The BBC2 documentary series Back In Time For The Corner Shop, still available on BBC iPlayer, is a visual treat for those who remember the local shops of our youth – and of course, stock included some comics, too.
In the show, The latest “Back in Time” series, was filmed in and around Derbyshire Road, Sheffield.In it, the Ardern family embarked on an extraordinary time-travelling adventure, going back in time to run that great British institution, the corner shop. Fast forwarding through 100 years of shop-keeping they discovered how what they sell, how they sell it and who they sell it to, reflecting the changing world around them.
The family, whose great grandparents were shopkeepers, took over a former corner shop in Meersbrook, Sheffield which is now empty and up for sale for just under £250,000. Guided by presenter Sara Cox and social historian Polly Russell, the family of five spent a summer working in the shop and living upstairs.
Pop magazines get quite a lot of screen time, as does the first issue of Cosmopolitan.
The show is a wonderful scurry down memory lane, with plenty for downthetubes readers to savour as you spot shop dressing in the episodes covering the 1950s onwards. This includes everything from model kits to comics – including glimpses of 2000AD, Beano, Dandy, and Look-In, although it has to be said that not every issue on show would have been on sale at the same time back in the day. Plus, early pocket priced computer games in the 1980s episode.
(A lot of games came out of Sheffield at the time).
You’ll also spot chocolate and sweet treats of yesteryear, like the relatively short-lived Aztec Bar, Super Mousse – a confectionery regularly promoted through comic strip drawn by Peter Ford in its day – and Spangles.
Starting in the Victorian era they needed to bake their own counter goods for the shop, weigh and measure loose goods like tea, flour and sugar by hand, and make deliveries with a horse and cart. In the years to come they discovered the huge impact Sheffield’s steel industry would have had on their local customers, face the challenge of administering wartime rations, and experience dizzy excitement at the arrival of innovations like the phone card, Smash Hits and the National Lottery.
“I think the corner shop is the first place really that I was allowed to go to by myself.,” presenter Sara Cox told the Mirror.”It’s that first bit of independence – where your mum is in the middle of making tea and she needs some eggs or she needs some milk for a cup of tea or whatever.”
For the final episode in the series, airing again on BBC2 tomorrow, the family reflect on their 100 years in the shop and investigate how the shopkeepers of today are using the lessons from the past and technology of the future to keep the tills ringing into the 21st century.
Originally built to serve around 40 houses for all their daily needs, the Ardens discovered how corner shops had to adapt to meet the changing needs of their customers, from stocking new items to attract the city’s increasingly diverse population, to having plentiful supplies of the must-have make-up and magazines that kept people coming through the door.
Through economic ups and downs, two World Wars and the changing face of the city, Back In Time For The Corner Shop reflects the total transformation of British life over the last 100 years. It’s well worth checking out on iPlayer.
Ralph Whitworth worked for Sheffield’s Morning Telegraph for more than 25 years until retiring when the paper closed in 1986 and also drew cartoons for The Star During that time. When the weekly Sheffield Telegraph was launched in 1989, Ralph came out of retirement, and produced a regular cartoon until shortly before his death at the age of 73 in April 1998.
Ralph started drawing cartoons when he was a soldier in the Parachute Regiment, with some of his earliest work appearing in Pegasus, the British Airborne Forces magazine. He later freelanced and, after a short spell as emergency stand-in for the regular artist responsible for the “Gloops” cartoon in The Star, he eventually discovered the Weekly Telegraph section of the Sheffield Telegraph, and his contributions soon led to the offer of a staff job.
A short biography on the Sheffield History forum notes one of his most famous cartoons was inspired by the decision of Len Ashurst, manager of struggling Sheffield Wednesday, to take his players onto the moors to camp overnight in the middle of winter. Ralph (a staunch Owls fan) drew two sheep, with one saying to the other: “I’ve been roughing it on these moors for years and I’m STILL no good at football!”.
For some years, at the instigation of Owls chairman Bert McGhee, a framed copy of the cartoon adorned the walls of the refreshment room at Hillsborough.
• James Whitworth compiled a book of his father Ralph’s work, “Whitworth On…” in 2007, available through AmazonUK