Last Night's Television: The Home Show, Channel 4<br />Picture Book, BBC4

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The Independent Culture

One of the minor irritations of the credit crunch is the widespread demand that everybody in the entire Western world must join in the chorus and yell: "We are all guilty."

Basically, goes the theory, no soul in the past decade purchased a house because they actually needed somewhere to live. Every single person who took out a mortgage was a wild speculator, trafficking in complex financial instruments that they didn't understand, in order to make their fortune.

Ah, the good times. Those times were particularly good for telly people, who cranked out endless variations on the theme of property development. Home improvement was a business investment and failing to "maximise the potential of your most valuable asset" was no less stupid than keeping your savings under the mattress instead of putting them in a nice high-interest account at an Icelandic bank.

Now, the challenge is to persuade us to keep on watching shows about home improvement, while at the same time alerting us to the idea that they really are about improving your home, rather than making a pile of money. Channel 4's The Home Show makes no bones about the matter, and its presenter, George Clarke, opened the series with this proposition: "The housing boom is over! It's time to stop thinking of bricks and mortar as a cash cow, and wake up to the fact that your house is first and foremost your home!" Right. Thanks.

By some miracle, the show's producers did find a couple who had been getting on with merely living in their cash cow for years, putting up with its ghastly lack of "through-flow" and its dumb 1970s decor all along. The idea was that the pair should scrape together as much money as they could, give it all to George and then move out while he remodelled the place. This was not, George emphasised, an exercise in throwing up medium-density fibreboard (Take that, Carol Smillie!) or making a fat profit (And that, Kirstie Allsopp!). He, George Clarke, was an architect, "trained in the understanding of light and space", and his goal was to bring a little style into the dark, cramped lives of Dom, Claudine and their three young children.

Having given the house a good going-over, George confessed to the viewer that he'd really be needing £60,000 to be making anything of it. He then quizzed Dom and Claudine about how they'd raised the cash, and looked suitably uncomfortable when they explained that they'd simply withdrawn their savings, remortgaged, take out a bank loan, borrowed from their parents and thrown in Claud's bonus from her job as a telecoms manager as well. George was a decent-enough sort, but you could see that he was disappointed when that impressive level of exposure gave him a mere £30,000 to work his magic with. "I've spent 30 grand just on a kitchen," he said mournfully.

Now, leaving aside the fact that Dom and Claudine had to do all those things we're told were the things that made the credit crash "our fault too" in order to achieve their dream home, it has to be admitted that George made the money go a long, long way. By the end of the show, our family had a house that looked exactly like you'd expect a house done over by an architect to look, and the rest of us had a post-crunch property show to gawp at every week. The Home Show was a sort of Grand Designs for normal people, and really rather soothingly watchable. Hurrah! Maybe the downturn won't be so grim after all.

On BBC4, however, a cheaper and less disruptive means of nurturing the family was being celebrated in Picture Book, a documentary series exploring the history of the illustrated children's story. The first episode concentrated on the development of books for the very young and conceived to be read to them by adults. It was all a lot more complicated than you'd imagine.

Beatrix Potter was hailed as the first really visionary genius of the genre, not least because she wrote, illustrated and designed so perfectly all of her little books for little hands herself. My seven-year-old was particularly taken by the disclosure that as a child, Beatrix used to boil the bones of her beloved pet rabbits when they died, so that she could examine and sketch their skeletons. This, it was agreed, was one reason why her rabbits looked so utterly rabbitty, even when she put clothes on them.

There was also fascinating discussion of how "new ways of looking at childhood" had ensured that "everything changed for the better". The Children's Laureate, Michael Rosen, suggested that great things had emerged when people had become disenchanted with such stories as the Thomas the Tank Engine series, which relied rather too much on engines "doing naughty things, then saying sorry". "Saying sorry? That's a good thing!" my seven-year-old exclaimed, which may explain why the Thomas books are now loved more than ever, among so many more clever, more beautiful, more sophisticated and more innovative alternatives.

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