24 Hours in the Past

24 Hours in the Past
Genre Living history
Directed by Chris Parkin
Presented by
No. of series 1
No. of episodes 4
Executive producer(s) Rachel Morgan
Producer(s) James Peters
Production company(s) Darlow Smithson Productions
Original network BBC One
Original release 28 April (2015-04-28) – 19 May 2015 (2015-05-19)
External links

24 Hours in the Past was a BBC One living history TV series first broadcast in 2015. Six celebrities were immersed in a recreation of impoverished life in Victorian Britain. Each of the four episodes represented 24 hours living and working in four different occupations.[1]

A key part of the series was its immersive nature. The four episodes were ostensibly filmed in direct sequence, and the participants lived, ate and slept in the often filthy conditions portrayed.[2]

Living history has become a popular theme in recent UK TV series, usually involving Ruth Goodman and regular collaborators in a long-term series, filmed in intermittent episodes with a cast of historians. This series took a different pitch, using a continuous filming technique without the respite of hotels between episodes[3][4] and cast with "the randomest collection of participants" to create an air of surprise at their conditions.[5]





No.TitleLocationOriginal air date
1"Dustyard"Black Country Living Museum28 April 2015 (2015-04-28)
A Victorian dustyard, where domestic rubbish was sorted. Some was then re-sold and recycled, such as rags, bones, sieved ash for building materials and "puer".[lower-roman 1][6][7]
2"Coaching inn"The New Inn at Stowe5 May 2015 (2015-05-05)
The cast work at a busy coaching inn, the New Inn, built by Lord Cobham in 1717 as part of his estate at Stowe. Visitors to the inn must be fed and fleeced rapidly, with their horses also attended to.[3] Ann Widdecombe begins a theme of the series, by protesting vociferously against working conditions.
3"Potteries"Gladstone Pottery Museum, Stoke-on-Trent12 May 2015 (2015-05-12)
The cast move into the expanding factories of the Victorian era and begin work in a pottery. Things progress badly, with further agitation by Ann Widdecombe inspiring a strike and lockout of the workers.[4][8]
4"Workhouse"The Workhouse, Southwell19 May 2015 (2015-05-19)
The cast, now presumed to be destitute, were consigned to the workhouse. After leading a refusal to wash, Ann was subjected to solitary confinement.[9]


Critical reception was muted. Perhaps surprisingly, the most scathing description as "frustrating and pointless watching" came from a more liberal newspaper, The Guardian that might have been expected to make some political capital from the condition of the working class in England.[5]

Casting of the participants worked well as five of the six were a balanced ensemble. They cooperated as a team and supported each other through adversity. Nor were any of them well-known enough to the audience to engender preconceptions of their personalities or attitudes. The obvious exception was Ann Widdecombe, the best-known of them and notable as a cabinet minister in the Back to Basics government of John Major. With obvious schadenfreude, the audience revelled in her becoming a labour organiser protesting against their oppressive employers.[10][11] Although such casting could not have been made in ignorance, Widdecombe herself denied that any part was scripted and confirmed that all of the grim accommodation was genuine.[12]

Viewing figures were unimpressive. Although it did well against other programming in that slot, its series average of 3.3m (16%) was below the BBC1’s slot average of 4.9m for the previous year. Viewing figures for the series dropped from 3.8m for the first episode[13] to 3.2m.[14]


  1. Dog faeces, used in the tanning of glove leather. Pronounced, and often spelled, 'pure'.

24 Hours In The Past on IMDb

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