LESLEY Ellis soon got used to coming down for breakfast and finding strangers re-arranging her kitchen cupboards.
Last summer, the Bradford mum and her family handed their home to a television crew who transformed it, with intricate period detail, into a house of the past – changing with each decade of the past century.
The Ellis family – John and Lesley and their children Caitlin, Freya and Harvey – are the stars of BBC2’s Back In Time For Tea, exploring daily life for working people in the North. Presented by Sara Cox and Bradford-born Anita Rani, the series looks at the food families ate, their work and leisure time; reflecting changes in society from 1918 to the present.
Lesley applied after spotting an ad on Facebook. In the first episode, which aired this week, we met the Ellis family as the First World War ended. Their spacious Low Moor home was halved to the size of a two-up two-down and they dined on bread, lard and tripe. “The first episode, from 1918 to 1939, was one of my favourites because life was so simple,” said Lesley. “There was a strong sense of family and community. In the present day we’re so scattered at home – the kids are in their bedrooms on the Playstation and watching Netflix, John is on his laptop in the living room, I’m in the kitchen – but in the 1920s and 30s we had to spend time together, which was fantastic.
“It’s made us realise how hard life was, but we enjoyed the simplicity. It’s been a great experience, as a family.”
Lesley, who used to run a catering business, enjoyed making family meals down the decades. “Because they kept changing the house, I had to get to know my kitchen again. Everything was in a different place,” she said. “I’d be saying: ‘Do we have a grater?’ I didn’t know what food we had until we looked in the cupboards. I enjoy cooking from scratch, but I missed my food processor! The tripe didn’t go down well, and we didn’t like oysters, but that was working-class food back then. Rationing improved our diet from the pre-war years. For me, 1970s convenience food was awful. We don’t normally eat processed food, I found it sad to see so much branded, mass-produced food in the 70s and 80s.”
As a wife and mother, Lesley found the 1960s most challenging. “Everyone else had a life and I played Patience,” she said. “Youth culture had kicked off, the kids were out at coffee shops and John was in the pub. I was stuck at home but, listening to wonderful 60s records on our beautiful radiogram, I thought of my grandma, who would’ve been the age I am now, and my parents, who met in 1965 and listened to those records too.”
Back in Time for Tea is on Tuesdays on BBC2 at 8pm