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1900 HOUSE (1999) - buy this title from Amazon.co.uk

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A TV company called Wall-to-Wall were planning to mark the upcoming Millennium by putting a real contemporary family into a painstakingly recreated Victorian house. They would then live as Victorians for three months and their progress would be followed day and night by TV cameras. In February 1999 this sounded like a pretty wacky idea. Little did I realise that I'd just signed up to document the first major Reality TV show in the UK.

I met the Bowler family a couple of days after they'd moved in. Father Paul was a wonderfully upbeat character, but it was clear that the main interest of the story was going to be mother Joyce. She was the most passionate about the experiment and eager to be completely open about every detail of her experience. I left the house carrying photocopies of her ever-revealing diary, documenting the ups and downs that were to make the series so compelling. I then spent the next couple of months trawling through transcripts of the concealed 'video diaries', selecting the best moments of their daily confessions to produce Three Months in 1900: the Bowler's Experience of Victorian Life. (My co-author Matthew Sturgis meanwhile got to work on the historical chapters that make up the rest of the book.)

I hadn't intended a theme to emerge in these chapters, but it did. It was Joyce's gradual realisation of how hard life was for women before the labour-saving devices of the Twentieth Century took over; which realisation led to a new interest in women's rights and the history of the Suffragettes.

Used to books that take a year from delivery to publication it was interesting for me to see the speed at which publishers can move when they have to. 1900 House was conceived in February, begun in April, delivered in July, copy-edited and laid out a week later, and published a month after that. The success of the October programmes made it a bestseller. Joyce and her family had their fifteen minutes of being recognised in supermarkets near Taunton, then the world moved on. But Reality TV wasn't finished yet ...
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