Right across this fine land, burglar's essential viewing right now has to be Channel 4s 'Country House Rescue', a documentary series that offers advice to owners of stately homes on how to turn a buck from their crumbling country piles, the TV cameras given access to all areas, heirlooms and all. The television 'expert' that is deployed to help out the old gents and ladies is the blustery Ruth Watson, the Mary Portas of country house transformations, a woman that doesn't take no for an answer, bullying ex public school boys to get off their ass and save our great country homes for the nation. Normally the National trust would do that, a public slush fund that has been abused for generations to 'do up' posh peoples house for free. Those who couldn't get cash from the Trust for what ever reason have to go elsewhere, usually the Lottery, and Ruth Watson making sure here subjects here dip into their own pocket to get the job done, which many do. It's hard not to like Ruth Watson as she shakes up these chinless wonders that haven't done a hard days work in their life like an old door mate in their grand hallways.
Episode one of the new series of six took us to Wyresdale Park, home of the Whewell family from Lancashire, James and Sally Whewell spending all their grown up lives trying to restore the house to its former glory. Although they want son Jim to eventually take over the house, he all too keen to, his modern methods and ideas don't well with the parents and there is soon conflict, these shows really about family politics than fixing homes.
Episode two took us to the beautiful Devon Coast and Tapely Park, run by environmental activist Hector Christie, not your classic stately home owner by any means. Hector is part of the famous Christie dynasty; his younger bother Boris running the magnificent Glyndebourne estate, a deal they struck in a Brighton pub back in the 1970s on a flip of a coin on who should have what, Hector, claiming he chose the less imposing house rather than landed it on the spin of that coin. The likeable Hector immediately strikes you as a bloke that doesn't particularly like responsibility, his activism mantra to blame others for current ills than coming up with solutions to replace them.
The houses is losing £20,000 a year in running costs alone and rarely open to the public, Hector more interested in direct action against GM crops and going pseudo surfing than doing up the house, his mid-life crisis surfer dude look more about covering up his bald head and middle age (with a vast array or head gear and bobble hats than riding the waves. But he has asked Ruth in and she has some ideas, lots of them, Hector affable and willing to listen, until there's a protest or big surf to go see. Hector has a reputation with the locals as being a bit of a playboy over the years, the house in the 1970s and 80s at the centre of the new age and then rave culture in the region. But he has changed his ways and lives alone with his trusty volunteers and housekeeper and ready to make a go of things, he claims too proud to ask mum and dad for a small speck of their huge fortune to do the house up.
Episode three popped up next door in Penzance, Cornwall, the Le Grice Family of Treriefe House your more traditional dusty old toff's, likeable but bumbling buffer in 67-year-old Tim Le Grice having to keep working as a solicitor in his attempts to save the old house that has been in the family since 1776. He is trying to bring in new money as the bank closes in; all manner of new revenue streams tried, including a zoo and a gypsy caravan museum, but Ruth called in by the wife as a last resort.
Ruth suggests exploiting the beautiful house and grounds by throwing up some portable Yurts in those grounds, hippy style igloo accommodation for those middle-class types looking for something different and trendy for a weekend break. Ruth thinks new ideas will save the house and so pushes dad to let his kids take over, Georgina and Peter keen on the idea, a literary festival also added to the summer calendar, more of the same family politics over the silver laden dinner table.
You know you're middle-aged when you start ringing stuff like this in your TV guide, although it is on Sunday night and so no one is doing much in Northampton anywhere else at that time and so I have an excuse. Although all very nice and rather fun watching the blustery and rosy-cheeked Ruth Watson blow dust off the old fogeys to get them into the new millennium its all rather tame, and with no catch up shows you have no idea if the house owners continue with Ruth's ideas and maybe this is just a rather vacuous exercise to fill that 9pm Sunday slot for C4 now Big Brother and the like are over the horizon and forgotten. What this ends up as is just as advert for a handout by canny country mansion owners chasing that National trust/Lotto money. It never quite washes that people with huge houses cant afford to run them. One for the over 40s and that, alas, seems to be me. Its funny how you seek security and warmth in your TV viewing when 40 throws up a spinnaker on your birth certificate...