"They're not freaks," said the psychotherapist Stelios Kiosses about the subjects of The Hoarder Next Door.
They are slightly freakish though, aren't they, Stelios, otherwise Channel 4 wouldn't really be interested. After all, it's been a while since the channel has delivered a documentary on a disability that doesn't come with a visually diverting aspect to it. Can't quite see them offering a four-parter called "The Depressive Next Door", despite the fact that it's a far more prevalent problem.
Still, one understands what Mr Kiosses was trying to say. Don't stigmatise and – more tangentially perhaps – don't think this is odder than it actually is. According to the programme, there are an estimated 1.2 million hoarders in the UK – though, typically of a documentary light on substantive fact, we weren't ever told who'd done the estimating.
Stelios offers a six-week treatment for compulsive hoarders, using what looked to be a rather distinctive combination of traditional talking cure and New Age whimsies. In this first episode, his principal patient was Nigel, who, as the voiceover put it, "hides a secret" behind the ordinary front door of his terraced house in Liverpool. Well, he used to anyway, because now anyone who cares will know that behind that door was a decade's worth of clutter so dense that some rooms had been filled from floor to ceiling. Roaming around on top were a pair of mangy cats who'd added layers of ripened cat shit to the dense mille-feuille of consumer detritus that constituted Nigel's home.
This was a collector's instinct turned pathological. Nigel and his former partner were passionate about willow pattern china (some samples of which could be glimpsed through the alps of rubbish). And after Nigel's partner died of cancer his promise never to get rid of it metastasized into an indiscriminate acquisitiveness that invaded nearly every square inch of the house. I'm glad to say there was still a narrow tunnel leading to the lavatory, but even Stelios, who must be used to this kind of thing, appeared shocked when he squeezed through the front door to be confronted by Nigel's tumorous chattels.
Frustratingly, the programme didn't give you much clue as to the clinical practice that lead to Nigel's improvement. Talking about his grief seemed to help. And you were naturally allowed to watch as – on Stelios's instructions – Nigel dressed up as his female alter ego Miranda in order to clear the front hall. Nigel had already had one go at this as himself, without a lot of success, but Miranda took a dim view of Nigel's dithering and simply binned things.
If you watch any television at all you'll know what happened next: arrival of crack clutter-clearance team, tears and minor tantrums, before-and-after shots of the resulting transformation. The familiar template of triumphant cure, in other words. And, yes, it was touching to see Nigel get his life back, but would it really have made it less interesting to squeeze a few crumbs of nuanced psychological insight in among those picturesque piles of rubbish?
Tom Jones was apparently making his acting debut in Playhouse Presents: King of the Teds, helpfully cast as the kind of figure he might have ended up as if he'd never got his big break – a local hero reduced to painful memories of his glory days. Brenda Blethyn and Alison Steadman played his youthful sweethearts, one of whom had married him and the other of whom had spent her life regretting the fact that she never did.
Jim Cartwright's script didn't really have the elbow-room to avoid coming across as a little trite. But Tom held up his corner of the triangle well and there was a nice echo of Nigel's sorrows when Ron's wife pulled an old drape jacket out of the wardrobe. "Keep meaning to chuck it," she says. "Don't you dare!" replies her friend. Careful, love – that kind of thing can easily get out of hand.Reuse content