A loose series/collection of historical docudramas about everyday life, farming and industry in the English countryside throughout the ages, produced since 2005 by the BBC, in association with Lion Television. The series currently consists of six one-season TV shows, each mapping one specific historical period in British history.All five shows to date were created and produced by David Upshal and have a steady main cast in the form of a trio of professional English ethnographers and archeologists : Ruth Goodman, Peter Ginn and Alex Langlands. In each show, they act as both presenters and protagonists.
Shows in this series so far :
Tales from the Green Valley (2005) - Set in the 1620s at a long-abandoned and desolated Welsh grange built in the early 17th century, the first show focused on the restoration of the centuries old cottage and its surroundings and the cast's struggle to simulate a whole calendar year of farming and handicraft work with nothing but 17th century level technology. This show established most of the elements of its later sequels, including the active participation of the cast in restoring run-down historical farming buildings before jumping into the action of recreating a farmer's everyday life in a given historical period. Besides Peter, Alex and Ruth, the main cast also included historian Stuart Peachey and archeologist Chloe Spencer.
Victorian Farm (2009) - After a hiatus of a few years, the concept was revived in 2009 as this eponymous series, set in the late Victorian era (1880s and 1890s). Shot at the Acton Scott Estate in Shropshire, the team relives history once again, though this time in a more modern and more relatable setting. Received a Christmas Special spinoff due to high demand.
Victorian Pharmacy (2010) - Spin-Off of Victorian Farm. Since the show covers a different field than their usual expertise, Ginn and Langlands don't appear and Goodman co-hosts the programme with experts on period pharmacy, professor Nick Barber and his colleague Tom Quick. The show will generally leave you glad for having today's pharmacies, since the first public ones in the 19th century were a mixed bag - offering reasonable cures and therapies at best and completely barmy or unscientific ones at worst.
Edwardian Farm (2010) - Shot mostly in Devon at the Morwellham Quay Heritage Park and the surrounding Tamar river valley. Set in the The Edwardian Era and largely similar to Victorian Farm, but generally shows a lot more than just the agricultural bit of the 19th century British countryside. The show has not only at least twice as many episodes in total, but also broadens the scope to topics like the importance of industry, transport, trade and tourism to the English countryside during the late 19th and early 20th century. Naturally, a lot of vanished local industries and crafts are revived by the cast.
Wartime Farm (2012) - The spectre of World War II is knocking at the door and British farmers have to come to grips with the realities of rationing, reclaiming uncultivated land, the threat of foreign occupation, the dearth of old style farming and vast political and social changes to the agricultural sector of the UK. Shot at Manor Farm and Country Park, not too far from Southampton. Received a Christmas Special spinoff in December 2012.
Tudor Monastery Farm (2013) - Moving back in time for the first time since the series began, the cast enter the early 16th century, simulating life at a monastery-serving farm during the reign of Henry VII., just before the beginning of the English monarchy's break with Rome. This time, Goodman and Ginn are joined by archaeologist Tom Pinfold and together, they explore the life of tenant farmers on monastic lands. Shot at Weald and Downland Open Air Museum in West Sussex.
Anachronism Stew / Hollywood History : Averted, thankfully. Though each show has to represent a somewhat general, broad picture of the era it covers, the cast and crew usualy do their best to point out when exactly did an actual agricultural or industrial practice or certain piece of technology come into wider use. They also try to tie in the crafts, industries, handiwork and recipes shown with the specific region of England they're filming the show in. (So, the shows generally try their best at stressing the importance of regional geography and history in the perspective they offer.)
Awesome Yet Practical: While many of the once popular recommendations, inventions or solutions to various farming and industry related problems and tasks are revealed to be outdated or ineffective, a surprising amount of them prove valid and useful methods even today.
Beneath the Earth: In one or two episodes of Edwardian Farm Peter and Alex venture with the guidance of a mining industry historian into some of the disused Devonshire mines. They even try out a late 19th century hand-held motorized drill (one of the first of its kind), powered with compressed gas.
Background Music: All instrumental and period-appropriate. Local folk music in Tales from the Green Valley, a mostly orchestral score in the 19th and early 20th century shows, a mix of orchestral and jazz music in Wartime Farm, 16th century folk and religious music in Tudor Monastery Farm.
British Brevity: Zig-zagged. Though each show has only one season (being documentaries) and usualy no more than 5-6 episodes in total, Edwardian Farm and Tales... each have 12 episodes in total. If you count the 3 episode Christmas Special of Victorian Farm as a direct part of that show, then Victorian Farm is the third longest show, with a total of 9 episodes.
Christmas Special: The three-episode miniseries Victorian Farm : Christmas, a holiday-themed spinoff of the usual iteration of the show. Besides showcasing Victorian era preparation of decorations, presents and Christmas recipes, the cast also work on several more mundane tasks as well. One of them - the careful restoration of a historical blacksmith workshop - is cleverly tied in with the plotline about the preparation of presents (with the help of Alex and the blacksmithing instructor guest, Peter uses the restored worskshop to create a hand-made doorknocker as a present for the owner of the estate where the series was shot). Recently, in December 2012, Wartime Farm became the second show in the series to receive a Christmas special (though Alex was, for once, absent in that one).
