I've never watched How Clean Is Your House? before, and I must confess, the thought didn't appeal. It's one of that peculiar breed of Channel 4 programmes. Shock viewing, gross-out TV; tamer than Extreme Makeover, but revolting nonetheless. Certainly not the sort of thing you want to watch over dinner, at least not if you want to finish your food which, I suppose, could make it a rather effective dieting tool.
Obviously, however, I'm in a minority. Six years later its predictable formula is still going strong. Kim and Aggie, the show's hygienic double-act, as indomitably shrill as ever. And, judging by the state of Timothy's home in north London, they've yet to iron the untidy kink out of British life. It's got the lot: scum-coated bathroom, cupboards matted in grime, food made of solid mould. Appetising. Kim and Aggie were delighted. "Ooh!" they squealed. "Look. At. This!" Much, I imagine, as they squeal every week. Don't they, you wonder, ever get sick of it? (Actually, it would seem, yes: according to Wikipedia, Kim is soon to quit the show. Apparently, "she wants to play a seductress in Desperate Housewives". For legal reasons, I should mention that I obviously have absolutely no idea whether there is any truth to this claim. certainly, it seems rather far-fetched).
It does get better. As well as watching them scrub up north London houses, we get to join Kim and Aggie on their road show. Members of the public come along, bring their dirty objects and are shown how to clean them. Stained shirt? Sticky tape. Dirty make-up sponge (as provided by a passing mime-artist)? Toilet soap. Who would've thought? Still, I'm not convinced. Next!
Ooh, this is better. Kate Humble, still charming the pants off us (and everyone she meets) in The Frankincense Trail. "I feel incredibly frumpy!" she gasped on arriving at the Prince Alwaleed's office in Riyadh. She was wearing her abaya, the cloak Saudi women wear to preserve their modesty, though, as it turned out, she needn't have bothered. Alwaleed's office was chock-a-block full of glamorous female staffers, all in skintight Western office wear. "How unfair is that?" she hissed at the camera. "To be met with a women in a tiny pencil skirt, perfect heels and a face full of makeup." That's sort of what makes Kate so great, really: she's normal. She says what we're all thinking and asks the questions we all want to ask. Prince Alwaleed is the richest man in the Kingdom – which means he's very, very, rich indeed – so in Kate went, in her crumpled attire, and smiled sweetly. "Are you the richest man in the world?" As it happened, he's not (or he says he's not anyway, which may or may not be the same thing). He's just one of the "top few". Then he invited Kate and her crew to dinner, which seemed pretty friendly. Can you imagine our dear royals doing the same? In the car, he started doing business on the phone, as Kate looked on. "There are a lot of big numbers flying around," she observed. Later, we find out that he was brokering a deal to refinance CitiBank.
No such deals in Benefit Busters, the last of Channel 4's surprisingly engaging trilogy. This week, it was the sick under scrutiny. There are 2.7 million of them, apparently, and they're paid more than the unemployed – or at least they have been until now. The Government's trying to overhaul the system by bringing in teams to reassess who's really sick and who's not, like the Shaw Trust in Oldham.
It's here that 20-year-old Kieran found himself. Kieran fell off a third-floor balcony on his 18th birthday, squashing his vertebrae. He can't bend or lift, and can't sit still for too long so for the past two years has relied on benefits. To be fair, he doesn't sound like he's exaggerating, and you can understand his frustration at "people sitting at their desks in offices making decisions" about his future. His big fear is that he'll be forced back to work, and by the age of 30, will require a wheelchair. But over at the Shaw Trust, they have a bit more common sense than that. They may not be meeting targets, but at least they don't appear to be playing Russian roulette with people's health. Kieran was told he could get a part-time office job (which he could), provided it met his physical needs (which could be tricky). Without qualifications, the immediate prospects are pretty grim, so they encouraged him to enrol in evening classes and gain some credentials. It seems a fairly reasonable solution to me, as do those offered to everyone else the trust is dealing with.
As with its predecessors, part three of Benefit Busters proved an insightful, not unchallenging bit of documentary from Channel 4, all the more valuable for its handling of what could, under other circumstances, have turned into a bit of eye-rolling them-and-us bear-baiting.