Napoleon called us a nation of shopkeepers. In 1940, Hitler's foreign minister Von Ribbentrop dismissed Britain as a country of merchants. These days, however, we're a nation of property speculators, and it's been this way since the Eighties. Multi-channel TV offers endless windows on our obsession with buying and selling property, all of them with the same view - and our sub-conscious has been invaded by identikit estate agent-interior designery types. Even Carol Smillie has got in on the act - but more of her later.
Whether or not the property programmes continue to proliferate will surely depend on the state of the house market: if the market drops, it's goodbye to the TV shows. If it rises, you can look forward to more and more of them. Here's a light-hearted guide to just a few of the current offerings.
Location Location Location C4
Would-be buyers are shown some suitable properties
Location Location Location may not have been the original property programme, but it feels that way. It certainly contains the template for most other shows, cleverly mimicking the real-life house-buying experience. A prospective buyer is shown a number of properties, and then decides he can't be bothered to buy any of them. The presenters are Kirstie and Phil - I won't bother you with their surnames, because everyone knows them as Kirstie and Phil. They're like particularly gooey estate agents - and indeed, they run their own property search company. Kirstie has that charming presentational knack of looking as if she's just put down her shopping bags.
Escape to the Country BBC2
City dwellers wanting to move to the country are shown a number of rurals properties
It was only a matter of time before the purveyors of property television tapped into the urban diaspora, and the title of BBC2's Escape to the Country states its intentions plainly. This is, in effect, Location Location Location for townies keen to plod about in green wellies and drive five miles to the nearest shop. In fact, Location Location Location, aghast at seeing such an obvious extension of itself being stolen from under its noses, came back with Relocation Relocation Relocation, in which Kirstie and Phil came to the aid of townies keen to to plod about in green wellingtons, etc.
But all power to Escape to the Country, they came up with the idea first. Tuning in to watch last week's episode, I mistook the preceeding Government information film about gun crime for its opening credits. Anyway, the gimmick here is that the prospective buyers liaise with presenter Catherine Gee through a laptop computer, which gives them the opportunity to make rude, Dinner Party Inspectors-type comments about the properties. Last week's buyers were disappointingly polite - even about a vast collection of spoons in one living room.
Property Ladder C4
Amateur developers attempt to make a fast buck doing up and selling on a property
Sarah Beeny: sex goddess? I'd never really seen the presenter of Property Ladder in this light before, but a couple of male friends I spoke to about this article accompanied her name with that noise Sid James used to make in Carry On films.
What La Beeny does have is a husky, Mariella Frostrup-esque delivery, no doubt caused by her continual exasperation at being ignored by Property Ladder's amateur developers. These would-be profiteers have invited Beeny to overview their projects, and it doesn't matter how many times she hectors them not to spend £2,000 on light fittings, they don't take a blind bit of notice. And yet the mad optimists still make a profit - even if it is only £40 for six months' labour. The reason? Because they're working in a rising market. Then again, programmes like Property Ladder mysteriously disappear during a housing slump. Strange, that.
A Place in the Sun, C4
Brits wanting a second home abroad are shown various properties by local estate agents
Just as everybody in the city is moving to the country, if our property programmes are to be believed, the British are moving abroad in the biggest mass emigration since the Bronze Age. It makes you wonder just who is still living in Clapham. A Place in the Sun caters for this market, and feeds it the sort of travel brochure clichés not heard since Alan Whicker hung up his blazer.
A Place in the Sun used to be presented by a softly spoken "girl-next-door" type called Amanda Lamb, who wore sensible shoes, long dresses and who studiously avoided flirting with the guest husbands. It now seems to be hosted by a softly spoken Mancunian girl-next-door type in flat shoes and long dresses. It's a bit like watching The Stepford Wives. Great TV, though - so great that ITV have produced their own clone, with the nakedly avaricious title I Want That House.
Being ITV, I Want That House manages to be a shameless rip-off and yet somehow worse than the original, but not as truly awful as Dream Holiday Home (Channel 5, natch), in which Carol Smillie smirks her way round various foreign property hotspots as a couple of builders do all the work.
This is so stupendously boring that they have had to bribe people to watch, giving away the featured house to anyone who can correctly answer the following question: which of these is a traditional French bread (a) naan? (b) baguette? Last week's winner, from County Armagh, sounded like he had been awoken from his sofa. His underwhelmed response could perhaps have been translated as: "What the heck am I going to do with a cottage in Britanny?"
House Doctor, Five
A bossy American helps people declutter before a sale
Channel 5 do have one good property show, however, in which a certain Ann Maurice helps people having problems selling their houses. She often has to be straight-talking, telling them to get rid of the sentimental clutter or the stink of pet pooches. For this reason House Doctor has chosen an American. Where a British presenter may have got a bop on the nose, Maurice's subjects nod wearily as they realise that maybe keeping 12 dobermans in the lounge is putting off vendors.Reuse content