Back in Time for Birmingham tells the story of immigration in postwar Britain

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In all different ways Back in time for Birmingham, the BBC’s newest social history reality show, is tiringly predictable. You know what to do. The series temporarily changes the lives of the Birmingham Charming family so they can get a better idea of ​​what life was like for their ancestors who came to Britain half a century ago. Taking them through the decades since the fifties, the idea is that they will be completely shocked and appalled, but also (though less often) delighted and excited.

To sum up: the past was terrible, but sometimes not bad! Inevitably, soon someone will be wearing a maroon jersey, driving an Austin Allegro, or staring in amazement at a Vesta curry. If anything else had happened, it would have been practically sacrilegious. The crux of the matter is the clichés, and you, the viewer, are expected to happily count them.

I seem to be fed up – and in a way I am. The BBC not only shows a lot of reruns; he is also at this point happy to repeat his own ideas ad infinitum. But I also happened to watch the first episode Back in time for Birmingham Priti Patel day failed to send the plane transporting desperate asylum seekers to Rwanda. The discussion about immigration in this country is so stupid and so odious that the smiling Sharmas and the story they tell very glibly on camera feel welcome and even necessary. For all its banality, the series is filled with sympathy.

[See also: David Olusoga’s BBC show A House Through Time is gripping and hugely informative]

There are four Sharmas: Vishal, his wife Manisha and their two children, Alisha and Akash. First, Vishal and Akash, who at this point are pretending to live together on Sparkbrook Terrace, where they take turns lying down in the bed they have to share between factory shifts, invite older men who have actually experienced what they are only acting out. . – for dinner. One of their guests tries to describe to them the loneliness he experienced when he first came to Britain from India many decades ago. “I cried every day,” he says softly.

What is Akasha preparing for the assembled company? What do I like best Back in time for Birmingham it is a food that tells the story of post-war Britain in a microcosm. Not only does it have to stick to an incredibly small budget; it must somehow replicate the flavors at home when most spices are not yet available in the UK (it will be a few more years before Boots the Chemist starts selling little sachets of turmeric and coriander).

He dumps a jar of baked beans into the pot, to which he adds fried onions, a bit of curry powder (a British invention) and a spoonful of Branston pickles, which were once considered similar to Indian chutneys (now we know better how much we would love it in bap with a piece of cheddar). Akash later starts a small door-to-door spice business: not so much Del Boy, but Dal Boy, as he jokes.

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Naturally, everyone is relieved when Maneesha and Alisha finally “arrive” from India. The liver and parsnip curry they make for the men—health worker Manisha can only smile at her husband’s priority in this new-old world—is pretty unappetizing. I wonder what animal the liver comes from again? But soon after, the house turns into the center of samosa in her capable hands, and everyone becomes much happier. (I urge everyone to watch this show and not chase fast food.)

At worst, Back in time for Birmingham unrefined to the point of cheese. Also, in my opinion, too uncritical, carefully choose your fights so as not to offend. Racism is rightly invoked; family read Enoch Powell’s 1968 rivers of blood speech aloud and visibly paled at his hateful tone. But arranged marriages are just old-fashioned Tinder, aren’t they? And doesn’t this guy look great in his photo?

At best, however, these are all good things: punishment, warmth, generosity; rotis for breakfast and chaat for tea. When the Charms laugh and roll their eyes at everything previous generations of British Asians had to put up with, it’s impossible not to take courage, even if you’re scared. Top ten news and whatever fresh insults it brings, almost certainly.

Back in time for Birmingham
BBC Two, June 20, 8pm; now on the run

[See also: What would it mean for Britain to host the Eurovision Song Contest?]

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