Art and design

Books

Culture

Environment

Fashion

Film

Life and style

Money

Music

Politics

Science

Technology

Travel

Television

US news

World news

A House Through Time review – a compelling way to trace social history

David Olusoga outside 62 Falkner Street in A House Through Time.
David Olusoga outside 62 Falkner Street in A House Through Time. Photograph: Daniel Leitch/BBC/Twenty Twenty productions Ltd/

In his new series, the historian David Olusoga has hit upon a compelling way to trace the social and political landscape of Britain across a span of 180 years – focusing on just one building. A House Through Time (BBC Two) explores the varied and changing inhabitants of a single dwelling in Liverpool, from its construction to the present day.

There are some obvious parallels between this and the long-running series Who Do You Think You Are?, except that in this case the people whose histories are investigated are under no obligation to be related to the same celebrity, as long as they all had the same address.

“Every house in Britain has a story to tell,” said Olusoga. This is undoubtedly true, although I’m not sure it means that every house has a story worth telling. I don’t know how they settled on 62 Falkner Street, but it was clear from the outset that a lack of incident wasn’t going to be a problem. These days working mum Gaynor and her two children, Rosie and Tom, live there, in what seems a highly desirable area, but the terrace that holds No 62 has never stayed the same place for long.

Once, of course, it was all fields, a country lane running alongside land belonging to a Mr Falkner. The street was developed piecemeal, which played havoc with the numbering: 62 used to be 58. The house was complete by 1841 and, priced at about £1,000, would have been intended for the city’s wealthy new middle class. Its history, however, is not that straightforward. The first known inhabitant, Richard Glenton, was a lowly customs clerk who probably never earned more than £50 a year and took in lodgers to make ends meet. Next came the Orrs, a couple who began life in service and finished up rich, moving on to even bigger things.

The central story belonged to Wilfred Steele, a wealthy cotton broker who was ruined by the “panic” of 1857 – the first global economic crisis – and who eventually ended up in debtor’s prison. Although careful not to overindulge in speculation when the historical trail grows faint, Olusoga has a knack for conjuring characters out of old documents, and he was not about to shed a tear for a man whose lost fortune was founded on the slave trade. “I really wish I could feel sorry for Wilfrid Steele,” he said. “But I don’t.”

Olusoga was probably right not to: Steele got out of prison, married, then abandoned his family to go off and start another one in the States, leaving two stepdaughters to the workhouse. There was also a creepy painting of Steele in his younger days – atop a horse, recreating some Scottish legend – which let you judge the book by its cover.

On the strength of this opener – there are three more to come – I am now fully prepared to believe that every house has not just one, but many stories to tell. But I wouldn’t pit my house against 62 Falkner Street in any given decade.

“My name is Erin Quinn. I’m 16 years old and I come from a place called Derry.” This narrated introduction to Derry Girls (C4) is not all it seems: Erin’s weird cousin Orla was reading aloud from Erin’s purloined diary, much to Erin’s consternation.

Set in 1990s Northern Ireland and loosely based on the teen years of writer Lisa McGee (Being Human), Derry Girls is such a fresh look at growing up with the Troubles as a constant backdrop that it sometimes unsettles, although it mostly stays on the charming side of wicked. Erin (Saoirse Monica Jackson) and her friends long to break free from the conformity of their convent school, but lack the resolve for even minor defiance. “I’m not being individual on me own,” says Clare.

Rounding out the group is loudmouth loose cannon Michele, who turns up to the first day of school with her English cousin James, the son of her aunt Cathy. “She went to England to get an abortion and never came back,” said Michele. “Never had the abortion either.”

Such difficulties as the girls face spring as much from their desire to fit in as from their attempts at rebellion, and the Troubles are presented, so far, as an inconvenience – soldiers boarding school buses, bombed bridges ruining plans – far less frightening than stone-faced headmistress Sister Michael.

You couldn’t call Derry Girls nostalgic, exactly; it doesn’t make me long to be the only English boy in a 90s Irish girls’ school without any men’s loos. But the period is recreated with care, and the script is affectionate, foul-mouthed and funny. I’m looking forward to next week.

This article titled "A House Through Time review – a compelling way to trace social history" was written by Tim Dowling, for The Guardian on Friday 5 January 2018 07.00am

Television & radio

Is Belgian drama the new Scandi-noir?

In show business, acts struggling to make an impact in the UK were often sardonically described as… Read more

From Blackadder to Buffy: readers on the most shocking TV deaths

The unexpected death of a television character can stay with you for decades, whether it’s an… Read more

The Windsor Knot: a twisted take on the royal nuptials – podcasts of the week

The Windsor Knot Podcast Wryly humorous duo Joe Skrebels and Daniel Krupa offer an antidote to… Read more

Britannia recap – series one, episode six

SPQR (So, plot… quick recap) There’s been a Regni spy inside the Cantii citadel all along whom we… Read more

From Watchmen to Catch-22: can TV tackle 'unfilmable' books?

In recent months, a spate of books has been adapted for TV, with Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, Ray… Read more

Wednesday’s best TV: The Brit awards; The Day When; Damned

The Brit awards 2018 8pm, ITV Does Jack Whitehall like music? Those who caught his recent Desert… Read more

The £1 Houses: Britain’s Cheapest Street review – the home-owning dream is now a nightmare

Here’s an idea for a Channel 4 property show (yeah, like they don’t have enough of them already):… Read more

Mum review – a cliched take on the maddening reality of being a mother

The first series of Mum (BBC Two), Stefan Golaszewski’s Bafta-winning sitcom about a grieving… Read more

Thursday’s best TV: Girls on the Edge, John Worboys: The Taxi Cab Rapist

Girls on the Edge 9pm, BBC Two This sensitive film documents the struggles of Jess, Erin and Jade,… Read more

Young Sheldon review: he’s an irritating little smartypants – but he’s headed for something Big one day

East Texas, 1989, and a nine-year-old boy is playing with his train set. Not so much for the love… Read more