Book Review: Watching Neighbours Twice A Day… How 90s TV (Almost) Prepared Me For Life by Josh Widdicombe

I would have been able to pick Josh Widdicombe out in a line up for a fair few years – but I only feel like I’ve got to know him intimately since listening to the twice weekly podcast he does with Rob Beckett. This started during the pandemic as ‘Lockdown Parenting Hell’ and has subsequently been rebranded ‘Parenting Hell’. I’m almost a decade older than Josh (so my brain’s Broom Cupboard default presenter is more Philip Schofield than Andi Peters) – and my kids are older than his kids too – but I still find the podcast very entertaining. When Josh and Rob were discussing their forthcoming books, I immediately parted with hard cash to pre order them. (To be honest, I checked out NetGalley first – but neither of them featured – but as the amazing podcast content is free, I didn’t begrudge actually paying for books for once!)

Here’s the blurb about Rob’s book:

‘This is a book about growing up in the ’90s told through the thing that mattered most to me, the television programmes I watched. For my generation television was the one thing that united everyone. There were kids at my school who liked bands, kids who liked football and one weird kid who liked the French sport of petanque, however, we all loved Gladiators, Neighbours and Pebble Mill with Alan Titchmarsh (possibly not the third of these).’
In his first memoir, Josh Widdicombe tells the story of a strange rural childhood, the kind of childhood he only realised was weird when he left home and started telling people about it. From only having four people in his year at school, to living in a family home where they didn’t just not bother to lock the front door, they didn’t even have a key.
Using a different television show of the time as its starting point for each chapter Watching Neighbours Twice a Day… is part-childhood memoir, part-comic history of ’90s television and culture. It will discuss everything from the BBC convincing him that Michael Parkinson had been possessed by a ghost, to Josh’s belief that Mr Blobby is one of the great comic characters, to what it’s like being the only vegetarian child west of Bristol.
It tells the story of the end of an era, the last time when watching television was a shared experience for the family and the nation, before the internet meant everyone watched different things at different times on different devices, headphones on to make absolutely sure no one else could watch it with them.”

I was super excited when the book landed on my doormat – and even got goosebumps from reading the chapter titles (which are all named after different 90s TV programmes) – as they brought back lots of memories.

You can hear Josh’s voice in the book (and no, I didn’t have the audiobook on at the same time) it is just written in his distinctive style. It is so well observed and frequently had me laughing out loud (and then having to explain to my husband what I’d found so funny).

I could quote endlessly from the book – but won’t as you should really buy it yourself – however to read on page 138 about ‘that bloke who played Boycie in Only Fools and Horses‘ – mentioned twice, on the day he died, did feel a bit surreal. I am in no way blaming Josh for John Challis’s death I should add!

In another ‘small world’, Josh refers to supporting England at a major football tournament as a ‘doomed relationship’ in the chapter about Euro 1996 – which is somewhat ironic as I watched the England v Switzerland opening game on the floor of Bangkok airport, waiting to fly home from the honeymoon of my first marriage (it hadn’t failed at that point – we lasted another few years, so longer than Terry Venables as England Manager at least).

I was waiting for the time when Josh would mention Romesh Ranganathan and Rob Beckett as examples of people on TV you might not be able to stand – as he’d mentioned it on the ‘Parenting Hell’ podcast – so I felt part of an ‘in-joke’ when I read that. Not that you need to be a podcast subscriber or listener to find the book entertaining – it totally stands on its own two feet.

I read all the way to the end of the acknowledgements (my neck is stiffer than Beckett’s – another podcast reference, I am such a fangirl) and the part written to Josh’s wife and kids made me cry! I hadn’t even had wine!

It was really interesting hearing about Josh’s childhood growing up in Devon – and I loved hearing about his Grandmother Gin in particular. But then I always do love a gin…….

This is a brilliant book – funny, clever, well written, brilliantly observed and a roller coaster of reminiscing with a dollop of popular culture from the 2000s onwards thrown in too. I would guess I’m near the top age range of people who would adore it – but there will always be outliers. A brilliant potential Christmas present for anyone aged 35-50 I reckon.

Well done Josh – now to await Rob’s book with an equal level of excitement!!!

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