- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Nothing much happens in Harby, a small Nottinghamshire village a few miles outside Newark in the middle of England. A search of the archives reveals that in October 1297, Edward I’s queen, Eleanor of Castile, died there and that on Nov. 16, 1995, a 14-year-old boy stole a Leyland Daf truck and was chased by the police along the A46 and A52 highways. Other than that, the village hasn’t hit the headlines.

One day last year, however, that all changed. The good people of Harby, all 250 of them, received letters from the BBC asking if they might be interested in taking part in a reality show called “The Week the Women Went.” This would involve all the women leaving Harby to spend seven relaxing nights at a spa while the cameras recorded how their husbands and boyfriends coped with domestic life without them.

The request divided the village between tired, worn-down women who were delighted at the chance of a bit of R&R;, and panic-stricken men imagining the horror of having to feed and water themselves and their children. Then there were the people who thought the program would make the village look ridiculous.

Paul Marshall, 48, told reporters: “This is going to be a tacky, tawdry program that will do a lot of harm. I have seen this kind of TV, and nobody comes out of it looking good.”

Kelly Lamb-Webb, the series’ producer, who chose Harby because of its isolated location, hit back. “The program is about showing what happens when the women go away and the men are thrust into the domestic and community sphere. Of course, there are some households where the men are very involved, but I think there are others where domestic chaos will ensue.”

A meeting of the parish council was called. Eighty of the town’s 119 women agreed to leave for a week, and the remaining families agreed to let filming begin.

Thus, in April, 18 film crews descended on Harby, which has just one pub, a small post office, a school and a village hall. And the fun began.

Did Miss Lamb-Webb’s hoped-for dystopia occur? Did the men discover that they couldn’t cope without their other halves? In the first episode, which was shown this week, it would seem so. The men all look hopeless and frightened, and it’s only the first day.

One attempts to make spaghetti Bolognese with rice. Another’s daughter, who can be no more than 5, asks her father what they will be doing that day. A look of panic crosses his face. “What are we doing? I don’t know. You’re the boss, the only woman in the house.”

That was several months ago. What happened when the cameras stopped rolling and the women came home? Looking back, what do they all think they have learned from the experience?

Many of the men claim they coped very well. Some say they positively enjoyed the experience. Sam Aldridge, a 31-year-old mechanic, even wants his wife, Caroline, to get a job so that he can give up work and look after their two children — Nikita,1, and Tamzin, 3 — full time. “Nikita wouldn’t let me hold her before the film crews came, but by the end of it, she wouldn’t leave my side and clung on to me, screaming when Caroline tried to hold her,” he says. “The housework was fine, too.”

Caroline corroborates his story. “Yes, it’s true. He puts the kids to bed now. And before, if there was something on the floor, he’d just step over it. Now, he steps over it a few times and then eventually picks it up.’

For Andrew Argyle, a solicitor, the week became a chance for him to bond with his two stepsons, Guy, 13, and Louis, 11.

“I wouldn’t say that we were distant before, but we are very close now,” he says. “Previously, if they had problems, they’d obviously go straight to their mother, but without her, they had to come to me, and we had a lot of deep discussions. They’re not so much stepsons as sons now.”

His wife, Kim, points out some imperfections in Mr. Argyle’s first attempts at child care. “When I watched the program afterward, I noticed that the boys wore the same clothes every day. When I put this to Andrew, he said: ‘But they were wearing clean pants and socks.’ And he let them wear the clothes they wear when they ride our horses inside the house. All over my beautiful furniture. I couldn’t believe it.”

You can walk around Harby in five minutes. The pub is shut. The village hall is shut. The only real sign of life is two men who are sitting in a garden, chatting. How did they cope with 18 film crews trailing them around for seven days?

“Oh, you couldn’t move in the village for cameras,” says David Medley, a 59-year-old farmer who has lived in Harby his entire life. “And they’ve made it look all pretty on the program, so I’m hoping that the house prices might go up. We’ve got some building land to sell.”

That might appease the residents who refused to take part. “It was only about half a dozen or so who were bothered,” Mr. Medley says. “They were worried we’d be made to look like country bumpkins, fools. But they were just being prophets of doom, and they’re fine about it now. I think they’re jealous that they didn’t get to take part.”

The majority of the male villagers who were involved felt the experience brought them together as a community. “We’ve only lived here a year,” Mr. Medley says, “and they say that you need to have been somewhere for 20 years to truly feel local. But now that I’ve got to know everyone, I feel like that already.”

“The spirit in the public house is amazing,” Mr. Argyle says. “It’s just like going back to what the village used to be like 30 years ago.”

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