Heart-warming tale of maternal instinct: CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV 

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Heart-warming tale of maternal instinct undimmed after 63 years: CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV

Long Lost Family: Born Without Trace 

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Sounds Like The 80s

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Imagine the furore on social media if a week-old baby were found abandoned in the back of an open-top sports car on a London street today.

Celebrities would queue up to tell us how they’d walked down that road only the other day, or once owned a car like it. Dozens of the more ostentatiously virtuous would declare themselves willing to adopt immediately.

Laptop sleuths would trade conspiracy theories about which cabinet minister had dumped an unwanted lovechild, and accuse police of withholding the baby’s DNA profile. All this would build to a national obsession.

But when Ruth Hale was discovered alone and crying in a convertible Aston Martin on a Marylebone street in the early 1950s, the story barely made a paragraph in the evening newspapers.

The same was true of Harvey Shackell, left in a cardboard box covered with brown paper on a doorstep in Hayes, Middlesex, on Christmas Day 1960. 

Harvey Shackell (pictured right with Vera Wood) was left in a cardboard box covered with brown paper on a doorstep in Hayes, Middlesex, on Christmas Day 1960

You might suppose that any story about a newborn in a makeshift cradle on December 25 was almost literally a Godsend for every newspaper, but after a couple of photos, Harvey was ignored by reporters.

Not everyone forgot him, as Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell discovered on Long Lost Family: Born Without Trace (ITV1). 

Vera Wood, who opened her door on Boxing Day to discover a child had been lying there all night, spent her life wondering what happened to him.

After she called the police and handed him over, she never saw him again. So strong were her maternal instincts that in the late 1980s she made a public appeal to find him, appearing on Cilla Black’s Surprise Surprise! show to plead for information.

Thankfully, Harvey was placed with a loving adoptive home, and grew up happy. Just as heart-warming, Vera still hasn’t forgotten him at 88 — and the moment they were reunited was one of the most affecting and emotional scenes in the series’ history.

Harvey also discovered a sister he’d never met, Cherry, and learned that their mother had not wanted to give him up. 

Their father, a controlling and abusive man with more than a dozen children by different women, took the baby away and abandoned it. Why he chose Vera’s doorstep, we’ll never know.

Ruth’s story was less clear-cut. She did find a half-brother, Garry, but their meeting happened off camera. He told her that he and another sibling, who died from whooping cough, lived with their mother in a freezing caravan.

Ruth Hale (pictured right with Davina McCall) was discovered alone and crying in a convertible Aston Martin on a Marylebone street in the early 1950s

Ruth Hale (pictured right with Davina McCall) was discovered alone and crying in a convertible Aston Martin on a Marylebone street in the early 1950s

And Ruth was reunited with the very Aston Martin that was her manger. The car now belongs to a collector and is kept at carefully regulated temperatures in a luxury garage, a very cosseted machine. There’s a Dickensian irony to that image.

Toyah Willcox and friends had another reminder for us of how different a place the past was, as they picked favourite tracks for a mixtape on Sounds Like The 80s (More4). 

This was little more than an excuse to play clips from favourite songs and music videos, and make dramatic pronouncements. ‘In 100 years’ time,’ Toyah declared, ‘people will still love Fade To Grey.’

She’s talking about the 1980 number by Visage and Steve Strange that reached No 8 in the UK charts. It was a dirge 40 years ago, and it isn’t improving with age.

Toyah also insisted that the 1985 number one You Spin Me Round by Pete Burns and Dead Or Alive was a enduring classic: ‘It’s like eating fast food — you want more of him and more of that song.’

All of which only goes to prove there’s no accounting for taste.

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