, and one relatively rarely examined in the mainstream. The Irwins, too, are a charming family, which is essential here. They were present at The Ritzy for a thoughtful Q&A, mostly focused on black issues, present and historical. Giles Coren remains the programme’s narrator/presenter, but a new social historian has been found for this particular series, one who sadly lacks quite the chemistry Giles and Polly have previously shown; however, maybe that will improve over time. Overall, the series is a winner with its thoughtful, feeling examination of an essential but often overlooked component of British identity.
The Second Episode of Back in Time for Brixton will air on the 7th December, will you be watching? Let us know in the comment box below!