Remember the good old days? When there were only five channels? The two Beebs, ITV for stupid people, C4 for clever people and five for Hitler fans? Ah, simple times, good times. Well, Channel 4 remembers them too, and has decided to get back to their roots. Only, being a channel for clever people didn’t work out that well for them because – so I understand, although this is strictly hearsay – clever people occasionally do other things apart from watching TV, like taking Open University courses and listening to the Today programme. This strategy was clearly on a par with attempting to sell pollen to asthmatics, or suggesting to Jordan that she might wear a knee length skirt.
So how did 4 solve this problem? With the time-honoured Trojan horse method. The viewing audience are the Trojans, sitting around in their castles, flicking through the schedules looking for something that won’t sear their retinas in half or give them a digital lobotomy. They alight on a programme about a house. Inoffensive stuff. But before long the audience have watched so many programmes about homes they’ve forgotten anything else ever existed. So, they stay home a lot, and watch Channel 4. Mwah hah hah! Perfect! Channel 4 schedulers love tectonic Acts of God that keep people from travelling, and dictators who keep people under house arrest. Big Brother was the culmination of this philosophy, where a bunch of slack-jawed fools were literally locked in a house for the whole summer, watching 12 slack-jawed fools in a house in Essex.
Let’s take a look at the evidence against Channel 4’s schedules:
Location 3: Buying homes.
Country House Rescue: People with big homes.
The Landscape Man: People with big gardens attached to their homes.
Restoration Man: People with 13th Century cowsheds for homes.
Grand Designs: People with big ideas about homes.
Wife Swap: Same home, different wife.
Supernanny: How to stop brats destroying your home.
How Clean is Your House: Dirty homes.
Deal or No Deal: Subconscious evocation of homes by association with Noel’s House Party.
Friends: Sitcom about six people who only leave their homes to get married (look out for ‘My Big Fat Home Wedding’ coming soon.)
The Racing: For people who live in betting shops.
Jamie Oliver: Now, he’s allowed to go all kinds of places, because a) we know eventually he’s going home to the lovely Jools and little Nettle, Walnut, and Sapling and b) we only get to replicate this stuff in our kitchens. At home.
In this philosophy, The Hotel Inspectors are seditious figures of frumpy, cape-adorned danger, taking us as they do into the seductive world of Leaving Home. However, any risk of a viewer getting carried away and booking a stay in one of these establishments is negated by the fact that they are generally disastrously unappealing, still unopened, or the proprietors are so unspeakable that you would do everything to avoid meeting them, with the safest method of achieving this being staying at home.
Should you be hardcore enough to still feel the need to occasionally venture further than the garden, C4 screens Coach Trip as a warning of what will happen if you try to leave home for pastures new. In the intro, narrator David Quantick intones “This, is the story, of what happened,” presumably having baulked at completing the sentence with “when people had the temerity to Leave Their House and Do Something Else.”
You will be abused: “I only called you a racist because that’s what we say on the coach!” said Nathan to Kim. “You’re not intelligent!” retorted Kim, possibly correctly, but somewhat out of leftfield. Clearly grasping that an unintelligent person might require more explanation than this, she clarified ‘You’re stupid.”
You could be forced to eat foreign and unwelcome cuisines: “It’s not that I’m fussy, ” said Dave. “I just only like chips.”
You could even be tortured into reliving childhood traumas: “I can’t go and see the bees,” sobbed some drippy chip-fancying woman in Malta. “I had a fly come really near me when I was a child and I get so scared!” Bear that in mind, people, next time you accidentally channel hop and catch a glimpse of ‘Rough Guide To…’ or your eye alights on some advert for a trip to Turkey in the Radio Times. Do you want to eat goulash, which probably contains worms or maybe even garlic? Or have some Arab gentleman put a snake on your head? No, you don’t. If you want a taste of the exotic, much safer just to go round someone local’s house for dinner, a la Come Dine with Me.
Noticing that other channels are doing quite well on the back of slightly well-known people doing things they’re not at all known for, such as cracking ribs on ice rinks or exploiting their equally fame-slutty parents in the Namibian desert, C4 busted out a slightly well-known person version of the dinner party show, inventively titled Celebrity Come Dine With Me. Javine – you know, the tart who didn’t get into Girls Aloud and then nicked that lovely Alesha Dixon’s husband MC Harvey and had a baby with him and then got dumped by him (serve the little slapper right) – typifies both the level of fame and delusion that make this programme eminently watchable. ‘I think people know me most because of being on Eurovision,’ she opined.
Someone, presumably, got a juicy promotion for the latest spin on the home theme…”when your home is your business!” Three in a Bed (Sexy! Risky! Truly pathetic!) is essentially Come Stay with Me, where three B&B owners (yep, that’s B&B owners) visit each other’s properties, beeyatch about them until they are blue in the face, expose their love of net curtains and floral bedspreads for the nation to laugh at, and then pay ‘what they think the stay was worth’. Superbly, some other young spark – this company clearly has no limit on the number of geniuses under its cosy roof – has managed to sell sponsorship of this promising piece of drivel to Staples, under the banner of ‘Business on 4′.
