Six well-loved British celebrities take part in an experiment that explores the prevention of ageing. Find out what happens beyond the experiment, and how it has changed the celebrities’ lives.
What if it were possible to turn back time? Could it be that we have the power to think ourselves young again? That’s the extraordinary claim of an experiment first conducted 30 years ago which the BBC re-staged.
Six well-loved British celebrities – Liz Smith, Lionel Blair, Dickie Bird, Sylvia Syms, Derek Jameson and Kenneth Kendall – have agreed to turning back the clock. For one week they will live, work and eat in the 1970s to see if they can regain their youth.
The changes were amazing. And I’m not easily amazed.Dr. Michael Mosley, Host, The Young Ones
In 1979 psychologist Ellen Langer from Harvard University conducted a unique experiment to find out what would happen when a group of eight older men were given the experience of living 20 years earlier. She and her team created a living environment complete with food, films, photos from the period. The group discussed news, politics and sport in the present tense as if they had travelled back in time.
Astonishingly the group became physically and psychologically younger. Their hearing, grip strength and manual dexterity improved. Memory and IQ scores also improved. Because their minds were actively engaged in living 20 years earlier, their bodies seemed to follow. Ellen believes this is a demonstration of how our bodies don’t let us down as we get older, it’s our minds that accept the labels of aging. Freeing ourselves from that state of mind can turn back the clock.
Celebrity Participants: Lionel Blair – Age at the time of experiment: 77
Lionel has been in showbiz for 67 years, working as an actor, tap dancer, choreographer and television presenter. In 1980 he cast the stars appearing in the Royal Command Performance to mark the Queen Mother’s 80th birthday, and opened the show with a tap dance accompanied by Una Stubbs. He was team captain on the TV quiz show Give Us a Clue in the 1980s and is still working.
Liz Smith – Age at the time of experiment: 88
Liz is most well known for her role of Nana in The Royle Family and her work in The Vicar of Dibley. She got her big career break in 1970 in a Mike Leigh film. During the next couple of decades she appeared in many films and television dramas, winning a BAFTA for her performance in A Private Function. In 2009, Liz was awarded an MBE for her services to drama.
Sylvia Syms – Age at the time of experiment: 76
When I came in, I was in considerable pain. My back was painful all the time. I could barely walk. Now for some obscure reason, I cannot tell you why, that has improved. I also know that my trousers are looser [chuckles].To see the change in you [Liz] and see that you lost some of your fear of walking without your stick is tremendous. That is a joy for all of us, I think.Sylvia Syms, Participant, BBC replication of Ellen Langer's original Counterclockwise research
From screen siren to character actress, Sylvia Syms’ career spans stage, film and television and she continues to work. She appeared alongside the biggest film stars in the 1950s and 60s, most notably in the film Ice Cold in Alex. She portrayed Margaret Thatcher on stage and screen and the Queen Mother in the film, The Queen. Sylvia was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in June 2007.
Kenneth Kendall – Age at the time of experiment: 85
Kenneth was the first newsreader to appear on BBC television during the 1950s. He was voted the most popular newscaster by Daily Mirror readers in 1979. Esteemed for his sartorial elegance he was elected best-dressed newsreader by Style International. Kenneth went on to host the game show Treasure Hunt (1982-89).
Derek Jameson – Age at the time of experiment: 80
It’s like being back in the land of the living.Derek Jameson, Participant, BBC replication of Ellen Langer's original Counterclockwise research
Derek began work in Fleet Street as a messenger boy at the age of 14 and rose through the ranks to become Managing Editor of the Daily Mirror and Editor of the Daily Express, the Daily Star and News of the World. Heralded by many as a national institution, he went on to present various radio and television programmes in the 80s.
Dickie Bird – Age at the time of experiment: 77
Dickie was an English international cricket umpire, officiating in 66 Test matches and 69 One Day Internationals including 3 World Cup Finals. In 1986, he received an MBE from the Queen and in 1998 he stood in his last county match.