“Reality” television is one of life’s more bizarre contradictions. What could be more unreal than forcing a group of unknown wannabes to live in a strange house for weeks at a time or filming an interchangeable bunch of nobodies being abused by Alan Sugar?
Fortunately, the medium occasionally produces moments of sublime programme-making. One such is 56 Up which returns to our screens every seven years to report on the unfolding lives of 14 human guinea pigs originally filmed in 1964 at the age of seven.
This is genuine reality television before the term was even conjured up. All human life is there, from childhood to middle age, divorce to bereavement, shattered dreams to the grind of everyday survival.
The simple format adds to its seven-yearly appeal. And it’s a formula which holds universal fascination, since we all have to cope with getting older, whether we like it or not.
But 56 Up should not stop at the human race. If you extend the programme’s concept to the business world, the result could be potentially just as fascinating.
Think back seven years to spring 2005 for example. At a local level, MG Rover had just closed and 6,500 car workers were facing the abyss. John Towers had promised some financial relief with Trust Fund payments from company assets. We all know what subsequently happened.
Jaguar and Land Rover were facing a rocky ride under Ford ownership. Jaguar’s Browns Lane plant at Coventry was eventually sacrificed and Indian owners Tata took over to steady the ship and plough billions into new models and plant investment, creating thousands of new jobs.
Some well known names have gone. LDV, an intermittent basket case which survived against the odds for years, crashed for good in 2009. HP Sauce, a worldwide symbol of Birmingham industry, was dragged kicking and screaming over to Holland.
Meanwhile, Aston Villa were bought by an American and Blues ended up in the clutches of a Chinese gentleman who found himself in the clutches of the Hong Kong authorities.
Nationally, some banks were still lending money as if there were no tomorrow. But there was a tomorrow – for the likes of Bradford and Bingley, Northern Rock, RBS, Lloyds and HBOS, not to mention Fred Goodwin.
As the cast of 56 Up know, life is full of twists and turns. Given all the dramas of the last few years, so is the world of business.