Dirty work down through the ages
The Worst Jobs in History ABC, 7.30pm
AT 6am on a cold Monday morning, everybody has the worst job in history. Or so they think.
Sitting with grim- faced fellow commuters on the way to some soulless job, we often forget how far enlightened social policy and the relentless march of technology have lifted us out of the proverbial whatnot.
Things could be much worse and, for many, they once were.
Just how much worse is demonstrated by the valiant, sometimes foolhardy attempts of former Blackadder star Tony Robinson to find and try out for some of the most unsavoury job vacancies ever created.
Robinson has made a career for himself exploring historical Britain, not only through the original series of The Worst Jobs in History but also by digging up the back gardens of unsuspecting Britons in Time Team.
While the first series of Worst Jobs took an era- by- era look at history’s ugliest employment practices, this one takes a geographical and industry- based approach. Tonight we see some of the less than wonderful careers generated in Georgian and Victorian England by the growth of the urban environment.
Some, such as the risky vocation of 19th- century firefighters, are undesirable because of the danger involved rather than their general unpleasantness. Others make it obvious why a flawed ideology such as communism caught on in 19th- century Europe.
Robinson in this program nominates Italian road workers as having the worst job of the bunch. Wearing just thin slippers, they risked burned feet as they manually tamped down smoking asphalt to create a flat surface on the earliest modern roads.
But the lot of the hapless fur processors seems much worse.
These guys spent hours in enclosed spaces jogging on smelly sweat and lard- soaked furs to make them supple.
Then there were those who competed to sweep a path through the carpet of manure left by thousands of horses in London so that the rich could keep their shoes clean.
Or how about the working women who took to the ring every night to batter each other with bare knuckles, cudgels and even swords? They relied on a bloodthirsty crowd throwing money into the ring every time they injured an opponent. Then there were the hardy ‘‘ human taps’’ who carried 30kg casks of water up and down the hills of Edinburgh, and the women who made a living collecting dog poo for use in the tanning industry.
Robinson gamely tries his hand at all of them, while talking to historical experts about the background and pitfalls of each job.
As he notes at the end of the show, there is no shortage of awful jobs left to try.
Hard labour: Tony Robinson seeks out particularly unpalatable vocations