I don’t feel any embarrassment at admitting that I watched, and enjoyed, BBC4’s documentary on Mrs Mills earlier this week.
Who? Mrs Mills. Anyone who lived in Britain in the 60s and 70s will remember her as a fixture on TV and the record racks of Woolworth’s, a jolly, middle aged housewife who used to knock out party tunes on the piano, and sold a respectable amount of records. She probably outsold a bunch of rock bands that have picked up an iconic status in recent years.
It’s not that I particularly appreciated the music. She was a good pub pianist, skilled enough to play some decent ragtime, but specialised in the old music hall sing-alongs that give me an earache. But I enjoyed the programme for the usual bout of nostalgia for what I remember from my early years. There were clips of her on Morecambe & Wise and the Billy Cotton Band Show, several minutes devoted to her album covers, and a lot of old film of people having boozy sing-songs in smoky pubs.
I was giving in to nostalgia, and realised that it doesn’t necessarily involve wallowing in stuff that you enjoyed at the time. To me, Mrs Mills was someone who kept old people amused, and I’ve got no interest in listening to her records, no matter how skilful she may have been on the ivories. Nostalgia is being reminded of stuff that was there, whether you enjoyed it or not, and making your own associations – in this case family parties, people who would sing with a fag on their lips, women drinking Babycham, appalling hairstyles, clothes that a charity shop would now refuse, and the TV shows that kept me amused as a six year old.
That’s why in the past I’ve enjoyed documentaries on the Carpenters, who made me yawn, the Osmonds, who I detested in my teens, and Max Bygraves, whose ability to sell shedloads of LPs in the 70s was a major irritant to us self-righteous music fans. It’s fun to be watch snippets of the past, even if you didn’t enjoy it at the time.
Now I’m waiting for BBC4 to broadcast a programme on Pinky and Perky.