One minute I’m thinking, gosh, what a good and faithful reconstruction of the fashions and language and décor of 1963. The next, there’s a slip in the fabric of time.
A man speaks. A twenty-first century expression in a 1960s mouth.
My admiration deflates as quickly as an ice cream melting in hot sun. (I know, terrible mix, sorry.)
It’s an all too common phenomenon of dramas set in the recent past. And once the first anachronism jumps out at me I’m alert – annoyingly – to more nits for picking.
It’s one (just one) of the reasons I haven’t been able to watch ‘Mad Men’ and didn’t enjoy ‘The Hour’. The clothes were swish and the hairstyles pretty good (speaking of nits), but somehow, it all looked too clean, too new, too straight off the page of the latest glossy magazine.
I’m not old enough to have been part of the ‘Mad Men’ scene, nor that of ‘The Hour’, but even when I was a little girl we didn’t live in a new, clean-clothed, hair-washed bubble.
Most people washed their hair once a week. My father, who had a phobia about water, washed his very, very rarely. I don’t think he was the only one.
Barbers even now, I’m told, sometimes run the comb through their own hair before tackling that of the customer. In lieu of washing.
Hair had a slickness to it then – especially men’s hair – because it was oily. Because people didn’t wash it every day.
Powder shampoo promised much for the appearance-obsessed teen’s interim de-oiling.
Those of us who had scarcely any pocket money as teens used talcum powder instead. It made little difference, both did the job – and delivered fake dandruff.
Every house had talcum powder in those days. Tins of several different scents would nestle in the family bathroom cabinet. It was standard Christmas or birthday present fare, along with bath cubes and soap.
Very few British bathrooms had showers. We washed our hair in the bath or over the washbasin, had a plastic hose attachment for the taps, which often shot off as we rinsed in the primrose yellow, pink or avocado tub.
(I’m not saying we had three tubs, by the way. We had one and, actually, it was white. Sorry.)
But back to the small screen. (Ours is. Just nineteen inches.)
In period dramas set in the fifties and sixties the clothes – even if authentic – all look as if they’ve come straight out of a (posh) shop. Blemish free, crease free, perfect in every way. Never worn. Or darned, or mended.
At my school in the late sixties/early seventies we were obliged to wear grey stockings. We all carried a needle and thread, because ladders were an everyday occurrence. Between lessons we’d dash into the loo and apply soap to stop them spreading further.
Come break time we’d sew them up, huddling on the cloakroom benches under our grey gabardine macs, sitting on top of the cubby holes of outdoor black shoes. Yes, we had outdoor shoes – and indoor shoes.
That was also the time when we’d fix any straps that had broken – petticoat straps, with safety pins. Does a teenage girl of 2015 know what a petticoat is? Does she have small safety pins for holding broken straps together? I doubt it.
But to go back to slips (ha ha – petticoats, get it?) in time.
We watched ‘The Theory of Everything’ the other night.
I was prepared not to enjoy it – it seemed a bit – I don’t know – odd, to me. Focused on two people who are still alive. One very famous, one a classic fame-by-association wife. Who wrote the book on which it was based. Well, good on her.
But as I say, I approached it in a dubious frame of mind.
As it notched up the minutes I was pretty impressed – yes the clothes were especially clean for scientific male students of any era, but the fashions were pretty good. The females looked right for the class being portrayed. I began to settle in. And then it happened.
We were in a pub. Beer was being drunk. Dimpled glass mugs were in evidence where now there would only be smooth handle-less glasses. But then.
‘Can I get two more of those?’
We turned to look at each other, the spell broken.
‘No, don’t you worry, that’s my job, I’ll get them for you.’
That’s how my in-house Professor reacts when he hears that.
[And, digressing a bit, his reaction to, ‘I’m good,’ is, ‘I was asking after your health, not your moral welfare.’ Snigger. *Sucks teeth*.]
It doesn’t matter for most people – certainly not for the generation brought up to say ‘I’m good,’ and ‘Can I get,’ but it bugs me, I’ll be honest. Along with excessive and anachronistic use of the ‘f’ word.
Eventually, though, equanimity restored, the film worked its sentimental magic and tears were shed before bedtime.
But I still found it odd. Those people, still alive.
I can’t even promote my own book. Shriek! No! Don’t look at me!
How can they cope with themselves up there on big screens the world over? With people oohing and ahhing over them, dissecting the ifs and buts and whys of their lives.
I just don’t get it.
Baby. I’m out of time.
*[Rolling Stones song, No 1 hit for Chris Farlowe in 1966, when I was at school in grey stockings.]