sun 14/08/2022

Electric Dreams, BBC Four | reviews, news & interviews

Electric Dreams, BBC Four

Electric Dreams, BBC Four

Imagine there's no iPhone, it's easy if you try

Now we've become so steeped in digital devices that we can’t count to four without the aid of a calculator, it’s the perfect moment to take a voyage back to an era when British Leyland manufactured cars in diarrhoea-beige and there wasn't any daytime TV.
Electric Dreams (part of the BBC’s Electric Revolution season surveying 40 years of galloping technology) rests on a simple premise. I can imagine it being described by mad Californian professor Denzil Dexter from The Fast Show - "we took this middle class suburban family and subjected it to intense technology deprivation." The clock in the family home is turned back to 1970, and each day the calendar advances by one year. As new devices emerge on the historical timeline, they will be introduced, or reintroduced, to the household.
The victims of this three-part ordeal by analog are the Sullivan-Barneses, described in the press guff as a "modern 'blended' family living in Reading". Poor buggers. This seems to mean that Adam Barnes (an accountant) and Georgie Sullivan (an NHS executive) live together with their children from previous relationships. Be that as it may, the family took to the notion of having their comfortable abode denuded of leisure devices and central heating with commendable sang froid. They even managed to feign a cheery "hey, how great!" disbelief when they returned home to discover that their house had been refurbished in dull, mud-like colours with horrific geometrically-patterned wallpaper.
The team of boffins controlling the experiment with a frankly dubious Pavlovian glee had eradicated the spare bathroom and divided their lounge into two small dingy rooms, since they no longer had central heating to warm the larger space. They had also been relieved of all computers, mobile phones, TVs, DVD players, microwave oven and dishwasher.
Mum Georgie nursed cosy expectations that the absence of computer games and the internet would “bring the family closer together”. This did indeed occur, but the real reason the Sullivan-Barneses clustered together in front of the fuzzy monochrome TV was that this was the only way they could raise the room temperature to a point where existence became bearable.
There was tremendous fun to be had as the family stumbled along the stony highway from 1970, soundtracked by Mungo Jerry, David Bowie and Rose Royce.  While the ancient radiogram and Cro-Magnon transistor radio made listening to music as pleasurable as do-it-yourself root canal treatment, the ghastliest horrors unfolded in the kitchen. The modern kitchen is often the home’s social hub, but Georgie found herself locked in day-long warfare with a foaming, shuddering twin tub washing machine that looked as if it had been ferried up the beach on D-Day. Instead of her microwave oven, she had to contend with a pressure cooker that seethed furiously at temperatures exceeding those found at the earth’s core.
After Tom, the frizzy-haired geek in charge of exhuming defunct gadgets from forgotten warehouses or eBay, delivered a Teasmade machine to the front door, Adam and Georgie found themselves divided over its merits. Adam scoffed that it was too noisy and you might just as well make tea in the kitchen. Georgie retorted that this exemplary specimen of British technology meant they could enjoy a wake-up cup of tea without having to get out of bed, surely the precise result the makers – Goblin, now sadly extinct – intended.
As well as reintroducing us to Chopper bicycles, the stereo music centre (with cassette deck), the Mark 2 Ford Cortina and the ancient art of Pong, Electric Dreams slipped in a few documentary snippets to evoke some Seventies social background. Grimy footage of postal strikes, miners’ strikes, the three-day week and power cuts were terrifying reminders of how near Britain had come to becoming a fourth-rate Romania. At the end, despite it all, Adam admitted he was “really quite sad to leave the Seventies”. Next week – Amstrad computers, Mrs Thatcher and the Eighties.
Electric Dreams episode 2 is on BBC Four, October 6, 9pm. Episode one repeats on BBC Four on September 30, 00.50am and 2.40 am; October 1, 8pm; October 4, 9pm

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