The City vs. the Country: Brought up several times in Wartime Farm, since British countrymen and Blitz Evacuees had to learn to live and work alongside each other during Britain's war years. As the presenters mention, the positive side effect of the initial tension was the gradual erosion of the bigger differences between British social classes of the era. World War I and the post-war years kickstarted the process and the conditions necessitated by The Blitz during World War II only added to its growth.
Cool Boat: A preserved sail-powered fishing trawler and a holiday river steamboat in Edwardian Farm.
Cool Car: They come into play in Edwardian Farm, with the advent of motorism. A particularly lovely-looking one is an early bus, which the cast take for a holiday at the seaside. And then there's this◊ stunning blue convertible... Wartime Farm also features a small 1930s bus converted torun on gas produced by coal fumes. Modifications like this were made due to the wartime shortages of petrol for civilian users.
Cool Horse: The shire horses used in several of the series.
Cool Plane: The Blériot monoplane displayed at a local fair in the final episode of Edwardian Farm.
Cool Train: Appear only sparringly, but there are a few lovely period locomotives and cars to be seen in a few episodes of Edwardian Farm and Wartime Farm.
Early-Installment Weirdness: Not that pervasive, but due to it being the first show and because of both the historical and production-related Time Skip between it and the later shows, Tales from the Green Valley's presentation and tone have shades of this at times. The presence of two more experts in the main cast, the greater focus on experimental archeology, and furnishings and everyday chores less familiar to a modern TV viewer (unlike in Victorian Farm or Edwardian Farm, there are no real "old household tips" that the viewers could appreciate in everyday use).
Edutainment Show: A pretty well balanced combination of a lighthearted, entertaining reality TV narrative with a factual live-action documentary occupied by professional historians.
Genre-Busting: Part live-action historical crafts recreation documentary, part edutainment reality show starring and featuring actual experts on a specific historical period and the lifestyle of each era.
Hard Work Montage: Appears in a more documentary-style form whenever the members of the main cast (or the main cast and their guests) are working on a new project.
MacGyvering: True to Real Life history, there was a lot of it going on in the WWII era UK due to wartime shortages, as detailed in Wartime Farm.
Odd Name Out: The first show is the only one that didn't follow the pattern of "[NAME OF ERA] Farm".
Only Known by Their Nickname: In "Tales from the Green Valley", Peter's name is mentioned in the first episode. Otherwise, he's only referred to as "Fonz" (or "Fonzy"), even by the narrator.
Once an Episode: The opening montage of each episode, complete with Opening Narration. Then there's the "Once A Show" formula : When the cast arrives in the first episode of each show, their first task is to restore or renovate the historical buildings they'll be living and working in. And at the end of every final episode, they gradually pay farewell to the estate, tidy up and then walk away...
Opening Narration: Via an opening exposition-filled montage in every episode of each show.
Power Walk: Ruth, Peter and Alex do a rather period one at the end of the opening montage of Edwardian Farm. They also do a more slower and less brisker one at the end of every episode of Wartime Farm.
Scenery Porn: Each and every show is shot in very pictoresque and well preserved rural parts of England. So far, the shows were shot in the west, southwest and southern parts of England and some great panoramas could be witnessed in each show. Tales from the Green Valley was set and shot in the Welsh-English borderland and in one or two episodes of Edwardian Farm, Peter and Alex ventured to study the old coal-mining areas in southern Wales.
Sequel Escalation: Edwardian Farm to Victorian Farm, in general. Both cover largely similar social and technological periods and have a similar feel, but while the older show is mostly focused on agriculture and everyday chores at a relatively small farming estate, Edwardian Farm massively ups the ante and has the team travelling large parts of Devon and southern Wales, trying out various industries, crafts, trades... and even going on vacation at the seaside !
Shown Their Work: A given in shows like this. The presenters will often dig up almost completely forgotten traditions, recipes and agricultural or industrial techniques from the period they're covering in a specific show. And they love trying out almost every old handicraft imaginable.
Steampunk: Not in play literally, but many of the clever and more unusual contraptions and machinery seen in the shows mapping the Victorian and Edwardian era evoke this trope. The last episode of Edwardian Farm highlights how the rapid advancements in technology at the start of the 20th century and during WWImassively reshaped life in the countryside and farming not only in England, but elsewhere as well. This commentary occurs at a recreation of an early 20th century industrial fair - among the displays are the latest tractors and harvesters, and even an◊ early Blériot monoplane. And with the introduction of the Wartime Farm show, the aesthetic has moved further, towards a kind of "WWII English Countryside Dieselpunk".
Those Two Guys : Peter and Alex◊, doing most of the outdoor work related to experimentally recreating various bygone crafts and jobs of the past. While not outright Vitriolic Best Buds, Alex does poke fun at Peter in a friendly or snarky way from time to time. This dynamic is less pronounced between Peter and Tom.