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I'm the grocer in Turn Back Time - The High Street

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Karl Sergison Karl Sergison | 11:36 UK time, Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Well where do you begin to tell a story like this? It's been the most amazing summer of my life travelling back in time for Turn Back Time - The High Street.

First the Victorian era. We had an absolute shock when we first walked into Shepton Mallet market square. I felt really proud to see our name up above the shop which we would be running for the next six weeks.

Going into the shop for the first time really was like walking back in time. All those history stories and lessons you had at school about the good old days, well this was it! There were sacks of goodies like loose biscuits, sugar cones, flour, lentils and so much more.

Karl and Debbie Sergison

Next came my favourite era - the Edwardian, and a fantastic transformation of the shop.

That's when the service era began. Customers were seated and their every need was taken care of. The era was one of opulence and saw the arrival of packaged foods.

Customers could take away their goods with much more ease or have them delivered.

We had cigarettes that were said to help with winter coughs and asthma and be especially suitable for women and children - amazing claim eh?!

In episode two, we had the bombshell of all the lads of eligible age being called up to go to war. I thought I was too old but I'm afraid it was not to be.

Whereas men of the time would have been conscripted, I left the shop to reflect on World War 1 with the other men in the programme. That left the girls to finally come out of the back room and see the real world.

At first my wife Debbie was really happy at the fact, because she had been stuck out the back since 1870 and it was now 1916! She aged well, don't you think?

But then it dawned on her that she was on her own, just like all those real girls were back in the Great War. Her happiness soon turned to one of 'Oh my golly, what am I going to do without the boys?'

Then the 1930s, the era of... well, I can only say sugar. Sweets everywhere, almost the entire shop was transformed again into a kiddy's (and Gregg Wallace's) dream come true.

Shelf after shelf of sherbet, toffee, sugared mice, midget gems and loads more.
One thing did surprise me though. The five-a-day slogan we hear so much about nowadays was actually around in the 1930s.

Karl Sergison outside the grocer shop in the wartime era

After all that extravagance came the Second World War.

The shop shelves were pretty bare and it stayed that way for most of the era, with the exception of our little surprise. You'll have to watch to find out what I got up to!

I was 'sent to war' again - this time we had a day at Bovington Tank Museum to see a little of what those lads actually had to go through.

Very scary. I'd probably have run away if it was for real. Our tanks were just not up to the quality of the German ones. It took 10 of ours to destroy one of theirs.

That aside, we rode in a Sherman tank and it was a great day (although the marching we had to do beforehand was not quite as much fun).

We spent two nights away from the girls but our hosts were under strict orders to make sure we only had the same rations everyone else had.

I lost weight during that era. Even when we arrived at the accommodation for the final night, all we got was soup and sandwiches - and all we'd eaten that day was an egg and bacon roll.

But on a serious note, I take my hat off to all those brave and courageous people during the war. I am glad we didn't have to do it for six years. Five days was bad enough.

At the end we had a VE day party and all the people of Shepton Mallet cooked up a wonderful array of goodies for us all to eat. A fabulous end to a very hard era.

The Swinging Sixties was when the shop started to resemble a modern day supermarket.

Self service counters, tills with conveyer belts and still retaining an element of personal service for those who weren't quite sure about picking things off the shelves for themselves.

It was a bit saddening as I could see it wouldn't be long before we became a fully fledged supermarket.

Karl Sergison and his family outside the grocer's shop in the 1970s era

I always bang on about the fact that they have destroyed the high street as we used to know it. Now all we have is big out of town car parks with huge great shops attached to them. They're always going to be around but it's so important that the high street can exist along side them.

Debbie had to be the perfect housewife and have my slippers ready every night when I returned home from work, cook a lovely meal and make sure that all was well with me.
I must admit it was nice while it lasted!

She also had to prepare a dinner party for all the other traders. Well, I've never seen such horrible recipes. Tomato mousse made out of tinned condensed soup, orange and tomato salad with mint leaves and watercress... the list of atrocities just went on and on.

By the 1970s, all my fears had come true. We had turned into a supermarket. Just plain old boring food on shelves, no more service, no more interaction with customers, just take the money and send them on their way.

Anyway that's enough moaning. Let's look at the more fun things that happened.