Our first visit is to ‘Smugglers’, which is in Dorset, has four gold stars that Roger the owner got from B&Q and glued on the wall himself, a thatched roof, cobwebs, the alarming problem of “nowhere to put my bits” and – jesus people, give me some warning before you land this stuff on me – No Dimmer Switch.
Roger tries to make his guests feel at home by getting lagered up and then driving everyone to a model village. His first public bollocking comes when the guests notice the star rating and get pissy that Rog isn’t forking out to get an official rating from Visit Britain. But really, the question is, how come Rog only gave himself four? What’s the truth? Did Rog originally purchase five, only to break one in a terrible whisky, red wine, brandy, and possibly last-dregs-of -limoncello-stolen-from-a-wedding fuelled accident?
Roger says sniffily “The couple from Skeggy are running a seaside B&B.” While many people might be surprised to learn of this coast based caste system in the hospitality industry, when the couple from Skeggy say Roger’s breakfast china is lovely and they “would never put this out for their guests”, he seems to have scored a rather lucky point. The Blackpool couple attempt to wheedle their way into Channel 4’s good books by complaining the TV is a little small.
Despite a solid cooked breakfast – surely the main reason for actually staying in a B&B in the first place – both the visiting couples underpay. Mrs Blackpool says she doesn’t get any sense of Rog’s personality in the room, which she seems to think is a problem. However, you’ve got to ask, exactly what furnishings convey ‘drunken curmudgeon’?
Rog once again attempts to make friends and influence people by remarking his belongings are antiques and he wouldn’t dream of letting them be in one of the rooms where a skanky guest might disease them with their syphilitic breath (I paraphrase.)
Next we’re off to ‘Number One’ in Blackpool. Costing £125 a night (a fact which causes the other BNBers to have a conniption) Number One is all whirlpool baths, heated dressing gowns, complicated lighting systems, and a big faux pas when Mrs Blackpool advises watching ‘Coronation Street’ in the bath. ‘This is yer luxury,’ says Mrs Skeggy, ’a whole world away from what we’ve got.’ Along with the comment about how their breakfast is not as good as Rog’s, I’m getting kind of nervous about our visit there.
Mrs Blackpool takes the guests up The Tower. Obligingly, the guests all get nose bleeds and refuse to go above the first stage, as agreed in Paragraph 16 of their contracts, which reads ‘Under no circumstances behave in a way such as to suggest actually Going Somewhere is any fun. At all.” Mrs Skeggy lets the side down a bit by actually enjoying herself and having a rare old time doing the Hokey Cokey in the ballroom. No, really, she was doing the Hokey Cokey.
Over dinner, Skeggy and Blackpool enjoy another round of ‘having a go at Rog about his stars’. Mrs Rog steps up to the plate by accusing Mrs Blackpool of Northern Plain Speaking. Although one might have easily guessed that Rog probably held fairly jingoistic verging on rascist views about such fancy notions as France and Spain, it’s one of the joys of TV to discover that Mrs Rog holds racist views about such exotic places as North of London.
Ray and Joyce, Mr and Mrs Skeggy, clearly work very well together and have the delightful habit of calling each other by their names all the time. “You know what, Ray…” Joyce might begin. “You might be right, Joyce” Ray rejoins. They overpay Mrs Blackpool. “If Ray brought me here for a weekend, ” says Joyce, “I’d think he’d fallen in love with me all over again.” So sweet! It nearly makes me want to go to Blackpool! I mean, I went there once and it was all pound shops and benefit offices and rain ohmygodtherain would it never end and clearly I will never go back there again even though I think one of my sisters married a bloke from somewhere near there but despite that, I am never going back there but Joyce’s comment makes me think I might. I won’t, but I might.
RayandJoyce run the Kildare in Skeggy, which is in Lincolnshire, which I didn’t know, even though I can name all the 48 counties of England (and all the EU capitals and all the US states, it was a VERY slow TV night.) Rog and Mrs Rog are typically upbeat and open-minded about Skeggy. “It looks like somewhere people come to die,” says Mrs Rog. Well, half a million visitors a year can’t be wrong. Oh, hang on. Nevertheless, there is a sanctuary for lost seal pups, which is guaranteed to melt the hardest heart. But not the most pickled. “Roger would never bring me to a place like this,” says Mrs Rog, a lifetime of wasted opportunities flashing before her eyes.
Both couples overpay RayandJoyce. Which makes them…I guess you could call it the ‘winners’. Next week looks like it might be featuring a gay couple. Gay couples staying in a B&B? Heavens above, those Channel 4 people are really nailing their colours to the mast. I can only assume they think all their audience have a postal vote.