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A Review Of The Current Crop Of Property Shows...

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Thieving Pigs?


A decade ago property shows were all the rage. Wildly aspirational, they appealed to anyone who was lucky enough to have a foot on the property ladder. Since 2008 and the banking crisis the shows have waned in popularity and are more likely to emphasise the importance of home rather than treating buildings as casino chips. This is particularly true of Sarah Beeny's new show, Village SOS, in which the one time queen of acquisitive property porn attempts to revive whole communities in what looks an awful lot like a very long infomercial for David Cameron's "big society". Below, to remind us of what the property show was and how it has evolved, are some from the past and present. Let us know what we've left out and tell us what you liked and hated about them.

Property Ladder/Property Snakes and Ladders/Help! My House is Falling Down

The producers at Talkback Thames must have dropped to their knees in gratitude when they happened upon Beeny. Here at last was a property developer who didn't look like a ferret in suit. Clever, charming and pretty Sarah (who had been buying and selling property since the age of 24) was the perfect person to front Channel 4's greedy-minded Property Ladder. With her blonde hair and honeyed home counties vowels she made the whole foul business of property development seem like some sort of social service. The programme, which appealed to the porcine rapacity at the heart of the property bubble, worked reasonably well because of the tension between Beeny, with her years of experience, and the cloth-eared dilettantes she was advising.

Rarely did they heed her counsel, preferring to plough on regardless of sense, cost or taste. Infuriatingly they almost always wound up making money simply because, for a large part of the last decade, property boomed. They could have just sat on the floor picking their noses for six months and they still would've raked it in.

But in 2009 all that stopped. Perhaps Channel 4 regarded the idea of overt property porn as a tad tasteless when a significant section of the population were having their homes repossessed. The show was renamed Property Snakes and Ladders to reflect the increasing jeopardy for would-be developers in a tumbling market. It was arguably a better programme, and was certainly more honest, but most of us stopped watching, doubtless for exactly the same reason most of us stopped reading our bank statements.

So now Sarah's considerable talents (she's very tasty with a sledgehammer and can rewire a house in less than 60 seconds) are being employed not to advise on how to buy and sell dumps but to explain to the desperate how to retain the dump they're in. There is a problem with Help My House Is Falling Down. By the time Sarah meets the people she is helping they are so terrified and traumatised by their mutinous property they'll do pretty much anything Sarah tells them to do. If Sarah told them to torch the place and do an insurance job they'd probably agree. So for tension and drama all we have is Sarah and some spooky music and sub Amityville camerawork every time she spots cracks in the plasterwork.

To add to the schlock horror feeling Sarah marches around the house, normally dressed in a menacing black Belstaff motorcycle jacket saying things like, "Do you know if it's alive now?" and "The last thing you want to do is put carpet down and for the house to be eaten from underneath." Well quite.

But it is for the perennial woody plant that Sarah reserves most of her withering contempt. Regular viewers should now be scared of bindweed and bamboo and Japanese knotweed and buddleia and even trees, all of which can apparently tear down your home as surely as a marauding gang of disaffected Tottenham teenagers. Often footage of trees is accompanied by a Hitchcockian screech of string instruments as Beeny points an angry, accusatory finger at a willow tree. The footage is washed of colour and looks like a flashback from CSI. "Trees that need a lot of water should be most feared." Too right Sarah. Give that weeping willow something to weep about. Last week, Dave from Hull spent more than £2,000 to chop down six trees "It's the best two grand Dave's ever spent," she trilled triumphantly.

DIY SOS: The Big Build

Launched in 1994 DIY SOS is probably the UK's longest-running home improvement show (it's up to its 21st series). It recently changed its title, adding The Big Build, probably for much the same reasons Property Ladder felt compelled to do so and now has a tone more in tune with our austere times. Where once presenter Nick Knowles would go around people's houses sorting out their amusingly calamitous efforts at DIY or, say, installing a new bathroom, he and the team now enlist a whole community to help some deserving family build an extension or convert a loft.

I actually find the new concept utterly depressing. It was all so much more fun when some fatuous twerp had undermined the foundations of the family home by trying to convert his kitchen into an indoor swimming pool. Now we get harrowing black and white footage of families so pitiful you half suspect that had Nick and the team not arrived William Hague would be demanding that UNPROFOR declare a safe haven and drop them food parcels. Maybe that's why Nick's little helpers are always dressed in UN peace keeping blue.

Last week for instance a one time Honda worker and father of two watched helplessly as his life was washed down the toilet by the banking crisis. His wife was at the end of her tether, his youngest daughter cried herself to sleep and his eldest teenage daughter, Victoria, was so ill all she could do was stare mesmerically at her smartphone. Er, hold on … Anyway, that's not the point. This family have had so much bad luck since the Honda plant closed down that they make Wile E Coyote look like Bill Gates.

Nick, as ever, came in and did a rebuild commensurate with the scale of the family's misery, which in this particular case meant practically knocking the whole place down and starting again. "It's the biggest one yet," said Nick, and he wasn't wrong. They gutted the place and set about doing six months work in just nine days. A home was healed and so too was a family. The programme ended on a note that managed to be uplifting and tear jerking, a bit like Little House on the Prairie. In fact if the BBC ever think of rebranding the programme again they could do a lot worse than calling it Horrible Little House on the Prairie.

Homes Under the Hammer

This strange throwback to the noughties is presented by Martin Roberts and Lucy Alexander. The title sequence features footage casino chips and grubby £50 notes, which Martin probably refers to as bull's eyes or a pair of ponies. Martin actually does look like a ferret, albeit a well fed one. Earlier this week they were in Southampton, Hartlepool and London watching punters chance their arms with rundown property's bought at auction. The Hartlepool house was particularly demoralising. Spilling its gut of wires and tubing on to hideously carpeted floors it looked like the sort of place the meth-heads in Breaking Bad call home. Not that this bothered Martin, whose perpetually upbeat demeanour would arouse suspicion in anybody over the age of five. The place in London was typically tiny and overpriced and the massive Georgian house in Southampton had suffered a conversion so brutally unsympathetic I am amazed the person responsible isn't serving time.

The object of the show is to see how much money people make after they've done the property up and sold it. Ten years ago this sort of show, with its unashamed emphasis on quick cash would have had an obvious demographic (everyone). Today it goes out at 10am. Who is it aimed at? The idle rich? Unemployed property developers desperate to relive the good old days? Housebound fantasists? Very hard to know. Suffice to say that watching this now, no matter how rundown the property, is a little like watching reruns of Dallas or Dynasty. Weird.

So what do you think? With the never-ending economic gloom, not to mention people's houses being burned down across the UK, we may well be seeing the last of the property shows, even the more well intentioned ones. Perhaps in a year's time Kirsty Allsopp will be teaching us all how to skin squirrels and bottle our own urine. Do you think these shows have any sort of future?

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