My son Harry and I had to dress up as chickens to sell off our stock during the power cuts of the 1970s. That was a laugh - as was the intercom system in the shop. And punk rockers coming in and nicking stuff from the shelves and defacing the goods with anti-establishment slogans.

The grand opening of the record store with a surprise band was really great fun. You'll have to watch to see who it was but what I will say is - save all your kisses for me guys.

I hope you like my little stories - all the best for now.

Karl Sergison is the grocer in Turn Back Time - The High Street.

Karl's daughter Saffron spoke to BBC Slink about her experience on the programme.

You can also read another post on the BBC TV blog by Tom St John Gray, producer of Turn Back Time.

Turn Back Time - The High Street is on Tuesdays at 9pm on BBC One and BBC One HD.

For further programme times, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are the writers' own views and not necessarily those of the BBC.


  • Comment number 1.

    I have two comments about todays (23rd) programme.
    The National Loaf was not 'wholemeal' (which is 100%), but about 85%, a sort of off-white colour, which had about 15% more of the goodness of wheat than the current 70% extraction flour.
    White bread, as manufactured now is totally tasteless, whereas the 85% had a little more flavour, but not as good as proper wholemeal, which is the only bread that any sensible person will eat! It's main benefit is all the vitamins, minerals and fibre, all essential to health. No wonder so many people have constipation- eating white bread!
    The air raid siren announcing an air-raid was a wailing sound, up and down. The single tone sound that was heard on the programme was an 'all clear'!!

  • Comment number 2.

    Great programme, but one recurring problem I have is that the 'Chamber of Commerce' don't dress for the period.

    Surely the programme would have been more realistic if they wore the clothes of the period, as it is they turn up each week in modern day leggings, jeans and jackets.

    They are not towing the line

  • Comment number 3.

    This week show is just going to remind me of Tesco

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 5.

    Television has brought fame to Shepton Mallet but the elevated TV cameras have also revealed a problem. The iconic Market Cross is crumbling and in urgent need of repair. The residents are alarmed because more tourists are beginning to come to the town, shops are re-opening (two new shops and a high-class cafe since the series started and more in the pipeline) and suddenly the emblem recognised across the country through ‘Turn Back Time – The High Street’ is in danger.

    Records date the elegant and historic Market Cross to 1500 AD although it is probably older. Following the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685, 12 rebels were hanged in the Market Place after the ‘Bloody Assizes’ of Judge Jeffreys. Several of the bodies were suspended from the Market Cross as a warning.

    More details can be found at www.shepton.org

  • Comment number 6.

    I have to say this is the best series I have watched on tv in years. I have never ever been in to history but I have learnt a lot from this series I have cried, smiled and laughed watching the trials and tribulations of the families. This series has been something that myself and my 11 year old son have thoroughly enjoyed. We were really looking forward to the pop up shop coming to Louth as it is only 20 miles from us and it isn't often anything comes here. We are gutted that it has been cancelled due to the weather and hope that the date is rearranged. Thank you to the families and the bbc for such a great show.

  • Comment number 7.

    I have really enjoyed this series, as it gave a flavour of what historical periods were like for normal people (both business owners and customers) rather than just focusing on events and the heroes and villains of history. Alongside the Victorian/Edwardian Farm programmes it is great how Turn Back Time really brought history to life.

    I think it would be really interesting to have a follow up programme looking at the participant's businesses, their experiences on the show and changes (if any) that they would make to their businesses after the experience. It would be great to see examples of how good personal service can be used in the present day. After all part of the programmes' brief was about reviving the high street - turning everyone back in time (whilst amazing and interesting) isn't as practical as looking at how good independent shops deliver old fashioned service today.

    The series hit the depressing (but realistic) low of the empty high street and monopoly of the supermarkets. But the story doesn't end there. There are specialist shops, bakers, butchers and boutiques, still around today and there is an anti-supermarket (or anti-only-supermarket) counter-culture - perhaps represented by the participants in this programme. There is a story there.

    I realise this might be a Turn Back Time / Mary Queen of Shops crossover. I'd love to see these stories told.

    Thanks again for a fantastic programme. The willingness of the participants and the amazing period makeovers performed on the shops produced an amazing bit of BBC telly.

  • Comment number 8.

    I've absolutely loved this series. I think its one of the best programmes the BBC have done in ages. The shopkeepers and the people of Shepton were brilliant, a lovely bunch of people who really enjoyed the experience.


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