The Diets That Time Forgot, Channel 4

Did we like it?
Channel 4 is the expert in step-back-in-time programmes and this is another well-executed series, mixing reality show trauma with historical tidbits and some makeover madness.

What was good about it?
• The style was good, seeping into sepia to evoke dietary and exercise regimes from the past.
• There was plenty of social history information in between the usual reality show routine of tears, anger, laughter etc. The average Briton was much thinner 100 years ago, we were told. Hooray for poverty and malnutrition. The average female waist was 10 inches narrower; the average man weighed two stones less.
• The nine participants at the “Institute of Physical Culture” were generally good natured, only showing mild resistance to being forced to adopt diets from different periods in history: in the Victorian age, it was meat, meat and more meat; in the mad Edwardian days, every morsel must be chewed 32 times; and in the 1920s things got dull when calories were controlled for the first time (salad and fruit hell).
• Elizabeth, Lady Devenport, the rather eccentric lady who was given the task of getting the nine to dance away the flab. “Rediscover your inner savage,” she insisted as she wafted around like a drunken belly dancer. “What are these raves that you go to?” she demanded to know.

What was bad about it?
• The flabby flesh fests, especially when the portly participants were forced to disrobe for cold water douches, which were all the rage 100 years ago.
• Sir Roy Strong, the man in charge, swanning about in a top hat or in his long johns, pompously pointing out what a model of health he is and bemoaning the fact that “we live in an age of self gratification.” He cast a weary eye over the participants. “They arrived here in shellsuits as bundles of cloth and flab,” he said, regretfully.
• Mr Edgar, the butler we loved in The Edwardian Country House, only had a very minor role.
• Naughty Dave letting the side down by being unable to resist the table of shame, a smorgasbord of delights laid on to try to tempt the overweight gang.

Aired Tuesday 25 March 2008

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