Vocation, vocation, vocation - television's Mr 'Hot' Property moves channels

Ben Frow has leapt up numerically from 4 to Five but jumped off the housing ladder, reports Ciar Byrne
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The Independent Online

He is known as television's Mr Property, but Ben Frow, the man behind hit shows Location, Location, Location and Property Ladder has had enough of buying and selling houses.

He is known as television's Mr Property, but Ben Frow, the man behind hit shows Location, Location, Location and Property Ladder has had enough of buying and selling houses.

A year into his job at Five, which poached him from Channel 4 to become its controller of features and entertainment, Frow says he wants to move away from the property shows that made his name. He has even persuaded Five's property stars, Justin Ryan and Colin McAllister (of The Million Pound Property Experiment fame), and House Doctor Ann Maurice that their futures may lie in formats that have nothing to do with the market for bricks and mortar.

Frow says: "When somebody finds a successful thing, everybody else jumps on the bandwagon. Now the great danger is that property will implode, or the property market, as it is, makes some of those programmes very difficult. They have no relevance to people's lives any more."

He compares what is happening with property to the "wall of leisure" on BBC2 a few years ago, when they had cornered the lifestyle TV market with a raft of cookery programmes. "There were so many shows with people standing in kitchens that the whole genre collapsed." But Frow believes everything is cyclical. "You now start to think, 'Hmm, maybe it's about time we had another cookery programme'."

For the time being, cookery is not on the menu at Five. Wedding planning, on the other hand, is, courtesy of Justin and Colin, who have taken responsibility for organising three weddings, without the help of researchers or freebies, as part of their exclusive deal with Five to front a series of prime-time shows.

Frow was not always a fan. "The first time I met them I said, 'I think you're grotesque'." But he believes they are impossible to ignore. "There is very little talent in Britain at the moment that you ignore at your peril ... I was asked what talent I would like in British television, and I said, 'All the talent that's known by its Christian name only'."

Justin and Colin meet that criterion. Although the pair will not be doing any more buying and selling, Frow does not want them to abandon homes altogether. A new series of their How Not to Decorate has just started. Frow, whose own Covent Garden office is immaculately decorated with photographs of his career successes and a sumptuous vase of orchids, is also particularly pleased with Maurice's Designs for Living, which helps people to create comfortable homes.

Eight months into the job at Five, Frow has realised the importance of making an impression. He says: "Blimey, it's hard getting noticed on Five. People can't count to five; people can't get to the Five column in the listings; people haven't got Five. Blinking hell, what do you have to do to get noticed on Five? You have to bring in pigs and anal bleaching."

Anal bleaching was a highlight of Cosmetic Surgery Live, while the pigs starred in The Farm - Five's two recent forays into reality television; a genre that troubles Frow. "Reality as a whole I wrestle with," he says. "I really hate the way that, at the moment, everything has got to be nastier than the previous one in order to get viewers. I would love to be able to do a programme that was life-affirming, feel-good, aspirational TV. I hate the fact that there is such an appetite for gladiatorial contest and that, as a controller, you ignore it at your peril."

As the creative scion of a London theatre family, Frow would rather make programmes that break the mould. He has a varied career to draw on for inspiration. After touring the world as a a stage and costume designer with The Phantom of the Opera, Frow landed a job as Richard and Judy's dresser. He went on to produce for Lorraine Kelly in GMTV, before taking over responsibility for the crucial 8pm to 9pm slot on Channel 4.

Despite his experience, Five is full of new challenges. On the day of our interview, he is hopping mad with Justin and Colin for appearing in the audience of rival Channel 4's Celebrity Big Brother. "What the hell were they doing?" he says. "Right - they're getting a bollocking from me. If I'm lucky, I might get another orchid from them."

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