Last Night's TV: The Hotel Inspector, Five
Undercover Boss, Channel 4
Friday 23 July 2010
Watching The Hotel Inspector made me hanker for a hamburger. Not because there was any fast food in it, but because it made me wonder, if you took out all the filler and watering-down, how much televisual meat you'd actually be left with. This is one of those reality shows that wastes a good 25 per cent of screen-time in flashing forward to the best bits coming up later (appetite spoilers) or recapping the best bits that have already happened (indigestion). Which is a shame because, amid the repetitions, there was some good content.
Alex Polizzi returns as the titular snoop for a third series, having taken over the job from the equally posh – and rude – Ruth Watson (now busily rescuing country houses on Channel 4) two years ago. The granddaughter of Lord Forte and sister of Rocco, she has a spiky, neurotic watchability, sort of Trinny crossed with Aggie, and a nice line in brittle put-downs. "I'm not really into the whole role-playing French countess thing," she sniffed upon walking into a honeymoon suite that can only have been designed on a Marie-Antoinette-does-acid mood board. "Otherwise, this would be very much my kind of room." Best of all is the way that she only calls people "darling" when she's really, really rather cross with them. As in "it's not bloody good, darling!"
"Darling" in this case was Joseph Louei, a twinkly, Iranian-born, Plymouth-based proprietor with a penchant for trilby hats and denial. Faced with a slew of negative reviews of the Astor Hotel on the Trip Advisor website ("horrendous," said one, "traumatic," agreed another), he muttered darkly: "I'm very active in this city and I have upset a lot of bad people." This inspired the programme-makers to call him "the Proud Persian" and play the Godfather music at random intervals.
Polizzi soon set him right, pointing out common-sense errors such as the plain carpets, the piles of towels in the middle of the bed rather than in the bathroom and a breakfast buffet "lacking in wow factor". She also redesigned the lobby and one of the rooms (Will he ever get round to redesigning the rest? And who, in a business that has failed to turn a profit in nine years, is going to pay for it if he does?). Battles over croissants and matching hangers resolved, it ended on a jolly note. Louei hosted an "Independents Day" in his plush new lobby for local businessmen. "No one wants cities dominated by big chains," declared Polizzi. Quite right. It would be awful to have those Forte hotels popping up all over town.
There was more snooping on Undercover Boss. This week it was the turn of the chief executive of Tower Hamlets council, Kevin Collins, to spy on his own employees and find out what goes on at the grass roots. It's a slightly odd conceit for a programme when you think about it. Isn't it the CEO's job to know, or at least pretend to know, everything about his or her company? Evidently not. Collins and the programme-makers couldn't even agree on how many employees he had. He said 8,000, they said 10,000. I'm inclined to believe Collins, given the director's taste for Day Today-style whooshing cameras and bombastic drums.
As per the format, Collins spent an eye-opening week on the streets, working with meals-on-wheels deliverers, pest-controllers and housing officers. For this he stopped shaving and wore a horrible black beanie hat that made him look considerably scruffier than all of his well- turned-out employees. It says a lot about the disconnect between figurehead and front-line that this disguise turned out to be sufficient.
Of course, this timely experiment was played out against a backdrop of the most savage public-spending cuts in generations. Collins, four months into the job, has to find unprecedented savings of £50m over the next three years, which made this a uniquely fascinating business case study. As Tim the rat-catcher pointed out to him: "We're not here to make a profit. We're here to provide a service."
Faced with dedicated employees carrying out essential services for society's most vulnerable, Collins quickly realised that there was very little fat to trim. "If we weren't doing this," he wondered, "who would?" The only exception he found was the fledgling £3m enforcement officers scheme. This, it seemed, involved little more than prowling the streets doling out fines for dropped cigarette butts and warning clowns that they needed a licence to sell balloon animals.
The heart of the piece came from the council workers. Tim, on pest control, stole all of the best lines as he calmly dealt with hysterical home-owners. "I would die if a rat got in this house! I'd move out! It could eat me!" said one. "Unlikely," countered Tim. "Rats have extremely poor eyesight and they're colour-blind." In a show that aims to expose poor working practices, only pride and dedication could be found. These were star employees and it was moving to watch them work.
Their reward was to be invited to Collins's corner office for the "big reveal". There they were greeted by a newly shaven, bespectacled Collins, who offered them places on various "schemes" and "panels". It made you wonder if he had learned anything from the experience: cutting-edge schemes cost money, after all. Still, it was a start. More than that, it was essential viewing for anyone who's ever grumbled about their council tax – or doubted that an attack on public services might be anything less than catastrophic.
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