The Weekends's Television: The Restoration Man, Sun, Channel 4
The South Bank Show Revisited, Sun, ITV1
To the hearth of the matter
It's remarkable what you can achieve if you don't let common sense hold you back.
This rule (which has a stupendous number of exceptions to prove it) is one of the dependable charms of architectural makeover programmes, the latest of which, The Restoration Man, ups the stakes considerably by concentrating solely on listed buildings. In other words, these money pits all have a pedigree, which means the odds against a successful completion of the project are even higher than usual. As the voiceover promises "you're going to see buildings that no other sane developer would touch with a bargepole". For the television producer, however, these things are a dead-cert spread bet. If things go wrong, you deliver the timeless pleasure of schadenfreude, so that all those viewers with more sense than money can congratulate themselves on their caution. If things go right, you can offer the dependable pleasure of disorder reversed – a bricks-and-mortar version of all those fables in which brambles and cobwebs and mildew are magicked away to be replaced by a gleaming palace.
The Restoration Man is George Clarke, who presents himself as a kind of architectural good fairy, and in Gareth and Jill, he had an authentic pair of Cinderellas. They'd sold their semi and spent the entire proceeds (£55,000) on the real-estate equivalent of a rotten pumpkin, an ancient Welsh chapel. They did this without nailing down the finance that they would need to renovate it and without discovering that they would have to commission an archaeological survey before they started work, the results of which might rule out conversion entirely. So breezily careless about the fine print was Gareth, in fact, that he'd started work anyway. "There's nothing to this architecture," he said cheekily to Clarke as he outlined his plans for the building, "you're practising it... I'm doing it." He seemed undaunted by the discovery that his placing of the first floor was going to leave him with a bathroom door just four-feet high. Or that he'd forgotten to cost in the lead for the church roof. Or that mortgage companies weren't exactly rushing to finance his folly. Only the imminent collapse of his marriage seemed to put a temporary crimp in his optimism.
The only plausible conclusion to this tale was bankruptcy and family break-up. Which made it particularly enchanting that the final five minutes of the programme revealed that the conversion had been completed and worked far better than you could have predicted – the tiny budget being underwritten by Gareth's stepdad and eked out with the help of e-Bay, which had supplied everything from a second-hand spiral staircase to bath taps that looked as if they'd been salvaged from Castle Dracula. You still had to limbo dance to get into the bathroom but it was a unique place, beautifully finished. Naturally, they put a cash valuation on it (total investment £125,000, current market estimate £275,000), but for Gareth and Jill, I suspect it's beyond price.
The South Bank Show Revisited, a series showing off the memory banks of the longest-running arts show on British television, began with Andrew Lloyd Webber. These days we know him as a star of talent-show telly (see Over the Rainbow, which began last Friday). But there was a time when he was merely the most successful musicals composer in the world and SBS had tracked his career assiduously, his strange wind-tunnel features slowly aging as the archive clips proceeded. Best bit? The anecdote, from a previous show, in which Lloyd Webber consulted his father over anxieties about the extent of his debt to Puccini. "Does this sound like anything to you?" he said, playing him the melody of "Memories". "Yes," his father replied. "It sounds like five million dollars."
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