TV Review: I Never Knew That About Britain

Great British icons were the theme in I Never Knew That About Britain and amongst them were wedding cakes, phone boxes and the world’s first sky scraper.

TV Review: I Never Knew That About Britain

Suzannah Lipscombe discovered the graveyard of phone boxes


The 30 minute show, hosted by red trousered Paul Martin and reporters Suzannah Lipscomb and Steve Mould, sees the trio zooming around the countryside in their Union Jack painted sports cars discovering quirky and unusual facts to wow the Monday night audience.

All presented in a wide-eyed and slightly breathless tone, the trio last night brought design of ‘huge global influence’ in to the sitting rooms of the viewing audience.

First up, was Martin, giving insight on the meaty topic of the tiered wedding cake. 

He seemed genuinely amazed  to discover the wedding cake was dreamt up by London baker Thomas Rich who, hell-bent on winning the hand of his boss’s daughter, took the nearby St Bride’s Church as inspiration for his tiered wedding cake. “So did he get a bun in the oven?” asked Martin. Cue nervous laughter from the ‘expert’ he was interviewing, in hushed tones at the back of a church. 

He also pondered why do brides carry flowers? The answer is simple really. Because 200 years ago, the general public only tended to wash once a year and a stinky bride wasn’t the done thing, so posies were invented. 

Next up was Suzannah Lipscombe, who has a doctorate in history from Oxford and seems slightly over qualified for the show. 

Her brief was to find out all about where red Post Office telephone boxes go when they die. 

And the answer is . . . Newark.  Here she met Richard Parker, a telephone box expert, who explained how, while once they used to stand on every street corner now there are just 10,000 red phone boxes in operation in the UK.  Once past their prime, they are brought to Newark, the refurbishing capital of the red phone box, where they are spruced up and shipped off to the other side of the world. There are now more phone boxes on the beaches of Bermuda, Australia, Hong Kong and America than in the UK. Possibly.

But the second half of the show was given over to Ditherington Flaxmill, which, according to I Never Knew That About Britain is in Ditherington, in the north of England.  Except it isn’t. 

It’s in Shrewsbury, in Shropshire and close to the Midlands. Nowhere near the north.

Fellow presenter Steve Mould took over the baton of explaining just why Ditherington Flax Mill, in Ditherington is so important to the nation.  Armed with a blow torch, a bag of flour and a hefty exhalation he demonstrated why mill owners of the late 18th century were so delighted when Derby-born engineer Charles Bage came up with the steel framed warehouse design. 

Prior to his masterstroke, all warehouses and large scale buildings were made of timber – hence incredibly flammable what with all that flour dust from milling and candles used for light. 

John Yates, from English Heritage, was on hand to explain the importance of the Flax Mill, which was built in 1797 and is the subject of a major renovation and restoration plan.

“It was the birth of the sky scraper, right here in Ditherington,” said Yates. 

“It is the ancestor of the sky scraper and is very special stuff.” 

A major fire in Chicago saw Bage’s design race across the Atlantic and ‘put Ditherington on the map’ according to Mould, who had travelled to London to speak to John Bushell, an engineer currently building the city’s latest sky scraper. “Bage was way ahead of his time,” agreed Bushell. 

“He was the person with the first idea.”

I Never Knew That About Britain aims to educate the viewer with fascinating facts about the country they live in – and it does do that. 

By Lucy Todman

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