Last Night's Viewing: Kevin’s Grand Design, Channel 4
Without You, ITV1
I'd rather hoped that Kevin's Grand Design would turn out to be a personal project, but although he seemed to have heavily invested in it, both monetarily and financially, we aren't yet to find out what the Nit-picker's Nit-picker would actually produce if he self-built a home for himself. Instead, this was to be an exercise in exemplary development: "I want to do everything," he said as he embarked on a project to produce low-cost, socially mixed housing. "I want it to be the best, I want it to be the cheapest, I want it to be the most sustainable, I want it to be the most exciting, the most architecturally inspired, the most contextual, the least mediocre." He also wanted to be the "Heston Blumenthal of housing", which sounded a little ominous. You expect an en suite bathroom, but you actually get a playroom-cum-kitchen, connected to the dining room by a playground slide.
His early plans looked a lot more Little Chef than molecular cuisine. With the help of a housing association, he found a bit of land in Swindon and went scouting for local context, snooping round a Brunel workers' village for ideas. He said it was "rich with design ideas", but it looked like a pretty standard row of back-to-back terraces to me, a perfectly respectable form of high-density housing but not exactly the architectural equivalent of snail porridge. Unfortunately, the locals took against his plan to pave over a much-loved bit of local greenery, and snared the proposal with so much red tape that it would have taken him years to cut himself out again. His first set of architects departed, prompting snippy headlines in the papers and a deeply ironic little pet from Kevin: "If you want to judge me, judge me... when the project's finished," he snapped. His next subjects should have that printed on a T-shirt so they can wear it for every site visit.
He and the housing association found another site – an ex-caravan park that already had planning permission for 36 houses. The problem was that an intervening collapse in the housing market meant they actually needed 44 to make the scheme work. Again, the neighbours weren't happy at having a utopian experiment conducted on their doorstep: "If we're not careful about the people that actually go into those houses, then we can make it another little cesspit, to be honest," said one resident. It wasn't an attractive whiff of nimbyism, that, but it was authentic and it made you wonder about the realism of McCloud's determination to break even with a mix of social and private housing. Eco-design, innovative construction and free-flowing circulation space often play less part in house purchases than simple snobbery. And in any case, when they added up the figures they realised they couldn't afford to sell the houses at a price that would make them attractive to anyone, let alone the somewhat niche market of open-minded social pioneers looking for a new-build in Swindon.
The house in Without You was an Edwardian terrace in mid-renovation, which seemed fairly plausible as a setting for Ellie and Greg, a professional couple trying, with slight anxiety, for their first child. Sadly, Ellie's plans for another stab at the conception lottery are sideswiped by the arrival of two police officers telling her that her husband has been killed in a car accident and that there was a woman in the car at the time. Was Greg cheating or is there something fishy about the accident? Anna Friel plays the increasingly suspicious widow and Marc Warren plays Greg, who circumvents the drawback of playing a character killed in the first five minutes by turning up for the occasional posthumous chat. And it's fine, if you have a surfeit of time on a Thursday evening and are looking for a way to cull an hour.
Kevin's Grand Design Channel 4
Without You ITV1
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