Thursday, October 29, 2009

Life-changing innovations

This week's Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4 is the delightful and funny Dear Mr Bigelow by Frances Woodsford. The book is the collected letters that Frances wrote from England to the father of her American friend between 1949 and 1961. (If any of my family members happen to see this, the book is top of my birthday wishlist!)

This morning, there was an extract from the letter of 7 November 1959. Frances writes of a television programme she has just seen in which first American and then English housewives are were asked, "What do you think is the innovation which has made the greatest difference to your standard of living in the last ten years?"

She is astonished by the responses from the US:
  1. Barbecue cooking
  2. Polythene hairspray (perhaps I didn't hear that right!)
  3. Power brakes
But she is almost overcome when she hears the English responses:
  1. Artificial flowers with electric lights inside
  2. Tinned cat food
  3. Composition soles for shoes
  4. Childbirth - today it is quite painless
  5. Plastic mirrors for budgerigars 
I wonder what answers we would hear if that poll were to be taken today?

Frances Woodsford is now 95 years old but she is as witty and articulate as she was when she wrote the letters. You can listen to an interview with her here.


  1. Laptop computers. Mine functions as my adjunct memory. Without it I would be lost (literally).

  2. I can tell from what you wrote that I would enjoy this book. It sounds like great fun.
    Another book for my TBR file.

  3. I started following this on R4 and found myself loving the book but increasingly irritated by Sophie Thompson's narration and her mannered but childlike voice. (Sadly not the first time I've had this reaction when Sophie T has been the narrator.) I've given up on the radio version but will definitely be buying the book!

  4. Thanks for the heads up, I'd have missed this!

  5. e, I think many of us would agree with that innovation and it sounds a lot better than plastic flowers with lights inside!

  6. Terra
    If you like 84 Charing Cross Road, you'll love this. The difference is that the feisty writer is on this side of the Atlantic.

  7. D
    I was really disappointed that they didn't have Frances Woodsford read it herself. She is full of fun and sharp as can be and would have done the book justice.

  8. Thank you, thank you! I'm heading over to my dear friend, The Book Depository :<) and putting it in my saved queue. I'm so excited.

  9. For anyone interested the broadcast is still available to listen to ...for a few days here
    (each programme stays up for 7 days I think mondays episode one is still there still Sunday night)
    hope that works..

  10. Oh fiddle I forgot to say I'm really enjoying listening..they are great fun!
    Love calling the car

  11. Skype has definitely improved my standard of living, since my children are scattered far and wide. Being able to chat and see their faces on screen makes it bearable. The farthest away is my daughter, Joy, who lives in NZ. *Sniff* Has you ever seen the movie 84 Charing Cross Road? It's wonderful.

  12. Sorry for that wierd subject jump--missing my children does that to me, haha.

  13. Jodi, I wouldn't be without Skype, either. Little Millie chats away to us and I am sure we are more a part of her life than we would be just by letter and telephone. It must be very difficult for you to be so far from your daughter. I'll sniff for you!

    Yes, I have seen the movie several times and love it.

  14. Thank you for the sniff, Maureen (hee hee). Yes I do miss my girl very much. Happily she is coming home for a brief visit during the holidays :) I tried to listen to the interview, but it wouldn't work for me. I don't know if it's where I live or if I'm not doing something right. My husband Mike is a computer guy, so I'm going to ask him to help me out. BTW, thanks for the recommendation of The Gardener's Year - definitely going to check it out.


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