Airdate: Turn Back Time: The High Street

On Thursday night ABC1 features a BBC social experiment in which families are placed “back in time” to see if they can run viable businesses in the late 1800s.

Whilst television has previously placed families into colonial and Victorian eras for television cameras, this time the emphasis is on reviving a retail strip, a dying “High Street” town square in regional UK. Think butcher, baker and candlestick maker -literally.

And the families all have retail experience in their chosen field. But can they make it work with the most basic essentials?

In many countries, shopping is a favourite pastime, no matter how the economy is.

While the Internet, malls and superstores provide us with everything we need, there’s a nostalgia for the days when everyone knew the corner grocer or the friendly butcher in town.

Now, this inventive UK reality series transports viewers back to the late 19th century as five modern shopkeepers and their families set up shop and conduct their lives exactly as merchants did in six earlier eras, to experience what life for the average shopper used to be like. Before the fast food, pre packed, preservative-heavy Pandora’s Box of a shopping experience we have today.

This opening episode features the 1870s, when the high street was born, and by the end of the series we have moved on to the 1970s, a hundred years later. It’s part social commentary and part reality TV show. All of the shop keepers take things very seriously and have their own ‘Chamber of Commerce’ (led by Masterchef judge Gregg Wallace, successful baker Tom Herbert and historian Juliet Gardiner) to ensure that the protocols of the day are correctly followed.

The families also had to live and dress like the families of the eras involved, and in total there are seven different shops involved; The Butchers, The Bakers, The Ironmongers, The Chemist, The Dress Maker, The Record Shop and The Convenience Store Owners. How will they all cope, and will they actually make a profit?

Turn Back Time: The High Street airs 8:30pm Thursday on ABC1.


  1. Ive really enjoyed this show – caught at a friend place, but i’ve just watched an earlier episode online.
    Makes you think about where things come from, and places you back into the era with a lot of realistic settings and clothes and ways from the era portrayed. Wonderfully engaging, and descriptive of each time shown. If we can be in one place at one time, and savour the experience, rather than racing pell mell through the sterile places we often get our food from now, what a buzz that would be! Go the food co operatives and small shops of the world… you can see why the farmers markets are so popular!

  2. I really liked the first show, it’s interesting how they did things before food standards were introduced and we had a better understanding of some of the chemicals we put into the food back then.

    I’m also glade it’s on the ABC and not one of the commercial channels where ironically you’d get a dozen ads for the big 2 supermarkets in the one hours show.

  3. Jen13 should give the series a chance…

    It has resonance that goes far beyond the shores of Shepton Mallet and England and explores the relationship between communities and big business. Shepton Mallet has about 10,000 residents and it suffers from a massive supermarket at one end of a traditional High Street with Mom and Pop businesses that scrape by at the other. Idiotically the local council charge zip at the supermarket end for car parking and ticket and charge at the end that is struggling.

    In effect Turn Back Time is a series about facing up to the consequences of what we obviously want (cheap goods in one vast store so we can get the whole shopping run done at speed and without paying for parking). What this also causes is loss of vitality in traditional High Street shops (no butcher, baker and specialist shops) – with supermarkets offering food that looks better than it tastes, and low grade jobs that kill off small scale local entrepreneurs.

    The series isn’t perfect but it does address important issues with a cast of sparky characters – so give it a chance!

    Garfield Kennedy
    Shepton Mallet, UK

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