LAST NIGHT

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The Independent Culture
The sustaining pleasure of Home Front (BBC2) is that of metamorphosis, the drab caterpillar of one's domestic life magically transformed into a gleaming butterfly, complete with paint effects and a stencilled border. Indeed, without the word "transformed" the programme would barely be possible. "Mark and Andrea will be transforming this less than des res into their dream home over the course of the series," promised Tessa Shaw before moving on to the first item in which the makers had "asked Ann McKevitt to transform three bathrooms on three very different budgets". Next week, apparently, we will see how Mark and Andrea "transform their tiles from this (close-up of a square of lino-scabbed terracotta) to this" (medium shot of quarry tiles gleaming like a racehorse's backside). And it's true that the before and after sequences are a large part of the programme's appeal, even if they cheat like crazy with the after, throwing in all kinds of accessories to reinforce the effect of the Blue Peterish decorating tips.

The essential assumption is that all change is for the better - a sense of can-do optimism which is supported by the slightly deranged glee of its presenter, a woman whose manner suggests that she has been sniffing polyurethane varnish between every link. It isn't very big on minimalism either, replacing Mies Van der Rohe's purist dictum that "Less is more" with a rag-rolled alternative - "More is not enough". It is hardly surprising to find that the programme's executive producer, Daisy Goodwin, is the daughter of Jocasta Innes, the doyenne of extravagant emulsion.

Some of the alterations are quite ruinous - replacing perfectly serviceable interiors with exactly the sort of gaudy excess which will have to be ripped out as soon as fashion moves on - in about six months, in other words. But a sense of history is not a big thing in Home Front - not recent history anyway. Though it has a boundless appetite for original details, it takes it for granted that anything less than 40 years old either has to go back in time or come forward. And there is a certain persistent comedy in the fact that the programme never acknowledges that we too will fall prey to the withering distaste of our offspring. "It's pretty hideous," says Tessa Shaw, as the camera superciliously inspects a Sanderson sprigged bathroom that must have been the very epitome of style when the paint was still fresh. And then they cheerfully set about replacing it with the raw material for Home Front 2010.

The Great Garden Game, one of the programmes occupying Channel 5's leisure strand, offered an accidental note of political comment this week: its location was Tatton Park, and one of the teams was called the Tatton Terrors. You couldn't help but wonder how the current Conservative candidate might have emerged from the cheesy Page Three banter of the team introductions, which rendered one perfectly innocuous woman as "a glamorous granny who cultivates a grapevine in the greenhouse at home. She's a real hothouse flower!" "Meet Neil Hamilton," they might have chirruped, "a local MP for whom the Bell is certainly tolling! Forget-me-not, says the taxman, or you'll have no fuschia, Neil."

The show itself is a horticultural clone of such leisure game shows as Changing Rooms and Ready, Steady, Cook, and it overcomes the obvious problem of time (it being difficult to grow things within a filming schedule) by combining a tour of the gardens with a glorified flower-arranging competition (make a Japanese garden using only six bags of limestone chips, several large boulders, one ornamental lamp and some assorted foliage). The result is a bit limp, to be honest, and has to be artificially fertilized with rehearsed jokes from those taking part. "How are you doing?" asked a presenter at one point. "Fine," replied two female competitors in unison, "but it's hell on the nails". The country house in question gets an extended plug, the presenters get a pay-cheque, and all the competitors get a hand-made trug. Only the viewer leaves empty-handed.

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