Dirty work down through the ages

The Worst Jobs in His­tory ABC, 7.30pm

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - Steve Creedy

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

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